Earlier this week, TORn staffer greendragon had the chance to sit down with composer Bear McCreary. Greendragon was fortunate to be invited to attend a recording session for the Rings of Power soundtrack in London last April; it was an incredible experience, watching skilled musicians bring McCreary’s score to life. So she was thrilled to have the chance to catch up with the composer, and see how he’s feeling about Season One – and what might be in store for Season Two of The Rings of Power.

McCreary is a huge Tolkien fan himself, and he shared how Peter Jackson’s movies – and in particular, Howard Shore’s score – were important influences in his growth to become the composer he is today. He discussed the luxury of time which Amazon’s big budgets provide, and the importance of music to enhance and communicate emotion and drama. He also revealed that he has already started work for Season Two!

Watch the full interview below; and check out McCreary’s own blog, here.

At their panel today at New York ComicCon, Prime Video unveiled a new trailer, for The Rings of Power season finale next week:

This was the first Rings of Power panel appearance since the series debut, and included not only the trailer (which does not contain very much which hasn’t been seen before), but also a surprise sneak peek at some footage from the finale episode, which will be available to stream on Prime Video next week, at 12:00am ET on Friday, October 14th.

The one interesting reveal at the very end of the trailer is a glimpse of Celebrimbor’s forge in action. It seems strange that we have yet to see Annatar using his persuasive powers on the elves, and yet already they are thinking about forging rings. Will all be explained and revealed in the season finale? There are many loose ends to tie up; and presumably some will be left dangling for Season Two…

Rings of Power podcast

The NYCC panel was moderated by Felicia Day (The Guild, Supernatural), who also revealed that she is the host of a new The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Official Podcast. Prime Video tell us:

Fans will be able to go deeper into the canals of Númenor, the mines of Khazad-dûm, the halls of Lindon, and more, as host Felicia Day takes a fresh and insightful look at the groundbreaking series and what it takes to bring Middle-earth to life. Each episode will feature exclusive interviews with cast and crew, including Morfydd Clark, Owain Arthur, and the show’s creators, JD Payne and Patrick McKay, that will take us behind the scenes with jaw-dropping stories and Easter eggs you won’t want to miss. Fans can listen to all eight episodes of the podcast for free on Amazon Music.

The third Rings of Power reveal today was a clip of a song which will feature in the Season Finale, from Fiona Apple.

Further details can be found in Prime Video’s press release:

Today, in their first panel appearance since the debut of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, seven of the series’ cast took a bite of the Big Apple on New York Comic Con’s (NYCC) Empire Stage in a lively panel moderated by actor, producer, New York Times best-selling author, and newly announced host of the show’s official free podcast on Amazon Music, Felicia Day (The Guild, Supernatural). The panel also included a first look at an exclusive new season finale trailer, and a surprise sneak peek at some never-before-seen footage from the highly anticipated finale episode, which will be available to stream on Prime Video at 12:00 a.m. EDT, Friday, October 14.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has been a global sensation in its first season, garnering over 25 million views for the first two episodes over the series’ premiere weekend. Additionally, according to Nielsen, The Rings of Power also delivered 1.25 billion minutes streamed in the U.S. during (or over) its premiere weekend, making it the No. 1 show on their overall and original streaming charts. This is the first time a Prime Video series has debuted at No.1 on the Nielsen chart, and The Rings of Power was also the only series that crossed the 1 billion minutes streamed threshold for the week.

Cast members Cynthia Addai-Robinson (“Queen Regent Miriel”), Nazanin Boniadi (“Bronwyn”), Charles Edwards (“Lord Celebrimbor”), Leon Wadham (“Kemen”), Benjamin Walker (“High King Gil-galad”), Daniel Weyman (“The Stranger”), and Sara Zwangobani (“Marigold ‘Goldie’ Brandyfoot”) participated in an hour-long panel that offered behind-the-scenes stories from the set, and some teases about the long-awaited first season finale.

Although showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay weren’t able to attend NYCC in person, they sent a special message from the show’s UK set, where production has just begun on Season Two of the series. In addition to welcoming fans to the panel, they also shared some behind-the-scenes footage and their excitement about the final episode of the season.

Fans were treated to an exclusive first look at a dynamic new trailer, recapping all of the key action to date and providing a sneak peek at what’s still to come in the epic season finale. The new trailer promises exciting payoffs for viewers next week, teasing Mordor will rise, heroes will fall, and all will be revealed, all to the sound of Bear McCreary’s score, titled “Sauron.” And was that a scene with Celebrimbor’s forge in action? Tune in on October 14 to find out!

Amazon Studios also surprised the NYCC panel attendees with an exclusive first clip from the season finale, revealing how key storylines across the different realms of Arda have finally converged, leading to a moment that viewers across the globe have been waiting for since the series title was first revealed!

