I need to address something today, and I hope I’m not too late. You may have noticed something on your journey: movement out of the corner of your eye, muffled footsteps deep behind you, or the eery feeling that someone—or something—is watching you. I don’t want you to look now, but you are being followed. It’s okay—it’s part of the plan—but it’s time I introduced you to the next character of your story: your shadow.
Your shadow is you… In a sense. Every hero has one. Many people spend their life fighting it, or if fear sinks too deeply into their hearts, running away from it. Paradoxically, the more people try to hide, run from, or destroy their shadow, the stronger it seems to grow. You can see the shadow in the story of every great hero—but perhaps most clearly through Gollum in the Lord of the Rings.
Gollum is Frodo’s shadow. He represents and embodies all the things Frodo doesn’t want to become, the Hobbit Smeagol who killed his closest friend for the ring, sending him on a dark spiral with “his precious”. Frodo’s internal struggle with the Ring is that of staying true to who he is and his quest, or becoming his shadow, succumbing to the darker side of the ring and himself: the desire for power.
But there are deeper truths in their relationship: Frodo never could have gotten the ring to Mount Doom without the help of Gollum. And Gollum has an immense internal struggle, mirroring the struggle of Frodo—his desire to redeem himself and keep his word vs his desire to have the ring once more. It’s only through Gollum’s strength that Frodo can fulfill his quest.
Your shadow is many things—but at the core, it’s comprised of the parts of yourself that you don’t like. Carl Jung says “… there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” Those things that comprise your shadow—the things you maybe wish were not true—are also the deepest source of your power.
There is much more to be written about your shadow, and much more for you to comprehend about them on your quest. But for now, content yourself to not be surprised when you see your shadow poke their head up—it has an important role in your quest, for the greatest heroes of all do not defeat their shadows, but rather end up befriending them. The more willing they are to be in the light, the less dark they seem to become. So if you happen to see your shadow, don’t be afraid to say hello if you get the chance.
May the road rise up to meet you!