On Tattoo #2

I’ve known for a while that I was going to get a Lord of the Rings tattoo. I wanted it to be something in Tengwar, but something more than “one ring to rule them all”. As one of the many kids who spent their entire childhood dreaming of being in the fellowship of the ring, I had to find a quote that could somehow encapsulate at least a part of what the legendary chronicles of Middle Earth have meant to me over the years.

Several months ago, I found a phrase that jumped off the page and wrapped itself around my brain:

For a while they stood there, like men on the edge of a sleep where nightmare lurks, holding it off, though they know that they can only come to morning through the shadows.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, Book 4, Chapter 2

But what does it mean? To really understand the above phrase, you need to know what the paragraph before that says:

They had come to the desolation that lay before Mordor: the lasting monument to the dark labour of its slaves that should endure when all their purposes were made void; a land defiled, diseased beyond all healing – unless the Great Sea should enter in and wash it with oblivion. ‘I feel sick,’ said Sam. Frodo did not speak.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, Book 4, Chapter 2

I’m sure there are much better quotes from Middle Earth to get permanently inked into your skin; but no matter how hard I looked for something else, I couldn’t get “though they know that they can only come to morning through the shadows” out of my head. Something about the terrible context surrounding that particular fragment made it stand out to me; so apparently, that was the phrase I was looking for.

You see, Sam and Frodo hit a dreadful point of desolation; not for the first, or the last, time in their journey. Two small hobbits, dealing with way more than they’d ever asked for, and they’ve just laid eyes on the worst thing they’ve ever seen. So they let the dread wash over them and they stop. 

But they don’t stop forever.

They make it through the horrendous journey. They face terrible monsters, horrible circumstances, and desolation beyond anything they could ever imagine. But, in the end, they finish what they set out to do.

For a while they stood there, like men on the edge of a sleep where nightmare lurks, holding it off, though they know that they can only come to morning through the shadows.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, Book 4, Chapter 2

Demons and despair will be around every turn. They will shake you. It’s okay to stop and let dread wash over you. It’s not okay to stay there forever. Keep going until the journey is finished.

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