All that is gold does not glitter,pages 169-170, Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien – 50th Anniversary Edition, Harper Collins Kindle Version, published 2005
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king..
I have loved the Lord of the Rings since I first read it over thirty years ago (very slowly and with the repeated aid of the dictionary, since I was about eight) and that love has not diminished with time and yearly re-reads.
As a child it was the adventure and otherworldliness that grabbed and held my attention (even through all the pages of description which I will admit I found a bit much); elves and dwarves and hobbits and heroes and proper battles. It fitted well into the selection of stories I’d been told since I’d first been deemed old enough to have myths and legends read to me (Robin Hood, King Arthur, Troy, the Norse, Greek and Egyptian myths; why yes, Gran did approve of Roger Lancelyn Green) but offered such a wide scope for my imagination that for a while I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to read anything else again.
These days it isn’t the battles and daring do that keep me coming back to it but what I feel is the soul and centre of this epic. For me, the heart of Tolkien’s most famous work is about doing what is right rather than what is easy, walking the path life has given you and, in doing those things, holding on to hope even when everything seems to be telling you that all is hopeless. It is a book about betrayal and trust, despair and belief, pain and joy. It is about digging deep and keeping going despite what is happening around you, or to you, or both.
When I am particularly struggling to find any reason to keep on keeping on, I remember two things that were said to Frodo, one at the very start, before his journey had really begun and one much closer to the end.
The first was said by Gandalf, when he and Frodo had just identified Bilbo’s ring as the One Ring and confirmed that Sauron is once against gathering power to him. Frodo, unsurprisingly, wished that it was not happening in his lifetime and Gandalf replied that:
So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.– page 51 (same edition as above)
The second is said by Samwise Gamgee – good old Sam, without whom all would have been lost – when he and Frodo are talking about the path they’ve found themselves walking, just before Gollum leads them into Shelob’s lair:
The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually – their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t.– page 711 (same edition as above)
Then, fortified, I take a deep breath and think of the tree of Gondor flowering once again as it perceived, somehow, of the hope buried within the horror. And I take the next step on my own path, wherever it may take me.