Something that’s always kept me interested in The Lord of the Rings as a story is the idea that men—humans, but Tolkien was stuck deep in his culture’s patriarchy, so that’s how he labeled all of us—

I don’t have nearly the familiarity I’d need to pick the best chapter, but I’ve always been partial to Return of the King‘s “The Houses of Healing,” where Aragorn doesn’t just ride into Minas Tirith in triumph after effectively turning the tide of battle, but then proceeds to deftly heal ALL the wounded heroes in turn, suck it, haters.

He’s so completely human, and self-realized, with all the profound doubts and assured self-confidence the extremes of our species can muster. And you think, “Yes, sure, democracy is the moral imperative of government, and all, but holy Silmarils—if Aragorn were before me, I’d bend my knee without hesitation.” Just in sheer reverence at his magnificence. At the idea that a human being is the greatest of all these magical and ancient creatures that surround him. That we are worthy of continuing beyond the age of magic. That the ordinary can be as extraordinary as any ring of power or woven sorcery. And if you have to have a monarch, it better be someone generous of spirit and given to bouts of circumspection.

I certainly do wonder at and try to learn the lessons of the magical in stories, wizards and hobbits alike. The former are often steeped in worldly wisdom, or sometimes arrogant and mad with power, the latter are ever-vulnerable and unguardedly emotional, and free with their feelings. But I’m human, and I think, at the best of times, we have a lot to offer to ourselves and the world, despite our failings.