The Road goes ever on: part one

A three-part investigation of the esotericism in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, the author's mythos, legendarium and involvement with Occultism


To attempt to plunge straight into complex explanations of the esotericism in The Lord of the Rings would be both foolhardy and counter-productive. Were we to do so you would most probably give up after reading a few lines and find something less challenging to occupy your time—and serve us right! So we will begin at the beginning with Tolkien's mythos, and then proceed to his legendarium—the collection of legends and histories he invented—out of which the book evolved, before getting to the heart of the matter. For it is important to bear in mind that The Lord of the Rings did not spring out of nowhere.

Its origins go right back to Tolkien's early childhood and his fascination with languages, mythology, legends, history and story-telling. By following this many-stranded trail from its inception and carefully examining its growth and development we aim to make this three-part investigation interesting, enjoyable and instructive, and so avoid the mistakes of other writers who have either said too little or too much about the man and his books. In this way we may all learn something to our advantage!

In the first of our afterwords we will consider Tolkien's mythos which runs right through The Lord of the Rings and is the foundation of it, whilst our article will examine the hidden meaning in some of the poems to be found in the book. In the second and third articles we explore these themes in greater detail, as well as Tolkien's legendarium and involvement with the 'occult'. Our main aim, however, is to encourage readers unfamiliar with the book (or who have been put off it by the intellectual 'literati' who disparage Tolkien's work) to read it with a seeing eye, for there is much concealed wisdom to be found within it as we shall see as we develop our theme.

It is not our intention to write a biography of the author, there are plenty of these to be had, most notably that written by Humphrey Carpenter, published in 1977 by George Allen & Unwin. Nor do we wish to write a synopsis of the book, characters and plot, as this can easily be found online and in print. Neither will we refer to the films made by Peter Jackson, except in passing. Although they remain immensely more popular than the book, the many changes he made render them inaccurate and misleading. Whilst we would not go so far as to dismiss the films entirely, we have much sympathy with the comment made about them by the late Christopher Tolkien (1924-2020), the author's son and literary executor, who said: "the chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me. The commercialisation has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing. They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25."

Our investigation is based on the text of the second edition of The Lord of the Rings published by George Allen & Unwin in 1966. Later impressions and editions, most notably the fiftieth anniversary edition published in 2004 by HarperCollins, which included more than 200 emendations, do not differ materially from the 1966 edition. Readers interested in purchasing the book will find no difficulty in obtaining it either new or second-hand in various formats from prices as low as £1, so there really is no excuse not to possess your own, printed copy of this timeless mythic masterpiece!

lord of the rings

First UK edition of The Lord of the Rings — 1954‒1955

The greatest book of the century

Written mainly between 1937 and 1949, The Lord of the Rings was first published in three parts between July 1954 and October 1955 by George Allen & Unwin in the UK. Erroneously called a 'trilogy' by some, these parts—The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King—form one continuous narrative. The book did not become widely popular until it was discovered by American college students in the mid 1960's. Despite this inauspicious beginning, it has been called the greatest work of fiction of the twentieth century and by 2010, the book had sold over 150 million copies worldwide. Its principal themes, good and evil, reverence for nature, scientific materialism versus spirituality, self-sacrifice and transformation through suffering, and the redeeming power of love, are as relevant today as when the book was written nearly eighty years ago.

When, in 1997, The Lord of the Rings was voted the 'greatest book of the century' in a nationwide poll in the UK, the literary critics were unanimous in their dismay and opprobrium. "Oh hell! Has it? Oh my God. Dear oh dear," sobbed one shocked member of the British literati. Worse was to follow. The writer Howard Jacobson reacted with splenetic scorn: "Tolkien—author of the century? That's for children, isn't it? It just shows the folly of teaching people to read. It's another black day for British culture." The Times Literary Supplement described the results of the poll as "horrifying," while the Guardian newspaper complained that: "The Lord of the Rings must be by any reckoning one of the worst books ever written." A previous generation of literary pundits were similarly dismissive of the book on its publication in 1954. What is it about this book that caused it to be such a sensation? Why does it inspire such opprobrium and derision on the one hand and abiding love, praise and wonderment on the other? Why does it resonate with the hearts of millions of readers and antagonise the heads of its critics? The answers lie in the previous quotations.

