All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost . . .
These lines are the beginning of a poem about Aragorn, quoted by Gandalf in his letter to Frodo in Book I, Chapter 10, and offered as a means for the hobbit to determine whether Strider is indeed Aragorn. The poem demonstrates not only Tolkien’s facility with language, but also the central place of poetry, lore, and prophecy in the world of Middle-earth. The verse functions as a sort of seal of authenticity for Aragorn, one that defines him not only through his past and lineage, but also through his future—the destiny that awaits him. Stylistically, the poem shows Tolkien at his mythic-poetic best. In opening the poem with an inversion of a widely known aphorism (“all that glitters is not gold”)—a move that also sets the metric rhythm for the poem—Tolkien grounds the poem in the known before using it to lay out part of his own created mythology. In this case, the mythology is the story of the return of the king to Minas Tirith and the reforging of the sword of Elendil. Tolkien uses this technique of grounding the mythic in the known many times throughout the novel. Perhaps the most notable arena for this technique is in Tolkien’s descriptions of the natural world of Middle-earth, which mix familiar elements, such as birds, horses, and willow and fir trees, with the unfamiliar or scary, such as Orcs, athelas and mellyrn trees, and the Balrog. This blending of elements enhances the believability of Tolkien’s Middle-earth, making it easier to swallow than a world in which literally everything is unfamiliar—and perhaps even characterizing Middle-earth as a sort of ancient predecessor to our own world.