All That is Gold Does Not Glitter (Gandalf's Song of Aragorn)

by J. R. R. Tolkien

Original Language English

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.

-- from The Lord of the Rings: One Vol. Edition, by J.R.R. Tolkien

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This short verse from The Lord of the Rings is pronounced by the wizard Gandalf about the ominous figure called Strider, later known as Aragorn. Where all the world sees a rough, wild forest bandit, Gandalf knows the truth about the inner man, that he is, in fact, the last in a line of ancient kings. Aragorn is the rightful king of the realm.

Not all those who wander are lost

I've seen this line quoted on bumper stickers (though I have yet to see it on high status car, like a Mercedes Benz!). Don't you feel something in yourself responding to this line? Maybe it gives us all, with our sometimes meandering lives, a sense of redemption and an awareness of hidden purpose.

At the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn is a ranger, an armed man who travels alone through forests and wild places. The village folk, not knowing who he really is, assume he is untrustworthy, a meandering ruffian with no good purpose -- he is a wanderer.

While it is true that he will eventually become king, he is not yet ready to assume the role at the beginning of the story. He does not yet know or perhaps even trust his own character. So he has spent his early years in the wilds, a solitary warrior facing shadowy foes. But it is precisely because of his years of wandering that he is ready to be king when the time comes. His wandering is what has tested his will, strengthened his spirit, broadened his knowledge, and taught him how to find pathways in unknown lands.

Early in life we fix on a goal, dream a dream, hear a calling, but the path to achievement is never without turns and switchbacks. If, day after day, we walk the same straight path, then it is certain we are lost. The direct road is rarely the right one. Here's a lesson even the wise find troublesome: To reach the goal, we must be willing to lose sight of it in the world, while ever holding it close to the heart. Every hero with a great destiny understands this on some instinctive level. And every good storyteller knows why: The purpose of the journey is never simply to reach the destination; the journey exists to test and strengthen the hero. Without disorientation and hardship along the way, the hero will not be ready to take up the mantle of success when the time comes. The journey makes the hero, not the destination.

A good reminder for all of us as we courageously step out into the day...


I thought this poem by J. R. R. Tolkien might offer me a good opportunity to remind everyone that I will be delivering a talk at this year's Real Myth and Mythril Symposium on April 26th in Niwot, Colorado (just outside of Boulder). Speakers at this conference discuss myth and fantasy literature, exploring their importance to culture, imagination, and history.

My talk is titled “The Cauldron of Inspiration: Bards, Wizards, and the Elixir of Poetry”

Wizards and magic are mainstays of modern fantasy fiction. But when we search for the real wizards of the ancient world, we find instead poets, musicians, storytellers. Why were the bards revered as seers and sorcerers in their day? Let's journey through heroic tales and poems of power as we explore the deeper mysteries of magic, enchantment, and inspiration...

If you happen to be in the area, come by and hear my talk, and say hello afterwards. The symposium is popular though and space is running out, so make sure you get a ticket soon.

Recommended Books: J. R. R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings: One Vol. Edition

All That is Gold