A Walking Song
"A Walking Song" is a poem in the form of a song from J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings, originally published in three volumes. It appears in the third chapter of the novel, entitled "Three is Company"; usually as part of the first volume, The Fellowship of the Ring. It is given its title in an index to songs and poems usually published in the third volume, The Return of the King.
The poem has been adapted in both film and music. Most notably, while the poem itself does not appear in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, parts of it are featured throughout, including in the song "The Edge of Night" sung by Billy Boyd in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King which has lyrics from the last verse of "A Walking Song".
The hobbit Frodo Baggins is travelling to Bucklebury in the Shire, accompanied by his gardener and friend Sam Gamgee and his kinsman Pippin Took. Frodo is ostensibly moving to a newly purchased house, having sold his hobbit-hole to his relatives, the Sackville-Bagginses. However, he and Sam have secretly planned to journey beyond, to Bree where he will meet again with Gandalf, so that they can travel to Rivendell; Frodo has the Ring of the Dark Lord Sauron in his possession, and he believes it will be safe there. They journey into the night, and at this point
They began to hum softly, as hobbits have a way of doing as they walk along, especially when they are drawing near to home at night. With most hobbits it is a supper-song or a bed-song; but these hobbits hummed a walking-song (though not, of course, without any mention of supper and bed).
Frodo's uncle Bilbo Baggins, who had adopted him, had made up the words "to a tune that was as old as the hills, and taught it to Frodo as they walked in the lanes of the Water-valley and talked about Adventure".
The song is mirrored at the end of the novel, in the chapter "The Grey Havens", usually published as part of The Return of the King. Frodo sings part of the song with slightly changed words, as he is leaving for the Undying Lands.
The road in A Walking Song has been seen as a metaphor for destiny and experience for both Bilbo and Frodo that begins at their home Bag End. According to Tom Shippey, the name Bag End is a direct translation of French cul-de-sac meaning a dead end or a road with only one outlet. The journeys of Bilbo and Frodo has been interpreted as such a confined road as they both start and end their respective adventures in Bag End. According to Don D. Elgin, A Walking Song is "a song about the roads that go ever on until they return to at last to the familiar things they have always known."
Another interpretation concludes that A Walking Song references the inevitable journey towards death and beyond.
There is also an analogy between Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare, who describes his dream as something that "the eye of man hath not heard, the eye of man hath not seen" and the Hobbits adding a verse to the Walking Song that tells of the "hidden path" Frodo seeks.
Both versions of the poem have been set to music by the Danish group The Tolkien Ensemble, with melodies composed by its member Peter Hall. They appear on the group's albums At Dawn in Rivendell (2002) and Complete Songs & Poems (2006 - compilation).
Some lines from the poem are part of a larger montage entitled "The Steward of Gondor", which was written by Howard Shore and arranged by Philippa Boyens. The song is called "The Edge of Night" after a phrase in the lyrics. Its melody was composed by Billy Boyd, who plays Pippin.
In this version, Denethor, the Steward of Gondor residing in its capital Minas Tirith, bids Pippin to sing for him while he eats. At the same time, Denethor's son Faramir attempts to retake the city of Osgiliath which has been occupied by Orcs, as requested by his father. The mission is a futile one. Pippin sings while Faramir and his horsemen are riding in slow motion to be massacred by the Orcs. As the song ends, Pippin begins to cry softly, as he realizes that Faramir most likely died in vain to try to prove to his father that he was like his slain older brother Boromir, whom Denethor loved greatly. In a later scene, a gravely wounded Faramir is dragged back to the city by his horse, to his father's remorse.
Pippin's song in the film is only a fraction of the poem as written by Tolkien. It all comes from the last stanza, though some lines are skipped, and some are slightly rewritten.
According to Jackson, the song was only devised while shooting the film. Boyd envisioned the song to be one that his character had (in his own words) "probably heard his grandfather sing, you know, from when the hobbits were looking for the Shire." The song was recorded in Abbey Road Studios in London. Boyd calls it "a huge highlight" of his career.
Paul Broucek, executive music producer at New Line Cinema, comments: "Instead of a noisy battle scene, you have the juxtaposition of the beautiful, haunting melody that Billy created and sings, and that Howard supports with very simple underpinnings of orchestra growing out of it."
The scenes featuring "The Edge of Night" were largely invented by the film's writers, as events in Tolkien's book play out quite differently:
Though Denethor asks Pippin if he can sing, the latter is not actually made to sing. Tolkien writes:
"...You shall wait on me, bear errands, and talk to me [...]. Can you sing?"
"Yes," said Pippin. "Well, yes, well enough for my own people. But we have no songs fit for great halls and evil times, lord..."
"...Pippin's heart sank. He did not relish the idea of singing any song of the Shire to the Lord of Minas Tirith, certainly not the comic ones that he knew best [...]. He was however spared the ordeal for the present. He was not commanded to sing. Denethor turned to Gandalf..."
Faramir is wounded while defending Osgiliath, not attempting to retake it - specifically while covering the retreat to Minas Tirith. Also, he is borne back to the city by horsemen.
Lyrics sung in movie:
"Home is behind, the world ahead
And there are many paths to tread
Through shadow, to the edge of night
Until the stars are all alight
Mist and shadow
Cloud and shade
All shall fade
All shall fade"
While the song was not composed by Howard Shore, he provided the orchestral accompaniment to it. The song happens to share the opening perfect fifth interval that opens Shore's Gondor theme (where it is sung in the film) and the melody moves in a stepwise motion in the dorian mode much like his Shire themes.
The phrase "home is behind, the world ahead" is uttered by Gandalf near the beginning of the 2012 film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, as Bilbo and the dwarves leave the Shire for the first time. The film score then picks out a few bars of the melody to the song as it features in the later films. The song is used in the 2003's The Return of the King and in the latest teaser trailer released on 28 July 2014 of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies which tells the "adventure" of the poem. The film features a new, related song written by Boyd, called "The Last Goodbye."
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), ISBN 0-395-08256-0
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "Three is Company", ISBN 0-395-08254-4
- Text of "A Walking Song"
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "The Grey Havens", ISBN 0-395-08256-0
- "A Walking Song" reprised
- Croft, Janet Brennan, ed. (2007). "What's at the Bottom of The Lord of the Rings and A Midsummer Night's Dream?". Tolkien and Shakespeare: Essays on Shared Themes and Language. McFarland & Company. pp. 52–53. ISBN 978-0-786428274. Citing: Elgin, Don D. (1985). The Comedy of the Fantastic: Ecological Perspectives on the Fantasy Novel. Greenwood Press.
- Wood, Ralph C. (2003). The Gospel according to Tolkien. Westminster John Knox. pp. 45–46. ISBN 978-0-664234669.
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Soundtrack - liner notes
- Sheet music for "The Steward of Gondor"
- Annotated transcripts of the theatrical and extended versions of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - Special Extended DVD Edition
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "The Siege of Gondor", ISBN 0-395-08256-0