Saturday, January 19, 2019


In 1875 (the Victorian era), the English poet William Ernest Henley wrote the poem Invictus. Many decades later and while incarcerated at the Robben Island prison, Nelson Mandela recited the poem to other prisoners and was empowered by its message of self-mastery.

"Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul."

I now post about it because the verse perfectly captures one of of the key elements that is also in many ways the very heart of Fantasy literature and the Spirit of Tolkien: to never give up; to keep fighting even the battle is uphill, bitterly painful and seemingly hopeless. To stand tall even when you comprehend how small you are compared to the vastness that threatens to destroy you and all you want to do is lie down. To recognize that the human heart is made of a steel brighter and more enduring even than mithril and that, as Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in her Earthsea books, “it is very hard for evil to take hold of the unconsenting soul.”

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