Howard Jacobson was nearer the truth than he realised when he said that the book was fit only for children. Just as other critics who lambasted it as: "fit only for adolescent boys" were equally right, but not for the reasons they imagined! The fact of the matter is that children—if all the innocence and purity with which they came into incarnation has not been 'educated' out of them—intuitively recognise truth and beauty when they encounter it. Our own century is no less mean-spirited, cynical and materialistic than the last, yet for those who retain the wonder and simplicity of a little child fresh from its Heavenly Home, The Lord of the Rings still has the power to inspire and instruct the mind and gladden the heart. Whether you have read the book or not, we venture to hope that what we shall put before you will do just that.

The fact that Tolkien was a great letter writer throughout his long life and that many of his letters have been published (see further reading list in the sidebar), makes our task very much easier, and we shall quote his own words extensively as we develop our theme. But before we do so, we would like to touch on two contentious points which, on the face of it, seem to contradict the premise that there is any esotericism at all in The Lord of the Rings. The first sticking point is the author's statement that the book: "is a fundamentally religious and Catholic work," whereas most readers and critics alike regard it as fantasy fiction. The second are his oft-quoted remarks that the book is not to be understood allegorically. Neither of these statements is entirely true and both are misleading. Let us deal with the former first.

A religious and Catholic work

Anyone who imagines that there is no esotericism in the Catholic Church either knows very little about Christianity or has never attended a Catholic Mass when it is conducted by a priest with real, spiritual power. Those who have will not be in any doubt that it is a magical rite in every sense of the word. There are present all the ingredients employed by magicians throughout the ages, in all parts of the world. We have an altar, incense, holy water, sacred vestments, candles, invocations in the form of prayers and music, and a host of other aids and appurtenances, all designed to raise up the minds of the congregation in the celebration of the mysteries of God. We find many of these same ingredients in The Lord of the Rings. Music plays a central role in the lives and actions of the Elves. The Wizard, Gandalf, employs 'magic' in several places in the book, whilst the One Ring itself is a magical talisman of great occult power.

Nor is religion absent from the book. The dictionary tells us that religion is: "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs." Although 'superhuman agencies' are only hinted at in the narrative and there are precious few 'ritual observances' in the book, Tolkien's Elves are immortal beings who follow a 'moral code' that informs and guides all their actions. The Wizard Gandalf too, as we shall see in part two of our investigation, is an agent of the Valar, or the 'gods' who rule Middle-earth under the sovereignty of 'Eru Ilúvatar', the Supreme Being in Tolkien's mythos. There are few better definitions of what religion really is than that given by Hermes Trismegistus, thousands of years ago, which we quote on our occult maxims page:

"Religion is lofty philosophy. Without philosophy there is no lofty religion. He who instructs himself concerning the universe, its laws and its principles, its beginning and its end, gives thanks for all things to the Creator, as to a gracious father, a good protector, a faithful teacher. This is religion and by means of it we know where truth is, and what it is."

We are in no doubt that notwithstanding his staunch, if at times unorthodox Catholicism, Tolkien would have been in full agreement with these wise and true words, regardless of the fact that they were uttered by a so-called 'Pagan.' All this affirms Tolkien's contention that The Lord of the Rings "is a fundamentally religious and Catholic work." For we should not forget that 'catholic' does not only mean the Church of that name, but as the dictionary tells us, "broad-minded, wide-ranging, involving all things—from the Greek 'katholikos'—meaning universal. Those who have come to know Tolkien well through his books and letters will agree with us that he was nobody's fool and often had his tongue firmly in his cheek when dealing with over-enthusiastic fans and carping critics alike. Consequently, he would have been well aware of the double meaning in the word 'catholic' and may have chosen it deliberately to satisfy the apostles of religious orthodoxy on the one hand, and upon the other remaining true to his own, private beliefs. These, as we shall see later on, did not always coincide with the dogmas of the Catholic Church of which he was a life-long member.