Panel moderator and Tolkien super-fan Felicia Day also had some exciting news of her own—she’s the host of the upcoming The Official The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Podcast—and she shared a special podcast trailer as well. In this groundbreaking new series, which will be available for free on Amazon Music, Day will share unique details, behind-the-scenes stories, and the most exciting and surprising moments through unprecedented access to the cast and crew, including showrunners J.D. Payne and PatrickMcKay. Listen to all eight episodes of the official companion podcast on Amazon Music beginning October 14. Download the Amazon Music app today.

Today, Amazon Studios also released “Where the Shadows Lie,” a new song performed by Grammy-winning artist Fiona Apple, from The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (Season One: Amazon Original Series Soundtrack). Available exclusively through Amazon Music, the song was written by series composer Bear McCreary and appears in the season finale of the acclaimed new series on Prime Video. Set to McCreary’s powerful and ethereal score, with Apple’s haunting vocals at the forefront, the song is inspired by the iconic Ring-verse written by J.R.R. Tolkien in the original The Lord of the Rings trilogy. As written, the poem was composed by the Free Peoples of Middle-earth about the origins of the Rings of Power and their relationship under the power of the One Ring. The song was produced by McCreary, Apple, and Andrew Slater, and engineered by Jason LaRocca and David Way. Listen to “Where the Shadows Lie” (feat. Fiona Apple) HERE .

Robert Aramayo as Elrond, The Rings of Power, Amazon Prime

Examining the minutiae of Tolkien adaptations has long been a tradition at TheOneRing.net. Staff, message boarders and chatters on our site have regularly picked over scenes and images from the films and this tradition continues with The Rings of Power. Today, however, the discussions take place in multiple arenas all over the internet. Recently, on Twitter, MGCoco* shared an interesting theory about Elrond’s cloak.

Twitter post by MGCoco*. Used with permission.

Other Tolkien fans loved this theory, with some noting how the cloak is “way more worn than the rest of the clothes” he wears and speculating that we may learn more at a future date.

Others took this theory even further, speculating that Elros may have been buried in his cloak and how Elrond still wears his as a “silent vigil over his brother’s legacy”. They go on to raise an interesting point that the lore never touches on Elrond’s feelings over his twin having chosen mortality and there being no chance of them ever being reunited, not even in the Halls of Mandos.

Tweet reply to MGCoco*. Used with permission.

MGCoco* also noted how Elrond then goes on to watch over the remaining heirs of Elros in Middle-earth, helping to hide the line of Isildur. Other fans stated that:

“It paints a beautiful, if somewhat bittersweet, mental image. Really gives one a sense of the sheer depth of his character too.”

Claiomh Dubh via Twitter

Delving into a closer look of a characters costume, can lead to far more than just an appreciation of a piece of clothing.

Join us on our Discord channel to discuss this and other topics with fellow Tolkien fans.

If you have a Tolkien/Middle-earth inspired poem you’d like to share, then send it to poetry@theonering.net. One poem per person may be submitted each month. Please make sure to proofread your work before sending it in. TheOneRing.net is not responsible for poems posting with spelling or grammatical errors.

The scene above is not an original idea, but is imitative of an essay on fantasy writing that is almost fifty years old.

Lord Celebrimbor, The Rings of Power
Lord Celebrimbor, The Rings of Power

In 1973, Ursula K. Le Guin published From Elfland to Poughkeepsie, in which she argued for the importance of style in writing, and especially in the writing of high fantasy. Elfland is the name she used—following Lord Dunsany—for what Tolkien called Faerie: it is Middle-earth, Prydain, and many other locales; as for Poughkeepsie, she offered a comparison to national parks.  As these became more popular tourist venues, more people would travel to these parks, fully equipped with enough modern conveniences that they never really go anywhere.   They can feel at home, “just as if they were back in Poughkeepsie.”

She lamented that at the time of her writing, too many new fantasy writers were building the equivalents of trailer parks with drive-in movies.  “But the point about Elfland is that you are not at home there.  It’s not Poughkeepsie.  It’s different.”  If anything, in this post-Dungeons-and-Dragons and post-video-game world, things have not improved.

She then offered a passage from a then-recent fantasy novel—the sort with twentieth-century people wearing 14th-century clothes and doing magic—and then, by only changing a few names and locations, showed that the same passage would be just as familiar in a modern political thriller, similar to our opening scene above.

“Now, I submit that something has gone wrong. The book from which I first quoted is not fantasy, for all its equipment of heroes and wizards. If it was fantasy, I couldn’t have pulled the dirty trick on it by changing four words. You can’t clip Pegasus’ wings that easily—not if he has wings.”

From Elfland to Poughkeepsie, Ursula K. Le Guin

Le Guin’s argument is that, in fantasy writing, style is not merely an ingredient of a book, something added on, but it is the book.  “If you remove the style, all you have left is a synopsis of the plot.”   In a cinematic drama1, of course, there is more than verbal style at play.  The visual arts—sets, costumes, location photography, props, music, and so on—are very important stylistic components.  Still, in another sense they are just illustrations that support, but cannot replace the style of the words.   “Merely corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative,” as Pooh-bah said. 

