All that glitters is not gold. This is one of the major themes of the first book of The Lord of the Rings series, The Fellowship of the Ring (1954). I appreciate this theme because I’ve known people who tend to sparkle. I’ve seen others fall all over these supposedly golden people. They can do no wrong. During one experience, I saw the dark side of this person. I saw the meanness, falseness, and cruelty that this person was capable of. Yet, because this person seemingly “glittered,” everybody else could not see through the facade. They continued to adore and almost worship this person, yet I knew the dark secrets, the lies, and the double-faced nature of this person. To me, that entire situation and experience has been summed up in the theme of The Fellowship of the Ring: all that glitters is not gold. Don’t let outward sparkle deceive; there may be something different on the inside.
Obviously, I have had a hard time forgiving this person. It has taken years to get to a point where I am not thinking about the awful pain caused by this person’s actions and words. It will take many years more to completely forgive and learn to love without an apology or a reunited sense of kinship. That’s okay. I learned a long time ago that forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. I can continue to work on my own heart. But in the mean time, I am wary of “sparkly” friends and those whose substance is mostly on the outside rather than within. I have a friend who often notices that the best trait of others is that they are “real.” We like real people.
Back to my thoughts on The Fellowship of the Ring. Of course, I had already seen the movies. I did not really enjoy them much. I tolerated them for my husband’s sake. So, I went into reading the first book with an attitude of not being ready to like it. And to be honest, I didn’t like it, BUT I didn’t hate it either. I am just in the middle, a negotiated subject position, as fantasy is not really my one true love when it comes to literature. But because The Lord of the Rings books are number 2 on the BBC book list, this is my attempt at beginning to read the entire trilogy.
I enjoyed the first part of the book the most. I liked reading about the hobbits and their village. I find hobbits to be creatures of habit, something that I am as well, and I connected with their sense of order and community.
Once the journey began, I lost a little interest, but it was renewed with the appearance of Strider (who we learn is Aragorn). I felt uneasy and apprehensive when Frodo has to decide if Strider is THE Strider or an imposter. That tension increased when the black riders come looking for them at the inn. I felt gripped by the story. I guess it was the thrill of the chase and the close escape from danger.
I see Strider as a comforter and mentor to Frodo, as the story obviously follows the hero cycle, which you can read my explanation of here. Frodo is an unlikely hero, but that is his appeal. We like the underdog, the rags-to-riches tales, and the Cinderella-like stories. All are underdogs in a sense, so we tend to cheer for them. It makes us believe that we could overcome in such a situation or that we can even face the more realistic tragedies and trials in our lives.
As I read, I began to wonder what the ring represents. To me, it seems to be pride. The ring, if used too often, causes the wearer to become more and more selfish and evil. This is true also with pride. If we give into that pride, which tells us that we are better than or deserve more than others, we will become more and more selfish and evil by degrees. It is a slow and binding process, similar to the ring’s pull on its owners. Power is seductive, but thinking that one deserves such power over others is pride.
To bring this fantasy story about good and evil down to an everyday level, we all suffer from pride. Mine comes and goes, and I have good days and bad days. It is a constant struggle for me not to put on that ring and claim that power or the invisibility to consequences that I think I deserve at times. Luckily, Frodo has Strider to guide him. Luckily, the rest of us have God, or the Holy Ghost, or sacred books, or the universe to guide us. Whatever your religious persuasion, we all have a conscience and an inner voice to guide us when we allow it to speak to our soul instead of drowning it out with pride.
And like Bilbo, we often have a hard time letting go. I guess this is where forgiveness comes back into my analysis. I need to forgive. There are so many people I need to forgive, not just the one I mentioned above. But as Bilbo has a hard time letting go of the ring, or his pride, I, too, have a hard time letting go.
It seems that the ring’s power to make one invisible is instructive here, too. If overused, the ring will cause permanent invisibility. To me, this could be a religious consequence of skipping mortality. It could also be read as a consequence of holding onto one’s pride. Ultimately, it will only hurt the person who is vengeful, selfish, and full of grudges.
Now, I can’t close this post without mentioning the music and the poetry of the hobbits. They have a rich artistic culture, one that J.R.R. Tolkien created single-handedly. Wow. I am impressed with his creation of the songs, even the melodies, and his creation of this fantastical world. He has true talent at creation. I found many of the songs and poems to be silly or annoying, but I respect the work that went into them. The one that I could not get out if my head for weeks was “Old Tom Bombadill.”
Are you an LOTR fan? What is your favorite part or most insightful reading of the symbols?