Allegorical misconceptions

It is generally thought by readers and scholars alike that Tolkien was famously hostile to allegory. This is at best a misconception and at worst completely false. Although Tolkien expressed his 'cordial' dislike of allegory more than once, what he really meant by this and what he personally understood by 'allegory' is another matter. In his foreword to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings published in 1966, Tolkien wrote: "As for any inner meaning or 'message', it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical." Later on in the same letter he adds: "But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse 'applicability' with 'allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author."

In another letter sent to a publisher in late 1951, Tolkien wrote: "I dislike allegory—the conscious and intentional allegory—yet any attempt to explain the purport of myth or fairy-tale must use allegorical language. And, of course, the more 'life' a story has the more readily will it be susceptible of allegorical interpretations: while the better a deliberate allegory is made the more nearly will it be acceptable just as a story." At first glance this seems to contradict what Tolkien wrote several years later in his foreword quoted above. Writing to a bookseller just after the book was published in 1954, Tolkien had this to say about the enigmatical character of Tom Bombadil who appears in the first part of the book—The Fellowship of the Ring. "I don't think Tom needs philosophising about, and is not improved by it. I do not mean him to be an allegory—or I should not have given him so particular, individual, and ridiculous a name—but 'allegory' is the only mode of exhibiting certain functions: he is then an 'allegory', or an exemplar, a particular embodying of pure (real) natural science." We shall have more to say about the enigmatical Tom Bombadil in the final part of our investigation.

Later still, in 1955, Tolkien wrote to the poet W. H. Auden, who had just given a talk about The Lord of the Rings for the BBC. "In a larger sense, it is I suppose impossible to write any 'story' that is not allegorical in proportion as it 'comes to life'; since each of us is an allegory, embodying in a particular tale and clothed in the garments of time and place, universal truth and everlasting life." What are we to make of these seemingly contradictory statements? What is clear is that Tolkien wavered in his definition of, and views on, allegory. Why he did so no one has ever bothered to discover, though the simple reason is not far to seek.

Later in the foreword, Tolkien writes: "The real (Second World) war does not resemble the legendary war (of the Ring in the book) in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dur would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves."

The fact that so many of his readers and critics insisted on assuming that the book mirrored the events of the Second World War is sufficient reason for Tolkien's contradictory statements about allegory. The dictionary tells us that an allegory is: "a representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms; a symbolical narrative." The emphasis is ours. From this it is clear that what irked Tolkien was the assumption that he had deliberately and consciously constructed an allegory of topical events. Had the book not been written during the Second World War it is doubtful whether the author would ever have mentioned allegory at all, or felt the need to deny its presence in his book. We see the same misconceptions in regard to the allegories in the Bible, many of which are interpreted as referring to specific historical events and persons, when there is nothing in them to support such suppositious speculations.

In short, Tolkien's ambiguous remarks about allegory arose from his justifiable concern that he didn't want his story to be seen as an allegory for topical events and persons. He wanted his 'inner message' to be universal and timeless. And so it is, for those who are able to read between the lines of his narrative, as we shall see later. We are surprised that, to the best of our knowledge, this simple explanation for the clear presence of the many allegorical elements in The Lord of the Rings which the author (apparently) denied has not occurred to the readers or critics who have hotly debated this point over the years and still argue about it today. As our regular readers will know from our many articles on symbolism, allegory does not consist, as many imagine, in deliberately foisting only one possible interpretation upon the reader. On the contrary, the whole point and aim of allegorical compositions is to enshrine a whole body of meaning in a phrase, a symbol, myth or legend for the reader to freely discover in the light of his or her higher reason. Moreover, if an allegory be worthy of the name, whether it is a Biblical parable, a fairy-tale or a vast mythic saga like The Lord of the Rings, it must tell a complete story in its own right. A chronicle that engages the mind and moves the heart, regardless of any hidden meaning. If it did not it would quickly sink into oblivion and be forgotten. This is not a fate that is ever likely to befall The Lord of the Rings as we saw in our introduction.

If we wish for confirmation of Tolkien's use of allegory we need look no further than a short story he wrote in 1939 whilst he was at work on The Lord of the Rings. The story was called Leaf by Niggle and first appeared in the Dublin Review in 1945. Later it was republished several times in various collections of Tolkien's writings. The story concerns an artist, Niggle by name who paints a canvas of a great Tree in a society that does not value art for its own sake but only as a tool of commerce. He spends so much time and effort painting every leaf of his tree with such niggling attention to detail, that he ends up discarding all his other artworks, or tacks them onto the main canvas, which becomes a single vast embodiment of his vision, yet remains unfinished at his death.