If the script is good, it should be just as good as a radio drama, perhaps with some well-written narration to replace those illustrations.  I will refer to “the reader” in this article; this may be considered shorthand for “the reader or audience.”

Tolkien himself had much to say about the craft of transporting the reader to Faerie in his important essay On Fairy-stories.  He proposed that any good story (of any genre) must be capable of creating actual belief in the world it creates, not merely suspension of disbelief:

What really happens is that the story-maker proves a successful “sub-creator.” He makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is “true”: it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside.  The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the magic, or rather art, has failed. You are then out in the Primary World again, looking at the little abortive Secondary World from outside.

On Fairy-stories, J.R.R. Tolkien

He then discussed Fantasy, the creation of images of a world unlike ours, with things that cannot be found in our world at all.  He gave an example, saying that the fantastic device of language lets us say things like, “the green sun,” but that:

To make a Secondary World inside which the green sun will be credible, commanding Secondary Belief, will probably require labour and thought, and will certainly demand a special skill, a kind of elvish craft.

On Fairy-stories, J.R.R. Tolkien

But what is the realm of Elfland, and why does it take such extraordinary artistry to bring a reader into that world?  Tolkien tells us:

The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveler who would report them.

On Fairy-stories, J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien portrayed this idea in his poem The Sea-bell and in his last book, Smith of Wootton Major; do read these.   Le Guin said much the same thing but takes it a step further:

It is a different approach to reality, an alternative technique for apprehending and coping with existence. It is not antirational but pararational; not realistic, but surrealistic, superrealistic, a heightening of reality. In Freud’s terminology, it employs primary, not secondary process thinking. It employs archetypes, which, Jung warned us, are dangerous things. Dragons are more dangerous, and a good deal commoner, than bears. Fantasy is nearer to poetry, to mysticism, and to insanity than naturalistic fiction is. It is a real wilderness, and those who go there should not feel too safe. And their guides, the writers of fantasy, should take their responsibilities seriously.

From Elfland to Poughkeepsie, Ursula K. Le Guin

Thus, if we are to avoid leaving the reader in the Primary World, the language itself, that “fantastic device”, must act as the cicerone for this dream journey.  Le Guin gave examples of appropriate prose: from Eddison‘s The Worm Ouroboros with its carefully-crafted Elizabethan prose; Kenneth Morris, with his less ornate but still mannered dialogue in Book of the Three Dragons; and Tolkien. 

“Who can tell?” said Aragorn, “But we will put it to the test one day.” 
“May the day not be too long delayed,” said Boromir. “For though I do not ask for aid, we need it. It would comfort us to know that others fought also with all the means that they have.” 
“Then be comforted,” said Elrond.

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

It is important to notice that Tolkien does not use especially archaic speech here.  Le Guin described the speech as, “a less extraordinary English; or rather an English extraordinary for its simple timelessness…it is the language of men of character.”  She did not argue for archaic speech, but for speech that is appropriate to the subject matter, and indicative of the character of the speakers, who should not think like accountants and video-gamers.

Tolkien had much to say on this link between language, thought, and character.  In a letter to Hugh Brogan (Letter #171, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien) he responded to that reader’s criticisms of the archaic narration in The Two Towers, which Brogan had described as “tushery”.

This letter is worth reading in its entirety, but Tolkien addressed “tushery” as the “bogus ‘medieval’ stuff with … expletives, such as tush, pish, zounds, marry, and the like,” and observes that real archaic English is more concise than “our slack and often frivolous idiom”. 

In doing so, he examined the specific case of Théoden’s conversation with Gandalf (“Nay, Gandalf! You do not know your own skill in healing” et seq.).

First pointing out that it is actually “moderated or watered archaism” compared to a more authentically antique diction (“Nay, thou n’wost not thine own skill in healing,”2), he then added that even though much of the speech could be translated to a modern idiom, “Not at all my dear Gandalf…” the thought that ends it , “Thus shall I sleep better,” would not translate well to the modern idiom because a king who speaks in a modern idiom would simply not think in terms of sleeping quietly in his grave.

We see a similar disconnect in the Rings of Power speech with which we began.

Lords of Elfland do not think of expanding work-forces and project deadlines, and for them to speak of such matters is a disunity of language and character.   The spell has broken, and the art has failed: we are back in Poughkeepsie.  There are many examples of modernisms that have crept into the dialogue: hobbits who say, “Okay,” “It means, like, what we do,” and, “That’s not who we are.”  Númenoreans who say, “Nah,” and, “Míriel has her up for tea?”  Elves who say “conflicted”. Dwarves who say, “Yeah.” Even grade-school grammatical errors, “Your people have no king, for you are him,” (a sentence that was walking along just fine before it fell on its face at the last word). 

