"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

The Lord of the Rings Musical, The Cat and the Moon, LotR M, Track 4, 3:56.

Hobbit music without doubt is the most accessible music in the book and the one that immediately evokes a mental image of how it might sound in the mind of the reader. This mostly comes from the detailed descriptions of the places it is performed at, which are familiar to anyone reading it. Most notably in this respect are the drinking songs and other songs performed at inns. The similarity of Hobbit culture to the rural English culture of the 19th century automatically evokes a similarity of the music, which we find confirmed by most renditions of Hobbit songs.

In the Lord of the Rings stage musical, the Hobbits sing an exuberant nonsense song called The Cat and the Moon, which is heavily inspired by Tolkien’s song There is an Inn, which is sung at the same location in the book. The stage show song, which serves to introduce Hobbit culture and provide comic relief after the Hobbit’s encounter with the Nazgûl, takes the a cue from Tolkien’s song and is centred around the Man in the Moon, who comes down to earth to drink. In Tolkien’s song, the Man in the Moon drinks far too much and there has to be found a way to get him back to the moon ere the sun rises. The fiddle-playing cat manages to wake him up and indeed he is back in time with the sun wondering why everyone goes to bed even though day has just begun.

The musical does away with the backstory and has the moon itself come down to drink. The moon then sleeps for the remainder of the song with the song while the cat keeps playing. It is interesting to note that Tolkien’s poem has the cat playing a five-string fiddle, while the sage show’s cat has to be content with a three-stringed instrument – possibly a hint to the proficiency of the animal because some parts from the song which uses the fiddle quite heavily would be very hard with only a three-stringed instrument. Either way, the song contrary to Tolkien’s poem does not serve to actually tell a story, but only to introduce general Hobbit culture. Additionally, it is one of the few ensemble numbers of the stage show, where a sizable number of actors are on stage. Ensemble numbers as the big showpiece of any stage musical serve an important part in entertaining the audience. To choose this particular situation for the only true dance number in the show makes sense and, judging from Tolkien’s description of how Hobbits celebrate, manages to include this element present in any stage show in a way true to the book.

The text of the song largely consists of nonsense rhymes with the song living from the folk accompaniment and the dance routine:

There’s an inn of old renown where they brew a beer so brown
Moon came rolling down the hill one Hevnsday night to drink his fill.
On a three-stringed fiddle there played the Ostler’s cat so fair
The horned Cow that night was seen to dance a jig upon the green.
Called by the fiddle to the middle of the muddle where the
Cow with a caper sent the small dog squealing.
Moon in a fuddle went to huddle by the griddle but he
Slipped in a puddle and the world went reeling.
Downsides went up- hey! Outsides went wide.
As the fiddle played a twiddle and the Moon slept till Sterrenday.
Upsides went west- hey! Broadsides went boom.
With a twiddle on the fiddle in the middle by the griddle
And the Moon slept till Sterrenday.
[. . .]
[FRODO, each line repeated by the CROWD]
Hoo-rye-and-hott-a-cott-a ho
Ho fiddlee-ding-galli-do
Hoo-rye-hoo-rye oops-oops- ay!
[. . .]

(LotR M, Track 4).

When Frodo is asked to sing a song, the fiddle begins with a slow pulse of a minor seventh leading to an octave. Frodo sings the first lines and the fiddle quickens to a rolling pattern in 16th notes as Merry and Pippin take over (0:20). When Frodo and Sam join in at 0:31, the full folk ensemble of guitar, bass and bouzouki comes in. The remainder of the song serves as an acrobatic number with the whole inn joining in eventually when Frodo sings rhythmic phrases repeated by the hobbits in the inn (2:45).

The Cat and the Moon serves as an example how a topic can successfully be adapted to the requirements of a given medium without sacrificing the integrity of the overall story and the believability of the world. The musical cliché of exuberant dance number here was satisfied in a way true to the source material; here the medium of the musical could bloom with such a dance number, while it would have been wholly inappropriate to do so on the ascent to Mount Doom with Frodo singing “Oh the Ring is so heavy, I cannot carry it anymore”, as the producers note (Russell, 71).