Every year, March 25 is Tolkien Reading Day. On this date in Middle-earth, the One Ring was thrown into the fires of Mount Doom and destroyed. Thus Frodo’s long quest throughout The Lord of the Rings was accomplished and Sauron defeated. The triumph of good over evil is always something to be celebrated! And within The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, there are plenty of opportunities to do so.
In honor of this day, we asked Tolkien fans to pick their favorite passages from the writings of JRR Tolkien — and to tell us why they love them. These are some of their chosen texts.
Once Upon a Time…
To begin at the beginning:
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” – The Hobbit, Chapter 1
The Professor scribbled those immortal words onto a blank page in an exam paper he was marking — and so began a tale he would tell to his children as a bedtime story. These words are as familiar to fans of Tolkien as “Once upon a time” — and as comforting. The fan who chose this passage wrote, “Not his most grandiose passage, but whenever I read it, it’s like greeting an old friend.”
In Friendship there is Strength
Talking of friends:
“Most gracious host … it was said to me by Elrond Halfelven that I should find friendship upon the way, secret and unlooked for. Certainly I looked for no such friendship as you have shown. To have found it turns evil to great good.” – Frodo, The Two Towers, Book IV Chapter 7
As we journey through life, we all hope for friendship and camaraderie. Those whom we encounter on the way make all the difference; true friends are worth their weight in gold.
The Treasure You Seek
And gold can be found in unexpected places:
“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 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.” – Bilbo, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II Chapter 2
A timely reminder to us all that sparkling, shiny things are not always the best. Deep roots and old friendships endure, and sometimes those rather battered and familiar (and perhaps overlooked) things in our lives are actually the greatest treasures we have. The fan who chose this passage wrote, “I think this can speak to a lot of things and people.”
Finding True Value
Thorin Oakenshield learned only later in his life what true treasures are:
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” – Thorin, The Hobbit, Chapter 18
We are all far richer than we sometimes think; life’s real luxuries are good times with good people.
The Power of Companionship
If we must face hard times, it helps if we have someone we love with whom to face them:
“Then, Éowyn of Rohan, I say to you that you are beautiful. In the valleys of our hills there are flowers fair and bright, and maidens fairer still; but neither flower nor lady have I seen till now in Gondor so lovely, and so sorrowful. It may be that only a few days are left ere darkness falls upon our world, and when it comes I hope to face it steadily; but it would ease my heart, if while the Sun yet shines, I could see you still.” – Faramir, The Return of the King, Book VI Chapter 5
Love is a treasure indeed — both romantic love, and the love of dear friends and family. The fan whose favorite passage this is wrote, “The best man in Middle-earth meets the best woman; sparks fly!” May we all be fortunate enough to find our soulmate to share the road through life!
Bilbo’s Walking Song
When traveling far, Hobbits find the journey easier with a song to sing; and Bilbo’s walking-song appears several times in Tolkien’s writing. Here is just one verse from one version:
“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.” – Frodo and company, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I Chapter 3
The walking-song was chosen by two fans as their favorite passage; one wrote how it conjures “the wonder and mystery of travel,” while the other wrote, “This passage has always evoked a sense of magic in our world … Helping to remind me that even if I’m on a well trodden path, there is always the possibility of a new one, to change your world, or even to see death as an adventure rather than something to be feared.”
Looking Back on the Adventure
As we draw nearer to that end of life, what a gift it is to have memories of adventures, of joyful happenings, and of dear friends:
“I sit beside the first and think
of all that I have seen,
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
in summers that have been;
Of yellow leaves and gossamer
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.
I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.
For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.
I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago,
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.
But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door.” – Bilbo, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II Chapter 3
Bilbo, towards the end of his life, has the pleasure of memories to look back on. He also faces the sadness of knowing his adventures are drawing to a close. It is hard to imagine what it will be like when a springtime comes around which we will not see. Yet even in the sorrow of contemplating our own passing, it’s nice to know that Bilbo — and so many others — have been there before. We’re not alone.
A Song of Defiance
Yet even when we think the end may be nigh, we can still find strength and defiance, as Samwise did in the tower of Cirith Ungol:
“Though here at journey’s end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars forever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
nor bid the Stars farewell.” – Samwise, The Return of the King, Book VI Chapter 1
In a moment of great darkness, Sam finds himself inspired, as words of song come into his thoughts and to his aid. Do not despair! There will always be light beyond the darkness, as Sam soon finds out.
A Star Among the Shadows
In the next chapter, Sam finds a physical affirmation of the words which sprang, unbidden, to his mind:
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” – The Return of the King, Book VI Chapter 2
Difficult times pass, and good times return. As Shakespeare wrote, “Time and the hour runs through the roughest day” (Macbeth). It is greatly reassuring to know that even the darkest times will not endure — and that there will be light at the end of the tunnel.
The gift of light in darkness is what Galadriel gives to Frodo:
“In this phial … is caught the light of Eȁrendil’s star, set amid the waters of my fountain. It will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.” – Galadriel, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II Chapter 8
The fan who shared these words said they give them strength and hope even in the most challenging of times.
Tolkien’s words themselves are a kind of phial of Galadriel; his writing reminds us of friendship, of hope, of strength, and of the things which truly matter. May they bring light to us all!
Closing with a bonus phrase, here is my own favorite line, to send you out into the world with renewed energy:
“Courage is found in unlikely places … Be of good hope!” – Gildor, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I Chapter 3
Happy Tolkien Reading Day! What’s your favorite Tolkien quote? Let us know in the comments and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!