There are almost too many examples to count, and they pop up at random in the midst of more timeless speech.  Some are more jarring than others—especially the name-calling like “Elf-lover!”—but none of them belong in a tale of the fantastic, except perhaps as Orc-talk. 

Overcompensating for modernism is, of course, an equally dangerous trap.  Le Guin and Tolkien both objected to “tushery” and pseudo-archaic speech.  Imitating the elevated register of dialogue from Tolkien’s writing is perilous. 

Le Guin noted that young fantasy writers sense that their language must distance the tale from the ordinary, but don’t know how to do it, fumbling with “thee” and “thou” and overusing words like “mayhap”.  To their credit, the writers of The Rings of Power, do not fall into this trap. 

Instead, however, these Elves too frequently lapse into High Aphorism.  “It is said the wine of victory is sweetest for those in whose bitter trials it has fermented.”  You have to read that twice to figure out what it is saying.  “Most wounds to our bodies heal of their own accord, so, it is their labor instead to render hidden truths as works of beauty. For beauty has great power to heal the soul.”  All right, if you say so; but it doesn’t sound helpful for a broken leg. And of course:

Do you know why a ship floats and a stone cannot? Because the stone sees only downward. The darkness of the water is vast and irresistible. The ship feels the darkness as well, striving moment by moment to master her and pull her under. But the ship has a secret.  For unlike the stone, her gaze is not downward but up. Fixed upon the light that guides her, whispering of grander things than darkness ever knew.

The Rings of Power, Amazon Studios
Young Galadriel with Finrod, The Rings of Power.

Not only is this pretentious and sententious (if lovely), but it forgets that the Noldor know more about the natural world, about the forces of gravity and buoyancy and density and displacement, than we do.  Their “magic” comes from this deeper understanding.  Instead of knowledge (which is what the word Noldor means!) we get fortune-cookie philosophy that sounds like we just need better-trained stones. 

Compare:

‘Are these magic cloaks?’ asked Pippin, looking at them with wonder.

‘I do not know what you mean by that,’ answered the leader of the Elves. ‘They are fair garments, and the web is good, for it was made in this land. They are Elvish robes certainly, if that is what you mean. Leaf and branch, water and stone: they have the hue and beauty of all these things under the twilight of Lórien that we love; for we put the thought of all that we love into all that we make. Yet they are garments, not armour, and they will not turn shaft or blade.’

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

There is a fine line between elegant speech and pretentiousness.  The Rings of Power stumbles across that line too often; and perhaps without knowing exactly why, we are jerked back to the Primary World, because we know, somehow, that Elves don’t really talk like that.

Such considerations, of course, apply to any genre, such as real-world historical stories—at least, those taking place in a setting in which fairly modern English is spoken. 

If I were writing a novel or screenplay taking place at, say, a New England boys’ prep school in 1905, I would not only have to take into account things like clothing, music, technology, or the rules for football, but I would have to give the boys speech appropriate to the time, with usages like “kick” for “complain”, “bully” for approval, or, “You make me tired!” for disapproval.  And I would also have to assiduously avoid letting the boys say anachronistic things like, “epic”, “iconic”, “I’m still processing this”,  “cool”, or…  “That’s not who we are.”

If I were particularly careful, I would research then-new usages like, “Okay,” “Yeah,” or “Wow,” before putting them into the mouths of my characters. 

It takes real work to get such things right.  Without that work, even a non-specialist reader might sense that something is off-pitch, without knowing why, and will not believe in the story.

But such a story is not required to transport us to Elfland; only to (historical) Poughkeepsie.  Elfland is a far more perilous realm, with deeper delights and dangers for both the reader and writer.  Surely, then, a well-paid script editor can be employed to apply at least as meticulous a reading to the dialogue of a drama taking place in such a well-known and well-loved corner of Elfland as Middle-earth?

FOOTNOTES

[1]: It is not at all clear that there is any longer a useful distinction between “movies” and “television” and “streaming” in such discussions.

[2]: Incidentally, this is very similar to the writing of early fantasist William Morris.

Editor’s note:

In the above essay, Staffer Ostadan references a number of key early fantasists whose works pre-date and influenced Tolkien. Some of these works now exist freely in the Public Domain. Interested readers who might care to explore these works further can find and enjoy them as free downloads on Project Gutenburg.

Kenneth Morris’s Book of the Three Dragons was published in 1930 and is not yet available in the Public Domain. Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain series was published between 1964 and 1968. Ursula K. Le Guin’s essay From Elfland to Poughkeepsie seems to be available through Amazon in limited quantities, but it is very expensive.

If you have a Tolkien/Middle-earth inspired poem you’d like to share, then send it to poetry@theonering.net. One poem per person may be submitted each month. Please make sure to proofread your work before sending it in. TheOneRing.net is not responsible for poems posting with spelling or grammatical errors.

