September 21, 1937: The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, is first published by Allen and Unwin with a limited run of 1,500 copies. It sold out in under three months, featuring a color dust cover and story illustrations in black and white by the Professor himself.
Wikipedia has a wonderful breakdown of more-than-you-want-to-know re: The Hobbit. Meanwhile, happy birthday! 85 years is far too short a time to spend amongst such excellent and admirable authorship. Thank you to Tolkien and his children, to Stanley and Rayner Unwin, and all who provided influence, feedback, and audience for Tolkien’s first published fantasy novel.
Roads go ever, ever on… and wither then? I cannot say.
While McCreary has crafted Season One’s score, Shore’s contribution to the show is the title theme. Shore has won three Academy Awards for his music for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit feature film trilogies. McCreary is an Emmy and BAFTA winner for his music scores on Outlander and God of War.
In this new segment, two of our Discord regulars, Reading Room Moderator DrNosy and composer Mike T, debate the show’s title theme and whether it is ‘musically’ suited to the score of The Rings of Power.
The French horns.
It is that instrument that I closely relate to the music of The Lord of the Rings, particularly in the soundtrack Prologue: One Ring to Rule Them All. Hearing them again, in the first second of the Main Title, I was immediately pulled back towards the story and events that launched the Third Age — Sauron with the One Ring in hand laying waste to the armies of the Last Alliance of Men and Elves.
However, as I keep listening to the track, I start to feel something is off. This music sounds like a watered-down version of that track from The Lord of the Rings. A “lite” version of The Lord of the Rings is absolutely not what the Second Age should sound like. It is also almost completely at odds with the rest of the themes in the album.
Listening to the entire album, it is clear that McCreary (following in Shore’s footsteps with the film tracks) has created a succinct soundscape for the Second Age, complete with themes for each character and narrative arcs for the events of Season One. Shore’s theme does not seem to fit with any of McCreary’s tracks.
I think this might be the biggest thing driving negative reactions to Main Title, as well as the opposing negative reactions that favor the theme over the score, and it’s definitely a misstep on the part of the people behind the show, but is it a problem with the music itself?
Not from where I stand: both composers have done what they were tasked with, and done it well.
If there is a question to ask, it’s this: why wasn’t part of that task, for either of them, to strive for more musical unity with each other. For now, it seems pointless to speculate on that.
Perhaps we’ll get more insight into the circumstances of the composition eventually, or maybe we’ll even have a situation where Bear does start to weave some of Shore’s ideas in. In any case, some of us just seem more willing to “bridge the gap” ourselves, and to take Shore’s theme as a welcome bit of torch-passing that will nicely frame each episode of the series.
While I take your point about “bridging the gap” between the films and the show, I simply do not see how or why they should be linked in Main Title itself.
Main Title’s fairy-esque tones simply do not fit with the characterization of the factionalized, bloodied, and catastrophic ending of the many races of Middle-earth in the Second Age. Not to mention how it completely seems to miss the themes and leitmotifs of the other peoples of Middle-earth, i.e., the Dwarves, Harfoots, Númenor, and Orcs.
I appreciate Shore’s use of the musical leitmotif representing Galadriel (ethereal ‘Elven’ feminine vocals at 0:35), but that moment also rings along the lines of a ‘fairy lady in the woods singing to the birds’, which is closely followed by ‘evil has come to the woods and it threatens the lady and her birds’ (0:53). It is the ultimate mischaracterization of the Galadriel of the Second Age, especially as the Galadriel we meet in The Rings of Power is an Elf at war with herself.
Why is it that we don’t hear that conflict in Shore’s theme?
As you noted at the outset, from the very first notes heard it is clear, from both the voicing of the chord and the way it is orchestrated, where this music is supposed to take us. It follows exactly the rhetorical and stylistic precedents Shore first set over 20 years ago. And yes, his writing is indeed always committed to very tightly-woven leitmotivic processes. His Main Theme does in fact seem to make reference to a number of musical structures that are present in his previous Middle-earth music, related to the various story elements you mention.
Whether this is explicit enough for every listener, I certainly can’t decree… but there is an argument to be made for their presence (the specifics of which I will not bore readers with here!).
