"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

Tolkien Ensemble, Gollum’s Song / Riddle, TE CD 3, Track 15, 3:45.

Gollum undoubtedly is one of the most interesting characters in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien masterfully characterises him as a victim of his addiction to the ring on the one hand, and at the same time as a ruthless planner and highly intelligent schemer on the other hand. In a way he is very much comparable to a drug addict, who will do anything to get whatever substance he might need to serve his addiction. Gollum is a creature to be pitied, while at the same time being one of the most loathsome creatures in the book – primarily through his scheming. Sam calls these two sides of his personality “Slinker” and “Stinker”, which are represented by two musical themes in the films (Adams, 40).

As such, it comes as no surprise that the Tolkien Ensemble’s version of Gollum’s Song is based on this aspect of his personality, too. While on the way to Mordor with the Hobbits, Gollum performs a sort of half-riddle, “sometimes even croaking in a sort of song” (LotR, 620).

The cold hard lands,
they bites our hands,
they gnaws our feet.
The rocks and stones
are like old bones
all bare of meat.
But stream and pool
is wet and cool:
so nice for feet!
And now we wish –

Ha! Ha! What does we wish?
We’ll tell you
He guessed it long ago, Baggins guessed it.
Alive without breath;
as cold as death;
never thirsting, ever drinking;
clad in mail, never clinking.
Drowns on dry land,
thinks an island
is a mountain;
thinks a fountain
is a puff of air.
So sleek, so fair!
What a joy to meet!
We only wish
to catch a fish,
so juicy-sweet!

(LotR, 620).
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transcription (excerpt): Gollum’s Song / Riddle, TE CD 3, Track 15.

transcription (excerpt): Gollum’s Song / Riddle, TE CD 3, Track 15.
The text of the song tells us quite a lot about Gollum/Sméagol: He, like the Hobbits, not particularly enjoys the journey to Mordor and he likes water, coming from a culture of water-dwellers himself. Even after all the years of being addicted to the Ring and trying to get it back, he still has retained elements of his personality. The thing he wishes for, a fish, of course refers to the riddle he asked Bilbo in The Hobbit. Indeed he uses nearly the same wording as when meeting Bilbo. The content of the riddle also shows his distorted view on the world: When he thinks of a fish, what he likes about it is that it is “cold as death” and will drown on land – but we still may say that he very much enjoys eating fish, a remnant of his true personality. By these hints to Gollum’s past and insights into his way of thinking, Tolkien makes the character more accessible to the reader. The same is achieved by Gollum’s unique mode of speaking (i.e. using the third person singular for third person plural forms, “bites”) and adding “–es” to most plural forms (“hobbitses” instead of “hobbits”, for example).

The rendition of the song/riddle by the Tolkien Ensemble is accompanied by guitar plucking alternating high and low notes in a steady, slow pulse. The use of a guitar, again which is seen by composer Caspar Reiff as a kind of “Hobbit-lute” refers to Sméagol’s origin: He once was a Hobbit of the river-folk, which also explains his love for riddles. The guitar refers to his good side supressed by his Gollum side. The first lines up to “And now we wish” are sung in a manner very similar to Gollum’s way of speaking in the motion pictures. The brief dialog where Gollum addresses the Hobbits is included in the rendition (1:06). After this, Gollum speaks the actual riddle of the fish until he comes to the point of his prey: The lines from “So sleek, so fair!” (2:38) are sung to the same melody as the beginning of the song, which we can interpret as showing a rest of “hobbitness” in him: Even though the journey is hard, he still sees the few positive aspects, in this case the prospect of a “juicy fish”. The Ensemble therefore approaches Gollum in much the same manner as the motion picture by stressing his Sméagol side more. In the film this is done by repeatedly showing heated arguments between Sméagol and Gollum, whose personalities are clearly separated.