Happy Monday… and happy St. Patrick’s Day! Slainte mhath!
This week’s song is one I’ve known all my life, albeit in slightly different forms. It is Far Over Misty Mountains Cold, lyrics by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, and music by various over the years. It appears in Chapter One of Tolkien’s classic, The Hobbit, one of my very favorite books ever. Published in 1937 as a children’s book, it quickly attracted an adult following and spawned that monolith of epic fantasy tradition, The Lord of The Rings.
I often wonder if The Hobbit would make it to publication today. Agents and editors are so very adamant on the inciting incident happening right away. They want action, damn it, action! Tolkien begins with my favorite first line of all time, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Genius in that one immediately thinks, but what’s a hobbit? We then are treated to five pages of back story, something that will earn you one hundred demerits in today’s publishing world, but frankly, I love it.
I revel sinking into the story of Middle Earth, that world where wizards stride forth, larger than life. Filled with great tales of lost glories as elves dance in starlight and dark places where evil dwells, growing in strength. As a child (I was nine when I read The Hobbit and LOTR the first of many, many times) it was a beautiful world, but a terrifying one. The Black Riders and Gollum gave me nightmares.
The first time I heard this song was in 1977 when it had been set to music by Rankin & Bass for their animated film version of the book. The movie featured John Huston as the voice of Gandalf. (I adored Gandalf.) The film featured twelve songs drawing from Tolkien’s actual songs and poems in the written work, plus one original tune The Greatest Adventure sung by Glenn Yarbrough.
The song has been redone and updated for Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. Howard Shore created a dark, brooding sound for the dwarvish cast (led by Richard Armitage) to sing. I have to admit, when I saw in the credits “lyrics by J.R.R. Tolkien, it gave me a chill. He wrote those words before WWII and here they are, brought to life in such a vivid and compelling way.
What would Tolkien think of these film attempts to bring to life the people and places he saw in his head? As a writer myself I can only imagine the thrill I would feel if Siobhan and Daisy from my The Dragon in the Garden were brought to life. Well, at least, if it were well done. While Jackson has been playing fast and loose with The Hobbit’s plot and characters, he did nail the settings. Look at Tolkien’s own painting of the gate to Thranduil’s kingdom and compare it to the movie.
I have to imagine that Tolkien would be fascinated to see how his work has been brought to life. The scenes with the eagles, Goblin Town, Lake Town are amazing. And Tolkien’s songs are haunting. Here is Far Over Misty Mountains Cold arranged by Howard Shore, from Peter Jackson’s movie, lyrics by J.R.R. Tolkien.