Tag Archives: Tolkien

When elves and hobbits sing.

tolk-ens-4-cdI feel a bit foolish, having written in my last book review that I had been put off from “all things Danish.” The fact is, I was that very week exulting in what I had forgotten was a Danish phenomenon, the Tolkien Ensemble and their achievement of composing and performing music for all of the songs in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

It was a blog discussion of poetry that alerted me to the existence of this group, founded in 1995, and their recordings on four CD’s. I’m surprised that I never heard of them in the last fifteen years. As a mom reading the trilogy aloud to my children 25 years ago, I vaguely remember feeling inadequate when we came to one of the many songs in the novels. Tolkien’s verse has meter, and the poetry is affecting, but they are songs to the hobbits and other characters, and one longs to really sing them. I am not good at composing tunes on the spot; I wonder if Tolkien hummed appropriate melodies as he was writing? [Update: evidently he did!]

A 4-CD set was compiled after all of the recordings had been made over several years. There seem to be slight variations in the different editions and collections, but I have all four CD’s now, totaling 69 tracks, which I bought separately and mostly used. I’ve listened to some of songs many times, and I continue to be amazed at the quality of the music, and how each song is fitted with a composition that seems to me to be just right for it. I admit to being an amateur music critic, but I’m going to plow on ahead. If any of my readers are familiar with these recordings and know more about the field of music, maybe you can further instruct or correct me, or just tell me what are your favorite songs.

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Tolkien Ensemble 2000

Caspar Reiff, one of the composers, founded the Tolkien Ensemble in Copenhagen when he was in his late 20’s and studying guitar at the Royal Danish Academy of Music. His former guitar teacher and “multi-musician” Peter Hall joined as co-composer, along with fellow students from the music academy. They are a convincing advertisement for that school.

The Ensemble manages to create a fitting expression for every mood and activity that was put to verse in these books. The song of “Tinúviel” captures the urgency and enchantment of Beren who falls in love with an Elven maid and chases her through the forest and the seasons, calling achingly, “Tinúviel! Tinúviel!” until she in turn falls under his spell, and in her eyes “The trembling starlight of the skies/He saw there mirrored shimmering.” The drinking song Frodo sings at the Inn of Bree is a lot of fun, with accordion and fiddle, spoons and dishes. There are riddles, laments, and even a bath song. We have a hearty upbeat walking song as the few Hobbits are starting out bravely:

Farewell we call to hearth and hall!
Though wind may blow and rain may fall,
We must away ere break of day
Far over the wood and mountain tall.
To Rivendell, where Elves yet dwell
In glades beneath the misty fell,
Through moor and waste we ride in haste,
And whither then we cannot tell.

With foes ahead, behind us dread,
Beneath the sky shall be our bed,
Until at last our toil be passed,
Our journey done, our errand sped.

We must away! We must away!
We ride before the break of day!

Contrast this with Frodo’s more melancholy mood when he sings alone the song he learned from Bilbo. It seems like the theme song for the entire tale:

The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet,
And whither then? I cannot say.

Many of the songs are sad. The whole story is rather bleak, of course, with the growing and unrelenting awareness that the former glory of kings and elves is fading fast and can’t be regained. The unhurried drama enacted in a lumbering musical conversation between the separated Ents and Entwives is heartbreaking, but it is one of my favorites.

They call to one another in their stately Ent voices that convey their tree-like, large physiques and great age. The Ent sings stanzas in a beautiful but heavy tone, with the refrain, “Come back to me,” and she replies, “I’ll linger here,” until the last verses when he says he will come to her, and then they sing in unison of a time when they will converge on a journey to where their hearts may be at rest.

The Elf Legolas sings a “Song of the Sea” that I didn’t like at first, I think because it put me off balance, as though I were on a ship being buffeted by the waves. But after a few times through, I got my sea legs and began to enjoy the feeling of the moist wind in my hair, and the sense of adventure.

The women of The Tolkien Ensemble have lovely voices that one imagines might be heard among those “misty glades” where Elves dwell and sing. They use them to good effect in several tracks about the lands and heroes of these wise and ageless creatures.

What might be called a Thinking Song, “Bilbo’s Song,” is one that he sings meditatively. The guitar accompaniment reminds me very much of the way my own mind can go round and round on a subject, ruminating. The strings are plucked in a quick and repetitive rhythm, perhaps with a drone note coming back frequently.

