Where did "you shall not pass" come from?

  • One of the most memorable lines from the Lord of the Rings movies is when Gandalf stands before the Balrog and says "You shall not pass."

    EDIT: Actually, he says "you cannot pass" in the movie too. It's just commonly quoted as "you shall not pass" because he says that later.

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    He doesn't actually say that in the book.

    In the Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf blocks the Balrog saying:

    You cannot pass....I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.

    What is the reason for the shift?

    I think the answer to this probably could be demonstrated by having someone with a good Gandalf voice say equally forcefully, "You cannot pass" and "You shall not pass" - the first seems really weak and lame compared to the latter. I imagine this was a theatrical improvement to make the language sound cooler.

    Likewise, Beam me up, Scotty has never appeared in any Star Trek series or movie.

    And Morpheus never actually says, "What if I told you..."

    @phantom42 is that true?? I can almost hear him saying it in my head...god I spend too much time on Reddit haha

    Maybe it is a paraphrase on "None Shall Pass" said by the Black Knight in Monty Python's Holy Grail

    @enderland it's the difference between telling a child 'you cannot fly. flapping your arms up and down will not avail you' and 'you shall not sit on the floor and sulk'. In the book Gandalf is asserting that the Balrog has no power to pass if the light Gandalf serves prevent him. In movies, it's all about conflict and risk between characters.

    @PeteKirkham: you're bringing up an excellent point there. I think that's precisely the difference between ‘you cannot pass’ (not a command; Gandalf himself isn't really in the position to give another Maia commands) and Aragorn's order to Beregond ‘you shall be [the White Company's] captain’.

    In that context it's interesting how Gandalf talks to defeated Saruman. He gives direct orders at that point (‘Come back, Saruman!’, ‘I cast you from the order’, ‘Go!’), probably because he has explicitly been "promoted" above Saruman by then. Still he again uses that more indirect "you cannot" mode for what I consider the most impressive line: ‘Saruman, your staff is broken.’

    How do you know he didn't just screw up the line and everyone liked the mistake more?

    He does actually say "you shall not pass" at the end of his speech, i.e. the second "you cannot pass" *is* changed to "you shall not pass". I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps they felt it sounded more defiant...prescriptive rather than descriptive. It took me several viewings to realize they'd made the change. If you're expecting to hear "you cannot pass" twice, that's probably what you'll hear.

  • Correct answer

    8 years ago

    It was most likely a conflation with “they shall not pass”, which the Wikipedia article notes:

    was most famously used during the Battle of Verdun in World War I by French General Robert Nivelle. It appears on propaganda posters, such as that by Maurice Neumont after the Second Battle of the Marne, which was later adopted on uniform badges by units manning the Maginot Line. Later during the war, it also was used by Romanian soldiers during the Battle of Mărășești.

    This opens the possibility that Tolkien himself was quite well aware of that form of the phrase and may have even been inspired by it.

    It was also used during the Spanish Civil War and has since been used by various anti-fascist groups worldwide, as well as by the Sandinistas (according to the same Wikipedia article).

    The timeline of it's usage, especially by the Sandinistas, makes it most likely that the conflation comes from the 60s counter-cultural movements, when their usage of it would have been well known and when popularity of LotR was really starting to take off (particularly in the US). Of course, someone who was around at the time would be needed to confirm that.

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