Not a Tolkien quote: It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit

Not a Tolkien quote (c) Google search results
Not a Tolkien quote (c) Google search results

And yet another installment in my ongoing series Things J.R.R. Tolkien has never said, done, written or had anything to do with thanks to the powerful combination of Jacksonverse and Goodreads. Now, this is kind of a spoiler, of course, but please let me entreat you how much time and effort go into searching for such a quote’s existence. And no, as far as I can tell this is not a Tolkien quote.

This time a lady approached me via the Tolkienist’s Facebook page.


So I now basically had to look up this supposed Tolkien quote.

“It is not the strength of the body that counts but the strength of the spirit.” (Not a Tolkien quote!)

And when you start looking for this – Google’s always a good starting point 😉 – you will find Goodreads. Again. It is a powerful site on the web and nearly impossible to miss when it comes to quotes. However, as I have said time and time again, Goodreads is useless as a source for quotations.

I then checked The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, Letters and Biography by Carpenter and On Fairy-Stories to no avail. It is from those publications most of the quotes are taken from and if you do not find them there it is a pretty bad sign for “true Tolkien quote.” You might as well stop there and then.

However, this is about finding out more about this particular quote. And this one is a really huge problem. Why? It contains the words ‘strength’, ‘body’ and ‘spirit.’ Which – if you ask any doctor or philosopher out there, will lead you to a gazillion of opportunities to talk about them. And as ‘courage’, ‘mind’ and ‘power’ are also options in case this is a translation from a Greek or Roman philosopher the wording itself might be close to the line I am looking for but Google and other search engines can’t yet retro-translate crappy (or extremely good ones, for that matter!) translations.

Mens sana in corpore sano
You could start out by this quote from the Roman poet Juvenal. We all know that a healthy body and a healthy mind go hand in hand. I am really starting to notice this by now because I have passed my 40th year on this planet and do not work out. So I can attest to the truth of this 🙂

But you might say “this isn’t even close to the line you are looking for!” True, but it is close enough in meaning that it might be related. For example, if you go for The Lives of the noble Grecians and Romans by Plutarch and search for strength of you will quickly realise ancient writers really made a strong case for being strong in both body and mind as a sign of a hero or military leader. And hell, if you look up Plutarch’s Morals you will find the same.

If you have a look at Xenophon’s Agesilaus (11.14) you will find another quote which comes pretty close to the line we are looking for, at least in meaning.

He proved that, though the bodily strength decays, the vigour of good men’s souls is ageless. At any rate, he never wearied in the pursuit of great and noble glory so long as his body could support the vigour of his soul.

And don’t forget this is just one possible translation. This guy did a completely different one on the first line.

During my searches I then stumbled over the Latin line “destitutam corporis viribus vigore animi sustinebat” and with my meagre Medieval Latin knowledge I thought “well, if someone were as bad as me at Latin he might have translated it this way!” It is taken from Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus or Pliny, the Younger’s Epistulae or Letters. But again, understood in its context, this wouldn’t work:

Qua illa temperantia, qua patientia, qua etiam constantia novissimam valetudinem tulit! Medicis obsequebatur, sororem patrem adhortabatur ipsamque se destitutam corporis viribus vigore animi sustinebat. (Pliny, the Younger, Epistulae, Book V, Letter 16.)
What resignation, patience and fortitude she showed during her last illness! She obeyed her doctor’s orders, she cheered her sister and father, and when her body had lost all its strength, she kept herself alive by the vigour of her mind. (Translation via

I went back to The Lord of the Rings because by this point in my research I had realised the quote was usually attributed to Éowyn and understandably so (this is what makes misattributed quotes so successful – you think you’ve heard this before!):

Alas! For she was pitted against a foe beyond the strength of her mind or body. (Gandalf. J.R.R. Tolkien. LotR. V, 8.)

And there you have it all in a nutshell. An amazing line written by the Professor himself, turned and twisted into something from Jacksonverse. No, not Mary Wollstonecrafts words from A Vindication of the Rights of Woman; A Vindication of the Rights of Men which run “I find that strength of mind has, in most cases, been accompanied by superior strength of body (…)” (Quote taken via Google Books.)

But rather taken from one of the official calendars to the “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy. And I need your help to find out whether this is true. I found a post in one of the longer-running forums called called “The Trilogy’s Lost Scenes.”

—Additional Journey South material:
-Gandalf stumbles down a steep hill. Legolas catches him. “Blast! Why did the Valar send me here in this old man’s body! No matter. It is not the strength of the body that matters, but the strength of the spirit.” Gandalf philosophizes, (from official books, calendar, and photos. )
-Evidently, it is revealed that Gandalf, Saruman, and Sauron are all Maiar spirits. (official calendar).

I have had a quick look at the EE and some of the “deleted scenes” videos on YouTube but as you may imagine it is rather difficult to find the right one there. According to this post this isn’t on the EEs and only in the calendar.

I’ll post this and ask for help and until then I consider this not a Tolkien quote. I know there are a lot of Ringers out there who have that calendar 😀

P.S. You know that you have truly made it as an author when your quote, even if it’s a wrong one, is attributed to Mark Twain. Done on a sad occasion but still:



And just for the record: I’d love to be proven wrong on this. It is a very inspirational motivational quote. However, I couldn’t, for the life of me, imagine Tolkien writing this unless in context with Greek and/or Roman philosophers. Which do not usually crop up in his writings, at least not as simple quotes taken out of context.


A Tolkien fan for twenty-five years (and more to come...) Founding chairman of the German Tolkien Society, Co-Founder of Ring*Con, Co-Founder of the ITF, host, presenter and fantasy expert

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  • Harm Schelhaas

    I’ve searched what I can search digitally (and that is quite a lot) and haven’t come up with it. Some beating around the bush, and also the impression that Tolkien used ‘mind’ more readily in opposition to ‘body’, and ‘spirit’ more readily in alignment with ‘body’. So I share your opinion on this one.

    • Thank you for having a look, Harm. It sounds like a wise saying which could stem from all sorts of cultures and/or epochs and possibly thanks to a bad (or unfortunate) translation which then masquerades itself as an author’s quote…

      If I had had the slightest inkling of actually being able to nail it down to a certain person I would have gone to the libraries I have access to in Berlin, including their databases. However, I fear this is just another motivational and misattributed quote.

      • Harm Schelhaas

        I certainly found a lot of motivational uses of this and similar quotes, even when I googled with -Tolkien. But I also found something else I thought I had already posted here after the previous one. It is rather similar to this quote, and has nothing to do with Tolkien or the Jacksonverse.
        It’s from ‘Kung Fu’ (the TV-series with David Carradine), Ep. #52: ‘”There are two strengths: the strength of the body and the strength of the spirit. The body is the arrow. The spirit is the bow. You must learn to use the strength of the spirit.” – Caine’ [].

        So it might ultimately come from some Chinese Zen, Taoist or Confucianist text – or indeed, as you say, be a wise saying which could stem from all cultures or epochs.

  • Taz

    Ironic that it’s not even technically Jacksonverse, since it seems to be only on the tie-in calendar. Merchandiseverse? What is the world coming to.