Sometimes, a line from a book, movie, or TV show is so profound and meaningful that it takes on a life of its own. When this happens, there are usually far more people who know the line than those who know where it comes from.
One such line is the saying, “Not all who wander are lost.” This famous expression was first written as the second line of a poem in JRR Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring – the first book in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
However, knowing where it comes from does not explain what it means, especially if The Lord of the Rings is not your thing.
What Does “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” Mean?
The line, “Not all who wander are lost” was written about the character Aragorn, initially known as The Strider, in the Lord of the Rings. At first glance, he appeared to be a simple ranger who was dark and gloomy looking and didn’t smile much, but he was, in fact, the heir to Gondor and the throne of men.
The first two lines of the poem read:
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost.”
The first line was originally written by Shakespear, and refers to the fact that Aragorn does not look like a King, or even a good man, but he is underneath. Although he does not “glitter” (look nice), he is gold at heart.
This is brought up by the hobbits as they travel with Strider, when Samwise Gamgee expresses a concern that he could be an enemy spy.
Frodo Baggins responds with the following quote: “I don’t know, Sam. I think one of the enemy’s spies would look fairer and feel fouler.”
In other words, an evil person sent to convince the hobbits that he was their friend would likely be attractive and smooth-talking on the outside (glittering like gold) but evil on the inside.
The second line refers to the fact that Aragorn, in hiding as Strider, is not where he should be – on the throne of Gondor – but that doesn’t mean he is lost.
Strider travels all over Middle Earth, serving the kingdoms of men and learning how to be a good king, without anyone knowing who he really is. He is a wanderer, moving from place to place, but always with a purpose.
So What Does That Mean for Us?
In our modern world, wanderers have become more and more prevalent in society… the internet allows many people to work from anywhere, so people who love to travel and don’t like to stay in one place have far more opportunities to wander around and experience the world while working.
Many people see these “wanderers” as lost, accusing them of searching for something or running away, but that is not always the case. For the most part, these travelers are people who want to experience what the world has to offer.
What Tolkien’s saying means for people like that is that wandering is good, as long as it is purposeful. Only those who wander aimlessly are lost.
In fact, wandering is essential for society! The human race would not be anywhere near as technologically advanced as we are if it weren’t for wanderers. Important inventions and marvels of technology are very seldom discovered by people who follow the same path as those who came before them.
It is the wanderers, the thinkers, and the dreamers who come up with fantastic ideas and are brave enough to try them. Wanderers are the curious and brave souls who help society to move forward and grow.
Tolkien brings up this perspective repeatedly in his novels, as all his main characters undertake arduous journeys of purposeful wandering to reach their goals, even if their goal is saving the world.
So Which Wanderers Are Lost?
Tolkien’s quote tells us that just because we wander doesn’t mean we are lost, but the part that says “not all” implies that some who wander are lost. The definition of being lost is not being able to find your destination, so who are these wanderers who are actually lost?
People who are lost are people who don’t have a purpose. This could be people who are wandering with nowhere to go, but it could also be people who are living their lives in a single tiny bubble, never going anywhere aside from work and home.
People like these are far more lost than those who get out and experience the world.
They wander through their entire lives and then die in the same place, never having learned, grown, or experienced anything new and interesting. What was their destination? What was their purpose?
This tells us that we should always have a goal in life – a purpose, something to work towards.
It might be something as simple as making enough money to retire young so you still have enough time to experience the things you want to experience, or it could be a grand design, like becoming a famous musician or sports star.
We are all different and have to choose our own paths, but for our lives to be meaningful, we need to have something to strive towards.
It is also important to note that just because someone appears to be lost doesn’t mean that they are, so we shouldn’t judge someone else’s life if we don’t know enough about them
Before the hobbits and everyone else in the story found out that Aragorn was the heir to the throne of Gondor, many of them judged him as a purposeless wanderer, but he never was.
“Not all who wander are lost” is the second line of a poem by JRR Tolkien from the first book in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. It tells us that just because someone is a wanderer and doesn’t have a set home, doesn’t mean they are lost.
The poem was written to identify the character of Aragorn in the books, who was then known as Strider, a dark and mysterious ranger who appeared to wander from place to place without purpose. He is eventually acknowledged as the rightful king of Gondor, showing that his wandering did have a purpose.
In the modern world, there are many wanderers, especially in recent years, as people have realized they can work from anywhere. More and more people are traveling to experience the world and learn about themselves and others. These people are not lost, because they are learning and their wandering has a purpose.
One could argue that those who live their lives without ever traveling are more lost and purposeless than those who do. It is the wanderers who discover new things and bring home new ideas and inventions.