If this is not an allegory of Tolkien's own life and work, we do not know what is! If we regard The Lord of the Rings as a tree, then the mythology and philosophy of The Silmarillion may be considered to be the roots which underpinned and nourished it, whilst the branches and leaves are his short stories, essays and poems, many parts of which he grafted onto The Lord of the Rings in one form or another. Like Niggle, Tolkien faced many chores and duties that kept him from the work he loved and like Niggle, he was an inveterate procrastinator, taking up and abandoning projects, endlessly rewriting the pages he drafted. Even when his work was to be republished, he continued niggling at it until the last possible moment. This is not true of Leaf by Niggle. The story appeared to him in a dream and he wrote it down in one sitting, barely correcting it before it was published. It was, as he himself said: "as if it had always been there, in my mind, and had only to come out." This immediacy is a perfect example of the workings of true inspiration, when not impeded or distorted by the intellect.

The tale takes on a surreal turn when Niggle catches a train after being incarcerated in a psychiatric institute against his will. When he asks the porter where the train is going the answer he receives is: "I don't think they have fixed its name yet, but you'll find it all right." Although Tolkien does not spell out what has happened, the allegory is clear: "A great shadow came between him and the sun." In other words Niggle has died and finds himself in a landscape which seems both strange and oddly familiar. Next he sees his tree. "Before him stood the Tree, his Tree, finished. If you could say that of a Tree that was alive, its leaves opening, its branches growing and bending in the wind that Niggle had so often felt or guessed, and had so often failed to catch. He gazed at the Tree, and slowly he lifted his arms and opened them wide.

'It's a gift!" he said'. He was referring to his art, and also to the result; but he was using the word quite literally. He went on looking at the Tree. All the leaves he had ever laboured at were there, as he had imagined them rather than as he had made them; and there were others that had only budded in his mind, and many that might have budded, if only he had had time. Nothing was written on them, they were just exquisite leaves, yet they were dated as clear as a calendar. Some of the most beautiful—and the most characteristic, the most perfect examples of the Niggle style—were seen to have been produced in collaboration with Mr Parish: there was no other way of putting it."

Mr Parish is Niggle's neighbour in the story and plays a prominent part in the tale. We may take this as a further allegory, for the creation of great works of art is a collaborative exercise in which the creator, consciously, or more often unconsciously, receives his inspiration from the higher realms of Light and from the minds of those attuned to that Light as we may read in Vision Six of The Golden Star. In that chapter the Divine Messenger—Neteru-Hem—describes the ocean of spiritual fire in the higher realms whence inspiration flows into the minds of men: "An ocean of Inspiration this. And if but one such tiny spark you see descends into a Poet's Mind, Lo! An immortal work will be created. His pen drips honey and ambrosia, and with a careless gesture he scatters jewelled thoughts, like stars, upon the Universe of other minds."

Nor is the artist, poet or musician always conscious of the full import of what he paints, writes or composes in his moment of mental exaltation. For if he were he might be tempted to impose his own interpretation upon what he has seen or heard, and so distort the purity of the original conception. This is certainly true of Tolkien, who had a gift for far-seeing vision which enabled him to penetrate deeply into Nature and her hidden laws, putting them into words which might have been written by a great initiate. Unless we accept that memory does not reside in the brain, but in the Higher Self, and that the inspired writer is able to contact these memories, as well as the ocean of inspiration referred to above, Tolkien's profound esoteric knowledge remains inexplicable. In connection with this, one mysterious visitor to the author's home is said to have asked him: "you don't really think you wrote all those stories, do you?" Tolkien's reply is not recorded, but we may conjecture that the question gave him much food for thought!

We have now seen that not only did Tolkien employ allegory (whether consciously or not), but thoroughly approved of it, though he was at pains to discourage the superficial political and topical interpretation of it, and no one can blame him for that.

