Not all who wander are lost. This is a line from the poem “All that is gold does not glitter” by J.R.R. Tolkien. This poem was written for The Lord of the Rings movie. However, there is a lot more meaning behind this quote than meets the eye. Some might think those donning the “not all who wander are lost” tattoo are just big fans of The Lord of the Rings but this couldn’t be further from the truth. This is actually a really beautiful quote with loads of meaning.
In this post, we will talk about places this quote has shown up and in what situations it has been made relevant. We will also discuss some of the meaning behind this quote and what people with the “not all who wander are lost” tattoo think it means to them.
Lord of the Rings Relevance
The poem in which this phrase resides is called “All that is gold does not glitter,” appearing twice in the first volume of the Lord of the Rings novel, “Fellowship of the Ring.”
“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 the blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”
The beginning line of Tolkien’s poem, “The Riddle of Strider“, “All that is gold does not glitter” is a nod to and/or rearrangement of the phrase “All that glitters isn’t gold,” a well-known saying, originally accredited to Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. In this play, the saying implies that not everything is as it appears to be.
While an obvious reference to the poem, the classic line, in addition to being a large theme in the Lord of the Rings plot, has been popular in modern pop culture, featured in many recent modern-day pop songs, such as Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up”, Alesana‘s “A Guided Masquerade”, Antemasque’s “Domino Rain”, “Gold” by Prince; Kanye West’s “Family Business”.
While there have been numerous recent songs that make reference to this exact meaning, there are many versions of phrasing, reverse phrasing, or imagery influenced by the phrase that many have chosen to have inked stands as a reminder to stay true to themselves or their instincts.
Getting out of your Comfort Zone
The phrase can also largely hold meaning for those who have never extended past their comfort zone of location or lifestyle and who are seeking to know more about the world, other areas of the world, and different cultures. Getting this tattoo is a great reminder of this.
Particularly applicable to millennials and younger generations, many feel more restricted in life experiences and world views, seek different experiences, curious about life outside of the local or small-town life they’ve always known. Many people who have grown up in a more insulated community or area, or even larger, more accepting communities yearn to experience culture or lifestyles outside of their own to have a better understanding or appreciation of life.
Many younger people who feel lost or haven’t settled down with families crave exploring life in other countries, areas, or cultures, seeking out life experiences completely different from theirs aiming to expand their perspective on life.
Along the same vein, many people choose to get this tattoo to represent their freedom and independence. It is a representation of breaking free from and seeking more than the comfortable life they’ve always known. To some, this sort of experience can seem trivial but to many, it can speak volumes; the curiosity of trying to understand a life different from your own.
Bravery and Wanderlust
By the same token, the “not all who wander are lost” tattoo also carries a heavy meaning of pushing beyond any level of comfort; exerting yourself beyond the comfort of what you currently or have known; braving the relative unknown in order to understand
The bravery behind pushing past any comfort boundaries in order to have different experiences in life is a large drive behind travel and experiencing other customs and cultures. Though it may seem small, wanderlust is a main factor in the tattoo’s meaning.
By definition, a longing or need to move or travel forward, wanderlust encompasses the need to travel worldwide to better – or even try to – understand life from a different perspective. This said bravery can be such a large step for an individual, to the point where it does pose as a milestone of breaking free from their comfort zone.
Variations of the Tattoo
Though many tattoos with this phrasing tend to be script reflective of a biblical passage indicating seeking a deeper meaning, most tend to accompany the phrase – or variations of the phrase – with specific imagery solidifying their individual meaning of the phrase.
One of the most commonly inked uses of the phrase portrays the words surrounding a standard map compass. Often, when not accompanied by a compass, the phrase is accompanied by feathers, birds or a combination of both indicating the freedom and independence of restrictions that may be holding one back.
This also is often, though not exclusively, displayed atop a range of mountains or other elements/plants such as the roots of trees. Most commonly, this sort of tattoo is found on the forearm or shoulder.
While there are so many literal iterations of the phrase, there is an equal amount expressing the same or similar sentiment purely through imagery. This applies in images like a feather (indicating weightlessness and freedom), birds (along the same sentiment), a set of wings across the shoulder blades, vintage keys (indicating the end of the path of discovery), or just very simply, a representation of the aspect that they felt gave them a feeling of independence or freedom.