Staffer WeeTanya drew to our attention this article from the folks who created the title sequence for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

If you’d been wondering what those dancing grains, and the patterns they make, are all about, then wonder no more! Or maybe, wonder a little more; it seems there are secrets hiding in the images… ‘Plains of Yonder’ are the team behind the sequence, and they took for their inspiration nothing less than the music of the Ainur itself. The patterns and images seen on screen reflect the phenomenon of cymatics, when ‘Vibrations of fine particles on a flat surface display striking symmetrical patterns that reflect audio frequencies.’

Plains of Yonder’s team write:

The sequence conjures an ancient and invisible power, struggling to be seen. Symbols form, flow, push, and disappear as quickly as they came. The unknowable realms of sound create fleeting visions of conflict and harmony that move in lockstep with Howard Shores’ opening title score.

Over a dozen hidden symbols reflect themes and storylines in the show.  Some are hidden in plain sight and others are far more subtle. Successive episodes reveal more meaning to the symbology.

What symbols have been spotted thus far? Two trees have appeared; and in the opening to Episode Three, there appeared to be something dark and perhaps sinister winding its way through the rest of the golden particles. Could this represent Melkor interweaving ‘matters of his own’? The beginning of all evil in Arda…?

Read the article here; and look out for symbols in the episodes to come!

Amongst my earliest recollections of being introduced to Tolkien there remains one etched in my memory that I remember so clearly to this day. It was an evening in the fall of 2001. I was accustomed to step out at dusk to catch the sunset near a plumeria tree outside my house which would shed its leaves and yellow flowers around that time of year. I’d watch for the first of the stars to appear, and then head home.

I lived in a little city in India back then, and after a day at college, I was relaxing in my living room watching MTV, when the video for Enya’s “May It Be” happened to come on.

That evening after watching Enya’s video for the very first time, I was ponderous in a way I hadn’t really been before.

Perhaps it was the season, or the stage of life I was at. But something about the visuals, the words, the characters, had touched me, spoken to me; and it set me on a journey of discovery into the Lord of the Rings, Middle-earth, and Tolkien.

It’s been over 20 years now, and though I now live far from that home in a land where the stars are strange (to borrow a Ranger’s phrase) and a lifetime seems to have passed since those days, the music of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films has somehow managed to remain a constant companion through the seasons of my life.

Howard Shore’s score has always been, for me, the singular aspect of those films that contributed immensely in elevating the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts.

So when it was announced that the score for Amazon’s The Rings of Power TV series would be scored by Bear McCreary, I was both apprehensive and excited.

My apprehension stemmed from having spent two decades associating Howard Shore’s music with the sound of Middle-earth – how could anyone surpass, or even match, the heights of that achievement?

And yet my excitement was hesitantly brewing, as I had recently watched Apple TV’s Foundation, fallen in love with the soundtrack, and discovered that it was scored by a composer named Bear McCreary. Only time would reveal whether Bear’s music for Middle-earth would move me in the same way Shore’s did 20 years ago.

And so finally last weekend, on a grey and rainy Spring evening in Australia, separated in time and space from the once young college boy who accidentally discovered Middle-earth, I settled in, this time willfully, and with a slight shiver running down my spine, to journey anew, back to that place of wonder.

PROLOGUE: GALADRIEL & FINROD, MORGOTH & SAURON

As the first strains of choral music play over the dark screen and a voice begins to speak, the mood feels aptly Tolkienesque, in an Elvish sort of way – ancient and fair – but also young and fresh, in a manner of speaking, as if the song were newly written, and being newly sung, within the world unfolding before me.

It coalesces in my mind when the Elf-children are revealed – this is the music of the Elves in their youth in Valinor, in a time when their world is still young, their children numerous, their happiness untainted.

The choral music gives way to a subtle thematic melody as a small girl crafts a boat and sets it upon a stream. The music rises delicately as the boat floats downstream, then slowly unfurls to take the shape of a swan, wings outspread, and begins to sail proudly upon the rippling water; before its course is interrupted by a stone pelted by one of the Elf-children.

As a tall, fair Elf comes over and lifts it up out of the water, the theme weaves its way back into the music. It segues from doubtfulness to hope as Finrod the Elf-lord converses with his little sister Galadriel under a tree in a verdant field of grass, counseling her regarding the nature of darkness and light. Then leaving her to ponder his words, he departs homeward; and the theme builds gloriously, reaching a crescendo in a chorus of Elven song as he mounts a hill and gazes upon the fair city of their home, Valinor, whose tall towers and rippling waterways lay bathed in the golden light of the Two Trees.

But soon another theme asserts itself – strident and dissonant. The Two Trees begin to darken as the shadow of the Great Foe, Morgoth, looms over them, and we witness their destruction and the consequent darkening of Valinor.

It made me wonder if this is what Morgoth’s theme might’ve sounded like woven amidst the Music of the Ainur. It is not immediately discordant, but rather rallying, and depending on one’s predisposition could very well induce a desire to ally oneself with it.