I sit beside the fire and think
of all that I have seen
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
in summers that have been;

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.

I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.

For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.

I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.

But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door.

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The group in 2007

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At right is the cover of the set of two disks I first bought, to find out if even liked them. It’s hard to find samples of the music online; you might pull up one or two on YouTube, and then you might find them taken down the next minute. If bought separately, the disks in order of production are:

1 An Evening in Rivendell
2 A Night in Rivendell
3 Dawn in Rivendell
4 Leaving Rivendell

But don’t worrry – not all the action takes place in Rivendell. Those are just the disk titles, and the songs included on each disk are not necessarily in an obvious order, either.

I immediately found so much to love in those first two collections that I shopped sources for the other two disks. And after listening for a day or two, it was clear: I must read the trilogy again to put the newly appreciated songs in their context. That had been my desire after watching Peter Jackson’s film interpretation that was so disappointing, but I hadn’t followed through. So I dropped all my other Currently Reading books to read The Fellowship of the Ring. Now I am on to The Two Towers, still in the Company!

When I am listening to the recordings, and now reading the novel again, I often think about those days when I had my children gathered around me and we were all vicariously traveling across the mountains and wastes of Middle Earth. If it had been only ten years later, we could have paused at each song as it appeared in the story to play the companion track on a CD, and let the music sink into our consciousness and draw us deeper into the story. That kind of enrichment would have raised the quality of our literary immersion a notch, to be sure. The Tolkien Ensemble gave their final concert in 2008, but I’m confident that the fruits of their project will continue to give joy to Tolkien-lovers for a long time.

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Kinds of Poetry – Tolkien vs. Jackson

Jackson apparently thinks the characters Tolkien gives us are too simply good to be fully believable to modern audiences, and so he feels obligated to “complicate” them, to give them internal conflicts other than the ones they actually have, in the hopes that we will better be able to relate to them.

I’m quoting from this article in the Nov/Dec 2013 Touchstone Magazine, in which Donald T. Williams explains how literature, while delighting us with its art, is more powerful than history or philosophy to nurture our moral vision, or to corrupt us with false images.

With the help of quotes from Sir Philip Sidney, who wrote Apology for Poetry in the sixteenth century, he shows how “Tolkien was very consciously and deliberately following the literary tradition that flows down to us from Sidney through Dr. Johnson and C. S. Lewis.”

Peter Jackson the filmmaker seems to be flowing in a different stream. But he is an artist, and of course will impart his own soul to his work. I wouldn’t expect him to give us The Rings, because that has already been done, and he is not J.R.R. Tolkien. But it is unfortunate that he has changed things to the degree and in the directions he has. Williams points out specific ways in which the characters who inspired us in the books disappoint us in the movies, and makes these general remarks:

By this process of negative moral transformation, in other words, we reach the place where beloved characters are unrecognizable to Tolkien’s fans, and those fans feel betrayed. And they are right to feel so, though mostly they do not understand why. It is because the difference between the books and the movies is not just one of necessary adaptation to a different medium. It is that the author consciously followed the Sidneyan tradition while the adaptor is either ignorant of it or doesn’t understand it or has rejected it.

Read the whole article here.

We Gladly remember the Hobbit-Holes.

Happy Birthday, J.R.R.! 

Yes, January 3rd is the date J.R.R. Tolkien was born in the year 1892. Once I actually gave a party in his honor, on what would have been his Eleventy-First Birthday.

At the end of 2011 several of us Glad people did see the new Hobbit movie. We were reminiscing about our distant historical connection with lovers of everything Tolkien. The main claim to fame I can see is that Kate started an e-mail discussion list on Tolkien’s writings, characters and stuff called Hobbit-Hole. She does still have friends from that group, but she had forgotten that she was the creator of it.

 

 

 

Some 20 years ago I read the whole Rings trilogy to all the children. Kate was probably too young to appreciate it then. And I read The Hobbit myself twice. Seeing Peter Jackson’s movie made me want to read it again, to remember the amiable and heartwarming spirit of it, which I didn’t find in the movie, though I did like the film enough overall.

 

And Pippin eagerly offered her own annotated edition for Mr. Glad and me to read aloud together. We plan to start today, on the author’s birthday. Leafing through the pages of this book made me excited to begin, and I thought I’d share a few illustrations with you, too. Maybe if you click on the pictures you can see them better in a larger version.