Poetry in The Lord of the Rings

Most readers regard Tolkien as a writer, not a Poet. This is a mistake, for it is in many (but not all) of the poems which appear in The Lord of the Rings that we may discover some of the greatest occult truths and many of the hidden laws of Nature. The most well-known of these poems—The Road Goes Ever On—forms the title of this investigation, and appears in various versions in the book, as well as in The Hobbit. The first time we encounter it is in Book One, Chapter I of The Fellowship of the Ring, where it is recited by Bilbo Baggins (the hero of The Hobbit) as he is about to leave the Shire for the last time.

"The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say."

This is the first version of the poem (or the second if we include the version first included in The Hobbit) which appears in The Lord of the Rings, and each is filled with hidden meaning, as we shall see. The second time we encounter the poem is in Chapter 3 of Book One. It is identical except for the change from the personal pronoun to the third person in the fourth line and the substitution of the word 'weary' for 'eager' in the fifth line. These changes are significant and probably deliberate, for once we know we are on the right path it is natural we should wish others to follow it too. Furthermore, the path to the Light has its difficulties as many of our regular readers will know. However 'eagerly' we pursue it, there are times when our feet grow 'weary'. The final appearance of the poem is in The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 6, when it is recited by Bilbo in Rivendell.

"The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet."

Earlier, when leaving the Shire, Frodo tells the other hobbits Bilbo's thoughts on 'The Road': "He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. 'It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,' he used to say. 'You step onto the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to." To understand the allegories concealed in these several versions and discover their occult meaning we need to study the poem given in The Hobbit first. We quote it in full for it contains much of interest to us.

"Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known."

What do you make of it, dear reader? Let us consider the first line: 'roads go ever on.' No earthly road does, for they all have a terminus, so we may discard at once any literal interpretation for that will lead us nowhere, and we do hope to get somewhere, do we not? The only 'roads' that never end, are the roads which evolution travels. For, as you can read in our study course article on this subject, there never can be an end to evolution, or if there is, it is so far removed in Time and Space from our limited understanding that to all intents and purposes, it is never-ending and Eternal. Note the references to 'rock' and 'tree'—the evolution of the mineral and vegetable kingdoms. 'Caves where never sun has shone' may refer to the lower realms—the nightside of evolution—as well as to the 'cave' of the human body and lower self, which is dark indeed if not illuminated by the Light of the Higher Self in tune with its own Divine Soul. But what of the 'streams that never find the sea'? Surely, all streams must do so eventually? Here again, we see that a literal reading of these verses tells us nothing and makes little sense. But there are mental 'streams'—currents of thought and desire—which never reach the 'sea' of Wisdom, because they lose themselves in intellectual speculations and purely material aspirations.

The next lines affirm that evolution proceeds in seasons or cycles, reminding us of the well-known verses from Ecclesiastes, chapter 3: "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." The references to grass and stone suggest that sometimes the way is easy and at others, fraught with difficulties and obstacles, confirming that the poem describes a moral and spiritual journey, not an earthly ramble! The last line—'under the mountains of the moon'—is the most esoteric of all for it refers in a concealed manner to the mystery of man's origin, hinted at in The Secret Doctrine, in which we may read: "The human being. . .came out from the moon (a triple mystery—astronomical, physiological, and psychical at once); he crossed the whole cycle of existence and then returned to his birth-place before issuing from it again."

The second line of the second verse ('under cloud and under star') may refer to those incarnations when we wandered off the path into the mists of non-comprehension, later to 'turn at last to home afar', following the star that points the way back to the Divine Source from which we first emerged at the commencement of our long pilgrimage of many lives. But no one turns their feet to home until they have learned the bitter lessons of material existence. Only when they have experienced 'fire and sword' and all the horrors and sorrows mortal man is heir to, will they be ready to 'look at last on meadows green' and dwell once more among their kin in Heavenly bliss among the 'trees and hills they long have known.' That, at any rate is how we read the hidden messages in this remarkable poem.

This begs the question whether Tolkien was consciously aware of the hidden meaning in his poems. Knowing somewhat of the mysterious process of inspiration we should say that he was not. We alluded to this earlier when we discussed the contentious subject of allegory. We may therefore say that the gifted Poet who is under the afflatus of Divine inspiration may not always be consciously aware of the import of all they put down on paper, any more than Tolkien was.

