"I feel as if I was inside a song"The Presence of Music in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth and Songs and Poems set to Music

The Presence of Music in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth and Songs and Poems set to Music

With music being an important part of Tolkien’s world and featuring prominently in his books, it is important to have a look at the concepts and ideas that are a driving force for the forms of music therein. When dealing with any form of literature, completely separating the author from the work is leaving aside an important source of knowledge about the text. For works by a learned man like Tolkien, who most certainly has read the occasional book himself, this would be even more severe. In this section we will therefore have a look at come ideas and concepts that may have influenced Tolkien, as well as at the origins of music in the legendarium and finally some important analytical concepts probably developed by the author on which we will base our interpretation of the findings.

One note about the general approach to the text: As will be discussed in more detail later on, Tolkien maintained The Lord of the Rings being a translation of the Red Book of Westmarch, not a work of fiction. This was to underscore his intention of creating a mythology for the English (again more about that later). As such, in this paper, all contents from his works are treated as “real” – that is as being realistic descriptions of actual music. Also the chronology established by Tolkien as to the place and time where his works are set is accepted as-is: Tolkien sets his world of Arda as a former form of today’s world, set in the distant past. For the purpose of this paper, which solely deals with the extent in which musical works conform to the author’s descriptions and ideas (as far as it is possible to ascertain them), all these prerequisites are accepted as valid source material. In fact, to completely determine the level in which the musical works discussed here follow Tolkien’s descriptions, we need to follow his approach of taking his Legendarium as “reality”, including the origin of most poems from a different language, Westron, despite its actual origin as fiction. To place the Music of Middle-earth as music from our own world, but created many hundreds of thousand years ago (as Tolkien wants it to be seen), we need to take it as “reality” to make it possible to place it in context to our actual reality.

A full research in the field of literary criticism would be very interesting to undertake to discuss the way in which Tolkien’s Legendarium needs to be treated in terms of fiction as opposed to reality. This needed to be omitted here for reasons of brevity.