 

 

 

 

I’m not feeling too adventurous at this time of year – well, truthfully, at any time of year. But right now I’m going to get a fire going in the woodstove so we’ll be all ready to cozy up and read about the adventures of a Hobbit.

To your memory, dear Mr. Tolkien!

Wait until after this date – Christmas

Tolkien’s Northern Lights

One of our children has a birthday on Pearl Harbor Day, which is today. So as not to take away from the specialness of that child’s celebrations, in the past we didn’t get into the swing of Christmas until the 8th, and even St. Nicholas Day passed without any notice, because in that era even I wasn’t cued in to feast days.

Now I’m thankful for that habit of delaying, which makes it easier to practice my present Orthodox unwillingness to jump ahead too much. And every day, every week in the church calendar holds a rich and festive remembrance of a person of faith or an event in our salvation history, so that the Waiting for Christmas period is full of bright days that make the time pass quickly. St. Nicholas, for example. But that holy man was at the center of much childlike fun yesterday, and we are moving on already!

Following our family traditions, then, Mr. Glad and I give ourselves permission to get and decorate a tree as early as tomorrow. Still I drag my feet, so as to nudge the bulk of merrymaking toward the Twelve Days of Christmas, the old-fashioned time to rejoice and feast. Our son-in-law fondly remembers Christmas in Ireland when for two weeks after Christmas many people were on vacation, and shops were closed. So much for the cash-register noise.

As we decorate the house, there are a dozen childlike joys to partake of, often involving memories of Christmases of 20 or even 50 years ago. And some of those are bittersweet, as memories can be. When Gus the Cat was still alive he made us laugh, the way he stalked the tree lights. This picture is a little bit sad for me, because we don’t have him anymore.

I like the tradition of keeping back the Baby Jesus from the crèche until Christmas Day; the manger waits empty until then. But in my Nativity set, the baby is glued to the manger, so He is forced to “arrive” way early. At least, these Santas are alone and in this photo they are sort of in the dark so far. Their situation changes when the Light of the World comes to earth.

Some of the participants in Pom Pom‘s Childlike Christmas party have written about their own memories of Christmas when they were children. Though it didn’t occur to my philosophical mind at first, it seems obvious now that what each of us retains with fondness of our own most distant Christmases Past will influence the definition of childlike for us.

Waiting for Christmas – GJ on the right.

The black-and-white photo below shows a glimpse of Christmas as it was for me before I can remember, and it was taken at my grandma’s house in Berkeley, where we never gathered for Christmas the years that I can remember.

The important thing is that the picture is connected to my maternal grandma, and without fail we knew that Christmas had arrived when my grandma and grandpa’s car announced their coming by the crunching of the driveway gravel, and the trunk was opened to reveal its overfull load of wrapped presents, pies and sweet rolls. My siblings and I helped carry all the gifts from that bottomless hole into the house, and we piled them under the tree, from which they spread outward like an extravagant wave across the living room rug.

The pies and breakfast goodies were set out on the service porch where the temperature was cool enough to keep them for a day or two; after Christmas Eve dinner a slice of pie would always be set on the hearth so that Santa could have a snack that night when he stopped by.

My grandma and I are not in this photo.

The photo shows my mother at right, holding a doll that I imagine was given to me that year, when I was only two. I like seeing that my grandpa, my cousins and my spinster aunt were there with us. And my grandma’s beautiful furniture that I loved!

Now about the colorful picture at the top of this page: I have an edition (Houghton Mifflin, 1999) of the collected illustrated letters that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to his children from Father Christmas, and I’d like to tell about them even though I haven’t even read them all myself yet, much less to any children or grandchildren.

For over 20 years the Tolkien children received letters from Father Nicholas Christmas, often near to Christmas Day, but sometimes as early as October 31st. For all the ice and snow pictured, the drawings give the impression of a very cozy group at the North Pole, including Polar Bear and other helpers.

illustration including Polar Bear

This year, several of my grandchildren will be around in advance of Christmas Day and for a full week ! so perhaps we can read a few together. Or perhaps not, as I already have a long mental list of all the lovely things I can do with the children whom I haven’t had with me at Christmas for so many years.

Some of the pretty stamps

I’m looking forward to an abundance of time to “waste” just being together for the Blessed Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This year I don’t have to have a long-distance Christmas relationship such as Father Nicholas Christmas had with the Tolkien children. But I bet I am just as busy as he before The Event as I scurry with my ribbons and lists around my cozy winter house.