As for your feeling that the theme mischaracterizes Galadriel, I would simply argue that the vocal element in question is not meant to represent Galadriel in the first place. It sounds to me more like an incidental orchestration choice by the composer, rather than being intended as a direct evocation of anything or anyone previously associated with that specific color, and likewise, the darker turn you mention is a more abstract musical turn to represent the overall tumult of the events of the Second Age, not anything specific to Galadriel’s arc.
The whole piece in fact centers around this dramatic “triptych” structure, in which we are introduced to familiar-sounding material which begins confidently but then takes a darker turn, and is briefly restated in a more pure way before ending in a quite unresolved place.
This feels like an apt encapsulation of what we’re going to see play out here, a sort of grand overview of events rather than a focused musical commentary on specific characters. Does it do so in weighty enough tones for what we will experience in the substance of the show?
Again, I can’t decide that for everyone, I can only explain the possible thinking behind things.
I see Galadriel as the main protagonist of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings Of Power.
If the feminine vocal element isn’t Galadriel, it would seem that Main Title doesn’t weave any element of McCreary’s sounds for the Second Age, which is curious to say the least. I was also disappointed how Main Title drastically falls short of iconic sounding title themes we hear in other fantasy/epic shows such as A Game of Thrones, The Wheel of Time, The Witcher, Westworld, His Dark Materials, The Sandman, and others.
The whole purpose of title music is to leave a lasting impact or memory of the show on the audience every single time they tune in to watch. I still remember how I binged the entire glorious Season One of The Crown in one night. At that time, I did not dare to skip the titles (even to save time) because of my need to let the music (and title sequence) wash over me as I savored and reflected on the episodes I’d watched previously. I did the same with The Witcher, His Dark Materials, and The Wheel of Time.
It is hard to ignore the impact of ‘good’ and ‘catchy’-sounding theme music, especially because its sole purpose is to transition the audience from the opening events of the episode (or even the previous episode) into the central story arc.
I find myself forgetting Shore’s title track music even after having listened to it about 20 times now.
It’s true, there are ways to open with a bang and to set up a musical hook that will immediately grab the audience. It may simply be that Shore’s approach as a composer tends more towards subtlety than the expectations formed by the examples you mention, for better or worse.
There are surely important musical structures in Shore’s prologue to “The Fellowship of the Ring” which, if not for the subsequent hours of music building on them, might not be clear to us as meaningful, and which would not grab us by the heart, so to speak, without that reinforcement.
I think we have a situation similar to that hypothetical here. Nothing of Howard’s new theme is, at least based on what we’ve heard so far, built on in Bear’s score.
Those elemental structures are not reinforced. We go right from an echo of the Middle-earth sound that we know, to a younger and more vibrant Middle-earth, with no real bridge between that and the grand but poignant “civilization in decline” soundworld we’re used to.
The power of familiarity shouldn’t be underestimated though. Given what I’ve seen happen with some other scores’ themes over the years, I’m willing to bet that quite a few of those who are currently unimpressed by and unattached to this one will feel differently once they’ve heard it fifty or so times accompanying each episode, when this new journey reaches its end.
About our chat participants
DrNosy is a scientist (physical science), scholar, and Tolkien enthusiast. Her primary interests lie in review and analysis of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. She is an active contributor and Reading Room Moderator on TheOneRing.net Discord where she also hosts live open-forum panel discussions on The Rings of Power, The Silmarillion, and a variety of Tolkien-related topics. You can reach her on Twitter.
Mike T is a composer and near-lifelong Tolkien aficionado. After obsessively relying on TORn for spoiler reports during the early 2000s, and pursuing a musical life in large part due to the experience of hearing Howard Shore’s scores in darkened theaters dozens of times, he is delighted to find himself back amongst the TORn community for this new journey through Middle-Earth. You can listen to his music at https://michaeltrapasso.bandcamp.com and reach out to him on Twitter.
Editor’s Note:we reported in September last year that McCreary was being brought onboard to work with Shore on scoring the series. It was rumored at the time that Shore didn’t “necessarily want to compose the whole series”. We now know that Shore and McCreary ended up composing the music separately.
