Friday, December 5, 2014

Middle-earth: A World of Music

For all their cultural differences, almost every race in Middle-earth has a connection to song and music. The elves, of course, are portrayed in the Lord of the Rings trilogy as having perfected the tradition, being as it was that it was handed down by their creators, the Valar.

Tolkien, always a linguist, not only created a world with complex and legitimate languages, but he included music in his work as well. Not only did music give Middle-earth more dimensionality but it also tied it to earlier works of mythology and continued the tradition of poetry and epic tales within melodies. Music, it can be argued, was the basis for Middle-earth; The Silmarillion begins by describing the “music of the Ainur” which was what formed the world. The Elves, the first inhabitants of Middle-earth, are most frequently mentioned as singing or reciting poetry; but the dwarves prove their vocal power by singing “That’s What Bilbo Baggins Hates” in The Hobbit as well as their famous song, “Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold” (even accompanying it with instrumentals).

These two dwarven songs are famously featured in Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of The Hobbit. For any fans of the movies, whether the original trilogy or the new Hobbit trilogy, music features strongly and helps create a vivid, three dimensional Middle-earth. It’s interesting to discover, though, that before actors and pop stars were singing these songs on the big screen, Tolkien himself, quite a renaissance man, recorded a few versions himself. Wouldn’t it have been a treat if they included some tribute to that in the last Hobbit film? We don’t have too long to find out… (my opinion is they won’t, but hey, one can dream).

Have a listen to Tolkien singing “That’s What Bilbo Baggins Hates”

And compare to the scene The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey:

The film version is rounded out by multiple dwarf voices singing, their jubilant smashing of cutlery, and with a score in the background that gives a really Celtic-influenced feel to the whole song. Still, all things considered, it’s quite charming hearing the song from the person who wrote it and who was the mastermind of Middle-earth. Youtube is a great resource for the nerdy Tolkien fan; there are a good number of recordings of the Professor reading excerpts of his work and reciting poetry.

Personally, even though we can argue over the different ways in which Jackson changed Middle-earth in these recent adaptations, I think many of us can agree that the music has been well done and kept as a beautiful tribute to Tolkien’s world. Even original songs, such as “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran, have a touch of Middle-earth, both in the style of the instrumentals and the lyrics. “Keep watching over Durin’s sons” is a line that’s not dumbed down to say “all those dwarves who went to slay a dragon and reclaim their homeland” but instead, for the LOTR historian/geek, references their lineage (good job, Ed). I think Professor Tolkien would be proud to hear these original songs, so poetic are they in their own right; not simple pop lyrics but songs like Sheeran’s tell the story using the theme of fire.

And, last but not least, if you haven’t heard Billy Boyd’s (Pippin) song which has been making the rounds these past couple of weeks, it’s high time to give it a listen (bring some tissues). It’s obvious that it’s a last goodbye because if you’ve read The Hobbit you know what happens at the end; but I think another aspect of it is that it’s a last goodbye for all of us fans and lovers of Middle-earth. Unless Jackson magically gets the rights to The Silmarillion, it looks like The Battle of the Five Armies is our last look into Middle-Earth. For a lot of us, these films have spanned more than half the course of our lives, and it’s an alternate universe that is apart of our lives. It’s fitting to have a song to commemorate that; one that’s in the style of the beautiful poetry that Tolkien loved and built Middle-earth on, and one that’s a bittersweet farewell to a beloved series. As Gandalf said, I will not say all tears are an evil--but (another blog for another time), it’s never really farewell when we have such a beautiful and detailed universe to return to time after time, complete with the music that binds it together.


  1. I LOVE "I See Fire." It's so accurate to how they all probably feel at that moment. "Raise a glass of wine, for the last time."

  2. I love the LOTR/Hobbit music (I can probably hum it in my sleep I've listened to it so often).

    This post was so refreshing to read because nobody else understands when I melt into a puddle over the music of Middle Earth. :)

    I so want to listen to Billy Boyd's song but I'm waiting until I hear it for the first time during the credits of the movie (after all THE CRAZY) and then go home and listen to it a hundred times. :)))

    1. Just saw this comment now but thanks for the encouragement and I'm glad you enjoyed! I really wish I'd thought of that before I listened to it--great idea! It'll definitely give you chills.


      I was discussing with a friend how the music sounded like it fit with the rest of the songs in the movies. And that he had lines and phrases, snippets really, that reminisced the overall feeling of the story. It was beautiful. :) I'm glad I waited to listen to it.