The Road Goes Ever On And On

photo provided courtesy of Roomic Cube on Flickr Creative Commons


I’ve been rereading the Lord of the Rings trilogy lately. Anyone who’s ever read these books knows that there are LOTS of songs in them. Without much warning, a character will suddenly burst into throaty verse that can span several pages. When I was younger, I’d usually just skip over these italicized sections because I was more interested in orc killing, but now that I’m an old fuddy-duddy, I actually quite enjoy them.


I did notice something else about these songs, though. Aside from maybe Frodo giving one of Sam’s songs a lighthearted jab, you won’t find much music criticism in Middle Earth. Who knows why. Maybe elves, dwarves and men just didn’t have time for that sort of activity. There’s a shadow in the East after all.


Or maybe there’s respect paid to music in a way unlike our own world. In Middle Earth, song is the language of telling tales long past and keeping the feelings fresh. It’s not a contest. It doesn’t matter what someone’s singing about or how he sings it. When Pippin strikes up one of Bilbo’s favorite bath songs, the other hobbits don’t boo his effort into submission. When Bilbo chants the verses of a long saga, he’s not poo-poo’d by some Rivendell critic for choosing a “turgid dirge” over something “more restrained.” When the elves of Lorien sing a lament for Gandalf’s passing, they aren’t given a 9.7 and praised for their choice of album title.


They didn’t have recording equipment in Middle Earth, but that’s just the point. The people were the music. Yes, if the Brown Elves cut a crossover hit through some trick of Saruman’s foul craft, maybe the dwarves would start hating on it. But otherwise, all but the dark powers respected a song as the first and last resort to keep despair at bay.


That sounds about right.

8 thoughts on “The Road Goes Ever On And On

  1. I’ve been perhaps your greatest fan and booster thus far, but I think you overlook a significant detail in the music criticism of songs of Middle Earth. As you no doubt know, Robert Plant might as well have been a denizen of Lothlorien himself. It’s easy enough to look to Rolling Stone’s contemporaneous reviews of Ramble On and Battle of Evermore and by the commutative property, ascribe to their reviewers citizenship in somewhere aligned with Barad Dur, most likely Minas Morgul. To further flesh out this issue, Jan Wenner might as well be Denethor II, last steward of Gondor, and Ben Fong Torres is most certainly the bastard child of Gollum (post-Smeagul) and Goldenberry.

  2. Extending things a bit, I think that when Jimmy Page was approached to be in “It Might Get Loud” alongside The Edge of all people, he should have responded, “I did not pass through The Yardbirds and Zep to bandy crooked licks with a riffless worm.”

    Given his recent decision to stop dying his hair, it’s safe to say he’s finally emerged as Jimmy the White.

    Speaking of White: 5 years ago, I would have pegged Jack White as Rivendell material. More and more, he’s emerging as Tom Bombadil himself.

  3. Now I’m picturing Jimmy Page trading riffs with the Balrog on Zirakzigil until he hit a bend so furious that it smote his ruin upon the mountainside.

  4. Your chronology sucks, dude. Clearly, he would not emerge as Jimmy the White until AFTER he did that. And frankly, I think we may need to revisit the circumstances of John Bonham’s death. I’m not saying that I KNOW he was a Balrog, but 2 hour drum solos on strong acid? I don’t know any non-elemental beasts capable of such a demonstration of fury.

  5. I really hated the songs, maybe one of the reasons that I could never finish LOTR. The other main reason being boredom. Maybe I’d have liked them more if I knew how the tune went.

  6. You know, while we’re talking grammar: I hate that phrase, “smote his ruin upon the mountainside”. Peter Jackson, I smite you with a big red cross. It makes no sense. Ruin can’t smite. It should actually be: “smote [the mountainside] in his ruin”.

    Ok, itch scratched.

  7. I skimmed over the songs too when I read them during high school. What fascinates me is the fact that it was a whole new world created with far more details than other which includes an “alphabet”. The songs were integrated to make it more real.

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