Let us see what other good things we can discover in the versions of the poem that appear later on in The Lord of the Rings. The second version, found in Chapter 3 ('Three is Company') is sung by the Hobbits when they are walking through The Shire, just before they meet a company of elves. Three stanzas are given in the text, with the first starting with the words: "Upon the hearth the fire is red. . ." The following extract is from the second stanza of the poem.

"Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though we pass them by today,
Tomorrow we may come this way
And take the hidden paths that run
Towards the Moon or to the Sun."

It is this part of the poem that is reprised with different words later in the book. This third version is sung softly by Frodo as he and Sam walk in the Shire a few years after they have returned, and as Frodo prepares to meet Elrond and others and journey to the Grey Havens to take ship into the West.

"Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun."

The earliest version this stanza we have been able to find is given in Christopher Tolkien's The Complete History of Middle-earth, volume 2.

"Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread;
And round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And hidden pathways there may run
Towards the Moon or to the Sun."

These enigmatical lines make concealed reference to the occult mysteries of the Sun and Moon, as well as the secrets of reincarnation and evolution. H. P. Blavatsky alludes to these mysteries in her customary cautious manner in The Secret Doctrine when she describes the Hindu concept of lunar and solar dynasties. The former being the Chandravansas who follow 'the path of the moon' and the Suryavansas, who follow 'the path of the Sun'. These 'paths' have a deep astronomical, physiological and psychical significance which will not be lost on some of our readers.

In the published book the last stanza of the poem is rendered as follows. Note that the first line 'Home is behind, the world ahead' is followed in the fifth line by 'Then world behind and home ahead'. This reversal is significant, as we shall see.

"Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread
Through shadows to the edge of night,
Until the stars are all alight.
Then world behind and home ahead,
We'll wander back and home to bed.
Mist and twilight, cloud and shade,
Away shall fade! Away shall fade!"

When we commence our long journey of many incarnations 'home' is 'behind' and the material world 'ahead'. We may consider the 'many paths' to be the various choices we make and the directions we take during our lives on earth, some leading to the 'edge of night'—towards error and darkness—until, having learned our lessons of material existence, our 'stars are all alight'. We have transmuted the base matter of our material selves into pure, spiritual gold and shine with the lustre of our hard-won Wisdom. Then begins the journey home in full consciousness. For us there will then be no more dwelling in 'mist and twilight', for we shall behold the Light in all its radiant sublimity. The 'cloud' which obscured our vision is no more, neither does the 'shade'—the nightside of life and those who belong to it—hold any fears or attractions for us. All these illusions now fade away in the realisation of our heritage. We are free at last and stand upon the mountain-top, liberated, purified and filled with the joy of our home-coming.

Here we must end or brief survey of the poems in The Lord of the Rings. There are many more we have not had time to consider, and we must warn you that not all of them have a hidden meaning, such as the following:

"Sing hey! for the bath at close of day
that washes the weary mud away!
A loon is he that will not sing:
O! Water Hot is a noble thing!"


"There is an inn, a merry old inn
beneath an old grey hill,
And there they brew a beer so brown
That the Man in the Moon himself came down
one night to drink his fill."

These are simple, homely rhymes that make us smile, reminding us that life is not all about dry and dusty study, but should be fun too, though we hope that you will not find this study either 'dry' or 'dusty'. On the contrary, we hope that it will refresh your mind and heart as much as it has given us pleasure to research and write it. Before we bid Tolkien's wonderful verses farewell we cannot resist sharing one final poem with you. Here it is; see what you can make of it without our help, for that is the only way to learn to read between the lines of symbolical compositions as we discussed in the afterword to our allegorical tale of The Broken Violin and in more depth in our afterword to our article on occult symbolism in The Magic Flute. If you have not read these articles, now is a good time to do so.

"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."

In our second article we explore the esotericism in The Lord of the Rings in greater detail, as well as Tolkien's legendarium—the collection of legends and histories he invented—out of which the book evolved. In part three we examine the metaphysical themes in the book further and the symbolism of some of the characters. Our final afterword focuses on Tolkien's involvement with occultism and his friendship with Charles Williams and Owen Barfield who were steeped in mysticism and the occult.


© Copyright Article published 5 July 2017. Updated 1 February 2024.

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