The Riddle of Strider by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Riddle of Strider by J.R.R. Tolkien depicts story highlights for one character from The Lord of the Rings. That character is Aragorn, from his heritage to his becoming “king.” He is discussed as “[a] light” in the dark times of the tale, which both gives understanding to Aragorn’s character and provides a moral for the reader to take from the poem. So long as a person is willing to take responsibility for their actions and focus on what needs to be done, “light” can be found among “the shadows” that life offers through strength that exists from within. You can listen to the poem here.

 

The Riddle of Strider Analysis

First Stanza

This poem, at its core, is to offer insight into the story of Aragorn, who is the intended “king” of Gondor in The Lord of the Rings. As a fan of the books or movies would know, he had not taken his place as “king” when the story begins and is rather “Strider,” or a ranger who “wander[s]” without his “crown.” This very basic outline of events is mirrored in these four lines since he holds ties to a “gold[en]” stature, but his ranger appearance would not appear as “glitter[ing].” Additionally, though he “wander[s],” he knows where his ties and responsibilities lie. By this estimation, he is “gold,” but “does not glitter,” and he “wander[s]” without being “lost.”

These words reflect a common thought in that “All that [glitters is] not [gold]” is a known statement when speaking of the elusiveness of appearances. With the typical wording, something appears remarkable, “glitter[ing],” but lacks substance since it is not “gold.” Here, however, Aragorn has great value that is hidden in an appearance too commonplace to “glitter.”

This play on words boosts the level of familiarity with the phrasing so that the reader could better recall the words, and it creates a more relatable concept that the reader can utilize to connect with the character and story. As the wording already feels familiar, the character’s circumstance could be embraced with a level of understanding because the wording resounded so clearly to the reader. Essentially, the reader who identifies the passage as a change in the common phrase could more easily transition into an understanding of Aragorn’s circumstance because they understood the wording on such a deep level.

The final ideas of this stanza relate to Aragorn’s heritage, that “[t]he old that is strong does not wither” and that “[d]eep roots are not reached by the frost.” This is a declaration that even though so much time has passed, Aragorn is still of the lineage of Gondor “king[s],” and this lineage has not faded with time. No matter how far he has “wander[ed],” he is still of that lineage, and no harsh circumstance can change this.

Stepping away from the plot of the story, this stanza speaks of value beyond appearance as well as strength that can be found in our deepest ties. We can be more than what people see—“gold” even without “glitter”—and we can be “strong” enough through “the frost” to remain “[d]eep[ly]” grounded in what is right and true about us. In this, the reader can take a moral from this story that was otherwise grounded in a fictional tale.

 

Second Stanza

The two beginning lines of this stanza are quite relatable to the story of The Lord of the Rings in that the One Ring—which is connected to “fire” and Mount Doom—was “woken” enough to force the beings of Middle-earth to decide to destroy it. This time would have been covered in “shadows” as Sauron attempted to destroy their world as they knew it, with danger and sacrifice surrounding the heroes, but in this midst of that destruction, it is noted that “[a] light” would “spring” up.

Related poetry:   I Sit and Think by J.R.R. Tolkien

It is a given that this “light” is Aragorn since he is the subject of this poem, and this is fitting since he is the person who could rightfully claim the “crown” of Gondor. As well, the ending two lines of this stanza speak quite clearly about Aragorn’s story since his “blade” that had been “broken” is “[r]enewed,” and he becomes “king.” In essence, Tolkien has managed to explain the core elements of Aragorn’s story within this handful of lines, so much that the reader can see Aragorn’s beginning heritage and his ending royal stature in this eight-line poem.

This “light” concept speaks of individual victory in the midst of a world-wide controversy. So much is in danger before the One Ring is destroyed, but one person is able to provide “light” in these dark moments. No doubt, there are other characters who provide assistance in the tale, but still, this poem focuses on Aragorn’s placement in the matter. What this could mean to the reader is that each individual person can matter in a dilemma such as this. We cannot necessarily control what actions another takes, so concentrating too strongly on what we cannot do could be seen as a waste. Rather, just as this poem begins by exploring Aragorn’s place and ends in the same manner, a person who keeps their focus on making their own right choices could be “[a] light” in a dark time.

At its core, this is a poem filled with hope, both for the fictional story it exists in and the real world to which its logic may be applied. Despite “wander[ing],” Aragorn’s heritage remained against “frost,” and by the mending of what “was broken,” he is able to be “strong” enough to be the “light” that is needed to unite those following him. Even amid “the shadows,” one person could make a difference, and victory could await despite the harshness of the times. “[F]rost” and “shadow” could not keep this from happening, which speaks of hope through perseverance and personal effort.

Just as a “king” rises in the midst of this struggle, average people can rise from their circumstances to find “light” to conquer their conflicts. Like this poem remains fixed on one character, though, keeping focus and noting responsibility are important concepts to employ to see this idea through. This responsibility is noted in that Aragorn had to stop “wander[ing]” to become “king” and to take up the “blade that was broken.” In order to be that “light,” he had to willingly accept his lineage and obligations.

As a summary of a fictional story and as a commentary of hope to the reader, this poem is arguably genius since in only eight lines, Aragorn’s primary story is outlined, and “light” conquers “shadow.” This shows victory, and even the required steps for that victory—like focus. The reader can both browse Aragorn’s tale and earn insights on how to manage their own struggles through the lines, and for either prospect, hope that “spring[s]” from within a person remains the strong concept at work within the poem.

 

About J.R.R. Tolkien

Born in South Africa, J.R.R. Tolkien lived from 1892 to 1973. He lived in England, graduated from Exeter College, and taught at Oxford University in his lifetime. He was also involved with the war effort in World War I as a lieutenant. He was married to Edith Bratt and was the father of four.

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