TORn Tuesday’s co-host Justin flew around the world — at his own expense — to experience the first showings of Prime Video’s huge The Lord of the Rings: The Rings Of Power with fellow fans in NYC and London. Now having seen it twice, after years of the most spoileriffic leaks, here is his review of the first two episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power on Prime.
Back in 2002, I sat down in a theater full of fellow Ringers at midnight as an unknown jovial British man with a deep voice walked out to introduce The Two Towers. Andy Serkis had come at the invite of TheOneRing.net to opening night. Nobody knew who he was other than the IMDb credit and 3 seconds of trailer time — and this guy looked & sounded nothing like Gollum. There was also a lot of chatter leading up to the release of The Two Towers that book lovers were terrified of — that the elves had been reassigned from the books to honor the last alliance at Helm’s Deep (ruining Tolkien’s greatest battlefield reunion in The Return of the King). Leaked set pics showed Arwen fighting at Helm’s deep. Jar Jar Binks all-CGI characterization had “ruined” Star Wars, and all-CGI Gollum was ready to ruin Tolkien.
The lights dimmed. The screen showed the familiar landscapes. Then the camera dived INTO the mountain to replay one of the greatest scenes of Fellowship (natch, film history). Oh great, I thought, another film that does “when we last left our heroes” recap. And then the camera follows Gandalf as he falls into battle with Durin’s Bane, as an epic choral music laments their fall into the great chasm. I lept out of my seat! I couldn’t believe a movie had just shown me things I had never seen before, never expected, and a style of storytelling I didn’t think possible. The Two Towers changed my movie going life, and it is still my favorite of the trilogy.
My Rings of Power take after seeing the pilot episodes twice and really diving into the visual details:
Prime Video’s The Rings of Power brings back that feeling of discovery. It changes what television is capable of. It redefines multi-storyline TV. It completely immerses you in Middle-earth from the start, and delivers an incredible storytelling experience that stays true to the tone of Tolkien while necessarily charting a new path.
The Rings of Power finally delivers on Gimli’s promise to the Fellowship that his kin would provide a warm welcome in Moria. We finally see dwarven culture at its pinnacle — a fully realized society that is well-fed, well-worked, and well-machined. These dwarves will feel familiar to Hobbit trilogy fans, with great-looking, practical makeup FX (allegedly supported by Weta Workshop), but it’s the characterizations that really take this culture beyond the comedy of the movies. Fans of deep lore will rewatch the dwarven scenes to spot the many Easter eggs of items lost to time in the books.
All the other lands and races are equally fully realized, even the orc culture. We are all aware of the amount of effort needed to accomplish creative at this level thanks to Peter Jackson’s Appendices. It’s obvious hundreds of top creative talent are collaborating on this show. There is a visible sense of pride in the work from all the details both visual and narratively. This is a billion dollar TV show and it shows. It takes that much support to realize Tolkien’s vast imagination — which is larger in the Second Age than the Third Age seen in the films. The Second Age just has more of everything. More societies. More cities. More arid lands. More areas to explore. More destruction. My biggest fear now is that future seasons of The Rings of Power may not get the same generous budget, knowing what enormous cataclysms are to come.
Writing on the show is peak television at its pinnacle. Prime has assembled an all-star fellowship of writers from the best shows on TV — Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Hannibal, Game of Thrones, and more. Absolutely no characters from the vast collective on this show feel cardboard, short changed, nor one-dimensional. Everyone quickly has motivations created and their place in society established. TV has never seen a character break as bad as Sauron, the lord of all the rings, and the pilot episodes set up the stakes for Middle-earth.
J.A Bayona was absolutely the right director to establish the look and feel of this show. From his water work with The Impossible to the dark tones of Penny Dreadful, Bayona captures the existential dread that Middle-earth may not know is coming. Showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay are living our collective fan dream overseeing this massive project. Their imaginations are reaching for the same great heights that JRR Tolkien famously attempted, yet still under the guardrails and guidelines he established. Tolkien envisioned filmmakers expanding his Legendarium with his “other minds and hands, wielding paint and music & drama” and these guys are up to the task. Having chatted with them many times over the last six months it’s clear that these other and hands are the right ones to continuing shaping the history of Middle-earth.
