"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

Howard Shore, Days Of The Ring, LotR RotK CD 4, Track 7, 11:10, from 0:42.

Another End Credits song is Into the West from The Return of the King. Performed by a female singer, the song brings Middle-earth in context with the larger world of Arda. In a way it can be likened to an adaption of the subject matter of Galadriel’s Song of Eldamar (see 4.1.11), because, like that song, it deals with the West and the journey there. Sung at the beginning of the End Credits sequence with a brief orchestral interlude after the last scene of the film, it refers back to Frodo sailing to the West on an Elven ship from the Grey Havens. The text speaks about the repercussions of Frodo’s task and of his wounds that were too deep to be healed. While Sam remained in the Shire, Frodo took up the offer to travel the Straight Road. As he says:

But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me.
LotR, 1029
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transcription: “Days Of The Ring”, LotR RotK CD 4, Track 7, from 0:42.
Hope fades
Into the world of night
Through shadows falling
Out of memory and time
Don't say: „We have come now to the end“
White shores are calling
You and I will meet again
And you'll be here in my arms
Just sleeping

And all will turn
To silver glass
A light on the water
Grey ships pass
Into the West

transcription: “Days Of The Ring”, LotR RotK CD 4, Track 7, from 0:42.

To write a song about the repercussions of the Evil brought to Middle-earth by Sauron would certainly go very much in line with Tolkien’s thoughts. There is a pronounced sadness in the ending of the book; despite having saved the Shire, having conquered Sauron and once again established order and peace in Middle-earth, still at lot is lost forever. The days of the Elves draw to a close, a large number is leaving Middle-earth. Frodo is unable to just continue his life – the Ring has destroyed something in him forever. Tolkien himself wanted to build on the repercussions of the War of the Ring to show that not everything was perfect again by writing a sequel to the book dealing with a secret dark cult. Even though the sequel was abandoned very early, it still shows that Tolkien did not envision the world of the Fourth Age to be a perfect one.

The text of the song closely follows the description of Frodo’s journey on the Elven ship, up to the inclusion of the “silver glass” and the “white shores”, which are directly taken from the last account of Frodo:
And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.
LotR, 1030

It also puts the events in Middle-earth in the context of all of Arda: As evil and gruesome Sauron had been, his reign nevertheless was constricted only to a part of the world. There still are places free from the shadow. For his merits Frodo was given the grace of Valar to travel to the Blessed Realm, where he would be free from the shadow of the past.

Musically, the melody of the song Into the West had been previously presented as the Grey Havens theme (Adams, 354). When the song begins after Sam’s final scene (0:42), a tinkling guitar, very reminiscent of a harp, introduces it. This may be what Reiff refers to as “hobbit-size lute” and in this context represent both Frodo’s heritage as a hobbit as well as the Elvish harps. The song, while sad and melancholic, nevertheless has a strong optimistic drive. “You and I will meet again”. We can interpret this verbatim as the Frodo and his best friend Sam being reunited some day in the future. Sam, having been a ring-bearer himself, albeit only for a brief time, would be granted the favour to travel to the Undying Lands later, as well. Even though the feature film and the stage show do not have any connection save for being based on the same literary text, this is maybe the best and artistically most beautiful and rewarding example of Tolkien’s spirit at work. What ultimately count are friendship and loyalty.