Now amid the darkness of their home, the Elf-lords unite to take an Oath in resistance of Morgoth’s evil, and leaving the land of Valinor behind, they sail in legion across the Sundering Seas to Middle-earth, and to war. The soaring music ushers their arrival in this land of untold perils, where battling for centuries against strange creatures beyond count, on land and high in the flaming skies, they witness the ruin of Middle-earth. Galadriel’s theme bears out a sombre tone as she treads the ashen, smoke-filled battleplains in the aftermath of war – laying in reverence the high-helm of a fallen Elf-lord upon a mound of countless others borne by those who fell in battle beside him.

As the Age rolls on, Morgoth’s theme comes to represent the evil that has spread across all Middle-earth. It is soon assumed by Sauron, his most devoted servant, and a choir intones in Black Speech as we see his armoured form in a forbidding Northern fortress commanding forces of Orcs that have multiplied and gathered under him.

We learn now that Finrod was killed in attempting to fulfil his vow to seek out Sauron, and once again, the Galadriel / Finrod theme plays out solemnly, as she weeps over his once-fair body now marred and lying in state.

A mysterious motif interrupts this moment as she looks upon a mark branded cruelly upon his breast. Her theme rises once again as she takes the dagger from Finrod’s hands and claims his vow as her own.

Despite his brief appearance, Finrod’s death felt extremely poignant, and I found I had a lump in my throat when he lay in state. It is clear to see why Galadriel assumed his task to hunt down the Enemy.

Galadriel’s theme now sweeps up dramatically as we are told how the Elves hunted for Sauron to the ends of the earth, over mountains and across seas, as year gave way to year, and century to century. And though for most Elves the pain of those days was all but forgotten, for Galadriel the fight against Sauron had become personal, and so she ever led her company on.

Now far in the Northernmost Waste, the Forodwaith of Middle-earth, menacing vocals sound out as she and her company descry the towers of an ancient fortress rising like black mountain-peaks amidst the frost and bitter snow. Then Sauron’s theme blares out as deep within a chamber they discover an enigmatic sigil – the same mark that once branded Finrod’s body – left here now as a trail for Orcs to follow. They had finally found a trace of Sauron.

RHOVANION: THE HARFOOTS, ELANOR ‘NORI’ BRANDYFOOT

We are now introduced to the Harfoots in the region of Rhovanion, the Wilderland of Middle-earth. They are a simple wandering folk, a little people living in closeness with the earth, never settled in one place but moving their dwellings with the passing of the seasons.

Their music is rustic and sylvan, almost nomadic, like it could precede what later becomes Howard Shore’s themes for the Hobbits and the Shire in their comfortable refinement.

There’s a separate theme for Elanor ‘Nori’ Brandyfoot, who along with her companion Poppy Proudfoot, and the other Harfoot younglings are thrilled in their perky-eyed cheekiness to find a blackberry bush. Delighting in simple pleasures seems to be an innate trait of the Little Folk since their beginnings.

Nori’s theme is appropriately lighthearted and sprightly, if tinged with hints of wonder and expectation of something larger than might exist just beyond their horizons. It grows pensive as she asks of her mother Marigold…

Haven’t you ever wondered what’s out there? How far the river flows or where the sparrows learn their new songs they sing in spring?

The music for the Harfoots too takes a poignant turn as Marigold, her deep brown eyes filled with kind understanding, reminds Nori of the simple truths that keep their kind safe.

Elves have forests to protect, Dwarves their mines, Men their fields of grain, even trees have to worry about the soil beneath their roots. But we Harfoots are free from the worries of the wide world. Nobody goes off trail and nobody walks alone. We have each other.

It is a tender moment of motherly wisdom imparted to a daughter, and a reminder that although the Harfoots may be simple, they are not unwise.

I found myself already loving the Harfoot characters, despite their fabrication for this series, and I think it is a testament to the cast, the writers, and everything else that went into making the Harfoots believable within this world.

ELROND

Elrond, the Herald of Gil-galad, is ushered in with strains that seem reminiscent of Howard Shore’s Rivendell theme, as he sits (Frodo-like) quite carefree on a tree-branch in a golden wood.

Here his theme seems to be in its inception still, yet in a reflection of his person, it soars briefly, bordering on aspirational, offering glimpses of greatness.

He greets Galadriel, now returned from her journeying, and as they look upon the tapestry of a ship sailing West to Valinor, a choral motif is briefly heard.

Then as he reflects upon the tapestry while conversing with Galadriel, he wonders aloud…

“I hear it’s said that when you cross over, you hear a song. One whose memory we all carry.”

… and the choir intones a lyric to a different melodic line.

We will later discover that this choral lyric is indeed the very song Elrond is talking about.