Fans may forget that Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings was full of no-name actors. It was Orlando Bloom’s first work, Billy Boyd’s first movie, and the biggest job for the hundreds of longtime kiwi actors. Rings of Power continues that tradition of unveiling top talent on the global stage. These folks are future stars. All the recent discourse of how they look and talk — also things fans also complained about in 2001 — is put to rest the minute the show starts. There is no wink at the camera or in-your-face notice me going on. These performances live in Middle-earth, period. Tolkien’s source text allow for a very expansive visual canon which the filmmakers are developing with the highest of standards. All the fears fans have of this “looking like television” are proven invalid. Better than other space and superhero TV shows, this is Middle-earth looking exactly like it should: the proper continuation of a $6 billion franchise and most-awarded film series of all time.
Even if it’s not a continuation. We have covered the rights situation numerous times over the last 4 years on this site and on YouTube. Testament to loyalty to JRR Tolkien is the involvement of Simon Tolkien (the current elder family stateman) in the production of the show, and no less that 11 living Tolkien relatives showing up to the London premiere. It’s a privilege to have Royd Tolkien a longtime friend of TORn, but to have his family there at The Rings of Power premiere unlocked a feeling I didn’t know this franchise needed: full support of the sub-creator’s legacy, and a proper continuation of his life’s work. There’s a trust in the show there, now, that I didn’t know was missing.
I’m looking forward to the many debates fans will have, and we will have at TheOneRing.net, over the choices made by the filmmakers. I’m reminded of the TORn staff that walked out of The Two Towers theatrical opening, disgusted that Frodo and Sam were at Osgiliath with an unrecognizable Faramir. My favorite film of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings has its detractors and I respect their perspectives, and The Rings Of Power will undoubtedly generate similar debates that can only strengthen our love of Middle-earth. Maybe we should bring back RINGER REVIEWS so all us fans can share our assessment of each of the 50 episodes to come.
As I walked out of that first screening, and now a second one in London, my one word review of Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power two-part pilot remains:
PERFECTION. No Notes.
Huge thanks to all the teams at Prime Video that have supported the fans throughout this journey of creation, for inviting hundreds of fans to these free screenings around the world, for all the support at Comic-Con and DragonCon, and for all the friendly (sometimes intense) conversations as we shared the excitement for this show. Fans are happy to be seen, and will be very happy with the finished product.
Tune in every Tuesday at 8pm ET for TORn Tuesday LIVE with Clifford & Justin, and chat anytime on the TORn Discord at https://discord.gg/theonering
Andy Serkis’ narration of The Fellowship of the Ring is now free on Audible through October 15th!
Editorial note: Now THIS is marketing I can appreciate because it makes Tolkien more available! I’ve heard Andy read The Hobbit and have been waiting for that right time to listen to his read of LotR. So much Tolkien, such little time…
It appears that some, uh, overly enterprising leakers thought they could make a quick buck by posting the full OST of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power to YouTube.
It was quickly caught and deleted. But, in the meantime, we were able discover a little over half of the track titles — and they provide interesting hints of what’s soon to come. Of the 37 tracks on the OST, the title theme is composed by Howard Shore, while the other 36 are by Bear McCreary.
Below are the titles of the first 19:
01. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Main Title
04. Nori Brandyfoot
05. The Stranger
09. In the Beginning
10. Elrond Half-elven
11. Durin IV
12. Harfoot Life
13. Bronwyn and Arondir
15. The Boat
16. Sundering Seas
17. Nobody Goes Off Trail
18. Elendil and Isildur
19. White Leaves
We can also now add the remaining track titles
20. The Secrets of the Mountain
21. Nolwa Mahtar
23. A Plea to the Rocks
24. This Wandering Day
25. Scherzo for Violin and Swords
26. Sailing into the Dawn
27. For the Southlands
29. Water and Flame
30. In the Mines
31. The Veil of Smoke
32. The Mystics
33. Perilous Whisperings
34. The Broken Line
35. Wise One
36. True Creation Requires Sacrifice
37. Where the Shadows Lie
TORn does not condone piracy. Remember that the official release is around the corner, folks. You’ll very soon be able to stream the music to your heart’s delight via your favourite service, or even pick up a copy on physical media.