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.