LINDON & GIL-GALAD

Now the choral music builds as Elrond, Galadriel, and many other Elves assemble in a court encircled by many golden-leaved trees deep in the heart of Lindon, summoned there by Gil-galad.

The high and lofty vocals might represent a motif not dissimilar to Elrond’s Rivendell theme in The Lord of the Rings; for in this Second Age, Gil-galad is the High King of the Elves in Middle-earth, and though their capital city is in Lindon in the North-west, his authority is acknowledged by all their companies even to the furthest Southern and Eastern lands.

It sounds out victoriously as he declares that their days of war are over – their days of peace now begun.

But now Galadriel’s theme softly presents itself as she kneels ceremoniously before Gil-galad and he lays a circlet upon her head, bestowing upon her and the other Elven heroes of her company the permission to leave his realm and board the ships, to return home once more to Valinor.

Later that night, while the Elves celebrate, Galadriel’s theme plays out in poignant tones as she regards the carven image of Finrod in a forest-glade and converses once again with Elrond about the choice before her – to accept the gift of Gil-galad and depart Middle-earth forever, forsaking her vow, or to refuse his gift and persevere in her search for Sauron.

A LEITMOTIF FOR VALINOR

A subtle rising choral piece plays when Gil-glad mentions the Blessed Realm.

It is the motif briefly heard earlier when Elrond looked upon the tapestry when he greeted Galadriel.

It is also the same melodic line which played at the beginning when we saw Galadriel with the other Elf-children in Valinor and we heard how…

Nothing is evil in the beginning. And there was a time when the world was so young, there had not yet been a sunrise, but even then, there was light.

THE SOUTHLANDS, BRONWYN & ARONDIR

The theme for the Southlands is bucolic but dismal, as the Men who live here seem to be a rather simple farming folk settled in villages, but it is said their ancestors once sided with Morgoth, and the Elves still distrust them for that treachery.

The theme is shared by the Elves too; for they have established their presence in these regions for decades in their duty to watch over these Men and their lands.

It ushers in two Elves, Arondir and Médhor, who arrive at the village of Tirharad and head to an inn seeking news.

Arondir steps out onto the inn’s backyard to meet a woman, Brownyn, standing there beside a well, and a tender new theme forms as she hands him a bottle containing seeds of alfirin, a flower which he once knew as a child, but whose petals she herself crushes to form a healing salve. The theme continues as she questions him regarding healers among their kind, and he in turn explains the nature of their wounds and the role of Elvish healers.

The theme for the Southlands returns once again as Arondir heads back with his companion Medhor to Ostirith, an Elvish outpost set high upon a cliff-face. Upon receiving news that Gil-galad has declared the days of war ended, and the Elf-watchers free to return home, Arondir looks morosely across the wide vales far below, the theme sounding ever more forlorn.

As Revion the Watchwarden joins him atop the tower and they regard the lush green fields under the golden sunlight, Arondir remarks about the change to this once-barren land, and the Southlands theme brims briefly with new hope; but it returns to grimness as Revion reminds him that although the land may have the changed, the people have not.

The theme for Bronwyn & Arondir returns as he considers their impending separation, and later reminds her that although he seems unable to articulate why he has returned to see her, he has already spoken it in every way but words.

Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of a man who has brought his sick cow to Bronwyn, and Sauron’s theme hints amid the music as they learn the cow has been poisoned from grazing near the neighbouring village of Hordern. The theme rises prominently as Arondir and Bronwyn set out urgently for Hordern.

While Bronwyn is away, her son Theo shows his friend Rowan a mysterious broken sword he had discovered in a nearby shed. It bears the enigmatic sigil of Sauron, and now it holds Theo’s gaze as he holds it up, seemingly alighting in fire as the choir erupts in Black Speech over Sauron’s theme.

Arriving on the borders of Hordern, the theme for Arondir and Bronwyn returns as they share a tender moment when he confesses that hers is the only kind touch he has known in all his days in that land. But dark clouds formed from a rising smoke remind them of their purpose in coming to Hordern, and Sauron’s theme rises in urgency as they run up a hill to look down upon the village all aflame.

CELEBRIMBOR & THE RINGS OF POWER

Meanwhile in Lindon, Elrond and Gil-galad discuss Galadriel’s decision to return to the West, and having passed beyond his sight, Elrond shares his doubts about convincing her to take ship.

But Gil-galad counsels him to look to his own future in Middle-earth now, and thereupon Celebrimbor joins them.

His first appearance is accompanied by a short, rather ominous choral line.

It is the same piece that played over the title card of the show “THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RINGS OF POWER” (S1E1 at 17:27).

Celebrimbor is of course the primary artificer of the Rings of Power – their threads are bound by this motif.

THE SONG OF THE ELVES

Away upon the Sundering Seas, Galadriel and the Elven heroes gather on deck and prepare in ceremony to pass into the Uttermost West.

