Wishing you a Happy Tolkien Reading Day!

Today posed a challenge, as I’m sure it does for every Tolkienite searching for the right way to celebrate. It is always interesting what I end up drawn to re-read on this particular day. The last couple years, I’ve taken to reading a chapter from my 50th anniversary leather bound edition of LotR, about the only time I actually read from that copy. Last year was the ‘Bridge of Khazad-Dum’ and my initial thought was to read ‘Minas Tirith’ this year. But as often occurs, life got in the way.

I’ve been fairly well swamped the last couple months, today being no exception, and so got home desiring a bite-sized sampling of Tolkien to commemorate this day. I thought of my favorites: Leaf by Niggle, Of Beren and Luthien, The Fall of Gondolin, the Ainulindale and many others, but ultimately I settled on Tolkien’s poem ‘Mythopoeia.’

Unbeknownst to me starting to read, I had picked the perfect piece to sum up all that is Tolkien. I’ve read the poem before, and it’s always been a favorite of mine, but as I read it, I came to realize how well it describes Tolkien’s mission in writing, revealing the motivations which led to his beloved works.

‘Mythopoeia’ is essentially a poem about Man’s innate and God-given desire to describe (and even define) the world. However, that desire is thwarted by our own inability to express all that we perceive. In describing the world, in codifying life into words, we mythologize it. We sub-create, creating a shadow or mirror of the perceived through which only glimmers of the original Truth shine forth. We cannot possibly capture it, and to say that science gives the answer and the definitive story banishes the majesty and wonder around every corner. Myth expresses the desire in our hearts to know Truth, to see Truth and to tell Truth. It answers the yearning of our heart for the unknown, the mystical, the other. It uses the fantastical to define and illuminate the mundane, giving us eyes to see.

This is the great gift Tolkien has bequeathed us; Not only his great works of literature, but his call to recognize and follow the paths to Faerie in our own lives, and share them, however imperfectly, with others.

May you find joy wandering the paths of the Perilous Realm, and may you live to return and tell the tale. And so I say to you again, Happy Tolkien Reading Day, and I would like to know how you celebrated today!

Listening to The Lord of the Rings…Musical

For many years I have believed that music can be one of the most sublime forms of storytelling. Unlike most media, it easily goes straight to the core, displaying and evoking the raw emotion that is the bedrock of any good tale.

The same is true for musicals and opera. When done right, they transcend the bonds of story to evoke the spiritual and emotional Truths which underpin all events. Music at its best is pure distilled emotion, and though the literal content of the song(s) may not conform to their source, the spirit and beauty of the music will.

After many years neglect, I recently returned to a well-loved musical: “The Lord of the Rings” with music by AR Rahman and Christopher Nightingale and lyrics by Shaun McKenna and Matthew Warchus. I have never actually seen the production, just clips they posted on the musical’s website. From what little I’ve seen it must have been an awe-inspiring spectacle, but sadly it never really took off.

Thankfully, we have the recording from the London cast/production to listen to.

The music is wonderful, powerfully creating the sense of Middle Earth, as well as creating moments of sublime beauty. I’ll be the first to admit, however, music is a highly personal taste, but for myself, the music is perfect.

One of the odd things about listening to such an adaptation is the fact that the liberties taken are extremely easy to overlook. Granted this is helped by never seeing the production, but the direction of the story is still evident from the lyrics and songs themselves. This made me stop to think. It can be very hard at times to accept the choices Peter Jackson and Co. has made with their films; what makes this any different?

The answer lies in the evocation of emotion, personality and culture. This is what music is able to do so well, and why Howard Shore’s score for the films continues to define the soul of Middle Earth. Rahman’s score and arrangement does the same.

Rather than continue, I’ll share a few thoughts on my favorite tracks:

“The Road Goes On” takes its cues from Bilbo’s walking song, while also establishing the character and nature of hobbits in just a few short minutes. The same is also true of “The Cat and the Moon,” which is great fun to listen to and great fun to watch as well. It creates the perfect festive atmosphere, befitting a jaunty tavern song.

My two favorite songs musically are “Star of Eärendil” and “Wonder.” Both have transcendent moments of song which never fail to give me chills. With the addition of “Lothlorien,” these songs also weave in elements of Tolkien’s larger mythology as well as the major themes of despair and hope found in LotR.

Probably the best song, and one I love to sing along to, is “Now and For Always,” which recreates Frodo and Sam’s discussion of the Great Tales in the pass of Cirith Ungol. It is a poignant tune, and very simple, but does heavy lifting. This song uses this simple moment from the book to elaborate on the great friendship between the two hobbits, their mutual admiration and their codependency in the quest. It is also reprised briefly by Gollum, lending his conflict greater loneliness and sorrow.

I don’t usually review music, as the experience of it is often so personal and difficult to describe in words, but in this case I think it is well worth it. For any Tolkienite, we are always looking for ways to experience his works anew, to recapture the wonder and magic that burst into flame at our first reading.

Musical Website: lotr.com

Some clips of the production:

“Now and for Always” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2r_HgqohtM0

Clips from the whole musical, Includes “Wonder”, “The Cat and the Moon”, “Star of Eärendil”, “Lothlorien” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaHRFlPCtsU

PS. For Grey Haveners, there are a quite a few songs that might work for a future Sing a Long.