I have a confession to make. Well not really a confession because I want to tell you something I’m very fond of actually.
I am a huge Tolkien fan. Meaning that I’ve read the works of J.R.R. Tolkien many times, both the lesser-known and well-known, and love breathing the air of Middle Earth deeply. There are many reasons for this, and when I count all the benefits of spending time in Middle Earth via reading Tolkien’s work the number one reason I enjoy it so much is it’s impact on my view of normal mundane life. Why is this so? It is my opinion and the opinion of many other Tolkien fans that reading his fantasy novels (like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) enriches our experience in this life. It is after reading of glorious sunsets, battles, epic journeys, death defying feats of courage, and calm serene elvish and enchanted lands in Middle Earth that my activity in this life becomes more rich. I think what I mean is this: after reading Tolkien I notice what I ignore to a deeper extent. In fact it is true to say that my reading “there” makes my joy “here” deeper rather than leaving me with a desire to depart this world and “escape” to Middle Earth.
Anywho, due to the Hobbit films coming out recently, my love for Tolkien’s fiction fantasy world has been re-kindled and I want to share my favorite poem with you. It is from Gandalf, and it is amazing. Here it is:
All that is gold does not glitter, 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.
This poem, as the other poems in Tolkien’s works, are meant to teach great and glorious realities about life in this world. This poem is my favorite because of what it means on the surface and what it points to in reality.
What does it Mean?
All that is gold does not glitter – not everything that shines in this world is worth our devotion. In fact, many things that shine are worth ignoring and paying no attention to. We all know this to be true. If you do not know what this means, think about it. Does not gold shine along with copper? Gold is desirable, copper is not. Gold will make you rich, copper will not. Spiritually speaking, gold is holy copper is sin. Both shine, both lure us in. Only one will benefit us. Beware.
Not all those who wander are lost – many people view those who stray/wander as lost and hopeless. But how often do we see those very wandering ones rise up in due time to greatness? In The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings we see it over and over. In the Bible we see the same. Do not despise those who wander or those who have strayed. They will teach you much in days to come.
The old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost – this is clear is it not? Why is it that the strong old ones do not wither? Because the roots are deep and are not touched by what takes place above. Gandalf is not speaking of trees here, but of us. Certain people who are so strong in character and courage that no matter what is taking place on the “surface of things” (be it war or peace) they are calm and at peace within. What kind of person is this? Directly Gandalf is referring to Aragorn, whom he will reference more clearly soon. Indirectly Tolkien via Gandalf is referring to those who are strong in the Lord.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring – Here Gandalf becomes very symbolic in what he is talking about. A thing of old is about to re-enter the world in power. What happens when something dies? It falls into ash and shadow. Gandalf is saying what has fallen will wake, it will rise. What is he speaking of? Look at the last phrase.
Renewed shall be blade that was broken, the crownless again shall be king – Aragorn is in view here. He once lived among his brothers in the North, the courageous men of Numenor, warriors, bold and strong. But they were put to rest by the Witch King of Angmar (who is now the leader of the Nazgul Ring Wraiths). Though he was fallen, though he lay in the dust, though their blade was broken (reference to the shards the Narsul – the sword that cut off the ring from Sauron’s hand), it shall be re-made. The one who comes wielding that sword, shall be king. Who wields it now re-forged? Aragorn, the coming King, typifying Christ the whole time he comes into his throne.
As you can see, such rich imagery, such rich language, describing even richer realities. Tolkien’s works are full of this type of richness. But how would you ever know unless you read them? Go for it. Drink deeply. Breath in the air of Middle Earth and be refreshed. See Christ in all of it.