The leitmotif for Valinor heralds their arrival to the confines of the Blessed Realm. The choir begins to intone as the dark and forbidding clouds part, permitting the golden light of Valinor to shine forth, and a phalanx of white birds flies out to greet them.

Gazing in wonder at the ever widening cloud-wrack and the light of Valinor blazing forth ever brighter, the Elves in unison begin chanting a verse, almost as if the memory of a song long-forgotten were suddenly wakened fully in them.

It is the choral piece we heard when Elrond conversed with Galadriel by the tapestry in Lindon.

But while the accompanying Elves sing it and begin moving forward to enter into the light, Galadriel remains silent, filled with doubt about her choice to leave Middle-earth, and steps slowly back. Thondir’s call to take his hand grows distant.

The music rises and she recalls her discourse with Finrod when as a child she had questioned him about discerning which lights she must follow – the ones shining in the sky or those reflected as brightly in the dark waters below.

The Galadriel / Finrod theme rises profoundly as she remembers his counsel:

Sometimes we cannot know until we have touched the darkness.

Perceiving now his words and comprehending her choice, she turns away from the light, a tear escapes her, and she leaps from the ship.

The clouds close in again to shut out the light, darkness engulfs the waters, and all music is silenced.

THE STRANGER

Above the lands in Middle-earth the skies have grown strange. The music grows portentous and a queer motif begins to take shape. From Lindon and Eregion in the North, to Rhovanion and as far as the Southlands, Elves, Men, and Harfoots gaze in bewilderment as a star seemingly in flight streaks across the firmament leaving a blazing trail in its wake. The wind picks up and the trees too herd their young nearer to safety.

Gil-galad picks up a leaf that falls before him and regards it questioningly. The motif builds as he turns it over and sees a darkness spreading across its veins. Sauron’s theme interleaves with this new motif.

Away in Rhovanion, Nori approaches the crater where she descried the mysterious heavenly body crashing in an explosion of flame. Sauron’s theme segues into the new theme and the choir erupts as she looks down into the crater in amazement to see a man lying curled up at its center.

I find it interesting how the themes for the Stranger and Sauron seem intertwined. I don’t necessarily think it suggests the Stranger and Sauron are the same person or that they are allied – the Stranger could be one of the protagonists sent to contend with Sauron – but it certainly seems to hint that there is a close connection between them.

WHERE THE SHADOWS LIE

The music for the end credits is strangely ominous, the choir transitioning from deep male guttural voices to high female vocals, culminating on a seemingly unresolved note.

If I may say so, the credits sequence quite gave me Gollum’s Song vibes, and felt very reminiscent of the end credits of The Two Towers, which itself had a powerfully ominous ending complemented by Emiliana Torrini’s haunting vocals.

CONCLUDING NOTES

I am the type of person who likes my first experience of a soundtrack to be within the context for which it was written, and I am refraining from listening to any music until I watch the show. My thoughts here are therefore based on first watching the episode, and then subsequently listening to its accompanying score (Amazon is releasing definitive albums for each episode after their respective airdates; here is the album for Season 1: Episode 1: A Shadow of the Past).

After having watched Episode 1, I feel I can lay aside my apprehensions about Bear’s association with the music for Middle-earth. I was afraid it might’ve sounded like any other “epic” movie music (which my ears have become a little more aware of in things I’ve watched ever since discovering the music of The Lord of the Rings films); but I am so ecstatic that Bear’s score feels uniquely organic to Middle-earth, and evocative of it.

While it is different from Shore’s, it still feels complementary to it, and in the words of Bilbo Baggins, I sheepishly venture to admit that “I think I am quite ready for another adventure”.

About the author

I have been associated with TheOneRing.net since the early 2000s. I consider myself a casual fan of Tolkien, Peter Jackson’s films, and Howard Shore’s scores. I am not a writer or musician, but I enjoy pondering over and talking about the music and songs of these adaptations in my own amateur way; and describing how they make me feel. I am more interested in the thematic and evocative nature of this music than in the analysis of its structure and composition.

Related Content

Here are some interviews I have conducted in the past with vocalists from The Lord of the Rings films.

  • Plan 9 & David Long – Composed and performed diegetic music for Frodo’s “chicken dance” at Bilbo’s Birthday party, Merry and Pippin’s Drinking Song at the Green Dragon Inn, “A Elbereth Gilthoniel” which Frodo and Sam hear when watching the Wood-elves leave Middle-earth, and Éowyn’s Dirge at the burial of Théodred.
  • Miriam Stockley – Performed “The Footsteps Of Doom” in The Fellowship of the Ring.
  • Hilary Summers – Performed “Gilraen’s Song” in The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Edition).
  • Aivale Cole (nee Mabel Faletolu) – Performed vocals when the Fellowship mourn Gandalf’s fall in The Fellowship of the Ring.
  • Sheila Chandra – Performed “The Breath Of Life“, alternatively titled “The Grace Of The Valar“, in The Two Towers.