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Songs and tales


Nov 19 2012, 11:26am

Views: 1589
Songs and tales [In reply to] Can't Post

To what extent is the long "silence" a part of the different tone of the Lonely Mountain chapters, with their drama of winning, sharing and defending the treasure – as opposed to the picaresque of the journey from Bag-End to Lake-town?

Maybe the use of songs is a reflection of Tolkien's sense of how they work on our imagination, feed into our actions (by inspiring us), and then become enriched by the actions themselves as they become the subject of new tales.

"Far over the misty mountains cold" is the song that gets Bilbo's Tookish imagination working until it overcomes his Baggins reluctance. The song has also fed the Dwarves' own sense of destiny for many long years. Other songs, whether comic or more serious, add to the general sense of the adventure. But when the adventure proper begins, the songs seem to stop. Only afterwards is there time to absorb the meaning of what has happened, and transform the events into songs and tales of their own. That's what Bilbo's song, "Roads go ever ever on", is doing - he's learned this "elvish craft", and that's what I think Gandalf means when he says Bilbo has changed. (I'm using "elvish craft" as Tolkien uses it in On Fairy Stories, to refer to an imaginative stance, not particularly linking it to the Elves in The Hobbit. Other races are also capable of this elvish craft, the Rohirrim for example after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields ["We heard of the horns in the hills ringing"], and the Dwarves at the start of The Hobbit.)

I don't think it's a coincidence that Frodo and Sam talk of tales just before they intend to go "over the top" into Mordor, and that they turn their own situation into a tale with each other as hero. This is the idea of tale as inspiration to face danger and difficulty, just as the Dwarves (and Bilbo) are inspired by the song we hear at the Unexpected Party. And I think it's also important that we always see the transformation afterwards of heroic events back into songs and tales - whether Bilbo's song in this chapter, or the mention, also in this chapter, that he's writing "memoirs' which are clearly cognate(*) with the book itself.

(* sorry for using a technical term from linguistics, but it struck me as appropriate since so much of Tolkien's thinking seems to be inspired by his philological background.)

...the famous tra-la-lally song! And another one, no less ridiculous, which Tolkien mentioned but mercifully did not transcribe.

I really have to defend the tra-la-lally song at least a bit from this charge of ridiculousness!. Yes, it's meant to be funny and mocking, but it's also, I think, meant to echo the madrigal of the Renaissance which was often funny or risqué, but still sounded beautiful and maybe even quite "elvish". Here's an example of an actual madrigal with its own nonsense-word refrain. Very sedate and lovely, you might think. But as the Wikipedia article tells us, it full of double-entendre! Not what Tolkien is going for, it's true, but still, I think the elves' song is meant to sound beautiful, even though it's full of mocking words. Or how about this - The Flowers the Bloom in the Spring, from The Mikado. A more modern take on the madrigal with its spring theme and tra-la-la nonsense refrain, and still combining comedy with lovely music. That's how Elves do comedy, I think!


They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings

Subject User Time
The Last Stage, part III - Poetry and Prose sador Send a private message to sador Nov 15 2012, 9:23am
    “Picaresque” – nice! squire Send a private message to squire Nov 18 2012, 1:25am
        I'm glad you like it. sador Send a private message to sador Nov 19 2012, 8:57am
    Songs and tales FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Nov 19 2012, 11:26am
        Thanks for the links! sador Send a private message to sador Nov 21 2012, 10:50am
    Tour de force CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Nov 20 2012, 7:48am
        Good point FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Nov 21 2012, 10:20am
        Thank you! sador Send a private message to sador Nov 22 2012, 1:17pm
    *What* goes ever on and on? squire Send a private message to squire Nov 22 2012, 6:13am
        Nice analysis! sador Send a private message to sador Nov 22 2012, 6:21pm
        Truth and fiction FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Nov 23 2012, 11:36am


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