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Dear Readers,

As always, welcome!

We’ve spent a good amount of postings talking about the narrative methods of The Lord of the Rings, and now we’d like to add to that, song.

Although Bilbo left his pocket-handkerchief behind, along with a good many other things he’d rather have had with him on the unexpected journey, he did bring something that seems to be inherently a part of Hobbits: song. As Mary Quella Kelly wrote in her essay “The Poetry of Fantasy, Verse in The Lord of the Rings”, “reciting or singing verse is for them the most natural way to express their emotions” (172), and we could heartily agree, as the Hobbits sing drinking songs, walking songs, and even bath songs. Kelly also points out that they “reuse old poems from the Shire, altering a word or phrase to fit the occasion” (172), one such strong example being Bilbo’s Walking Song, which, like the other Hobbit songs, accompanies the Hobbits throughout their journeys.

The Walking Song carries Bilbo and Frodo through their adventures, shifting in nature as the journey continues and eventually comes to an end. The first version appears in The Hobbit, when Bilbo is on the return journey home:

Roads go ever ever on,

Over rock and under tree,

By caves where never sun has shone,

By streams that never find the sea;

Over snow by winter sown,

And through the merry flowers of June,

Over grass and over stone,

And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on

Under cloud and under star,

Yet feet that wandering have gone

Turn at last to home afar.

Eyes that fire and sword have seen

And horror in the halls of stone

Look at last on meadows green

And trees and hills they long have known.

The song seems to be reminiscing about the things he’s seen and the places he’s been, and appears only after the adventure has been completed. It’s a sort of poetic precursor to what will later become The Red Book of Westmarch.

­The Lord of the Rings, however, introduces a new version of the song, as Bilbo sings it softly in the dark after he’s been the first ring-bearer to willingly give up the Ring, and sets off to find new adventure.

The Road goes ever on and on

            Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

            And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it eager feet

            Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

            And whither then? I cannot say.

What has happened here? Tolkien’s anticipated sequel to The Hobbit has already taken a deeper, more complex turn than his original children’s story. Rather than standing and looking back at the road, Bilbo once again looks forward.

Just as Kelly suggests, he’s not the only one to anticipate the journey. Bilbo’s songs and the Ring being the only inheritance Frodo possesses on the road, Frodo sings his own version of the walking song:

The Road goes ever on and on

            Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

            And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it weary feet

            Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

            And whither then? I cannot say.

This version is identical in form, and the only word has changed—“eager” to “weary”, and this changes the tone entirely.

Bilbo sang cheerfully of the road behind him and of the road ahead, but Frodo’s version suggests that this new adventure in The Lord of the Rings is a much graver quest than Bilbo’s—and, potentially, more tiring. After Frodo sings the song to himself quietly, Pippin remarks,

“ ‘That sounds like a bit of old Bilbo’s writing’, said Pippin, ‘Or is it one of your imitations? It does not sound altogether encouraging.’ “ LOTR 72

And so Frodo’s reprise of the song, even with the variation of just one word, creates a reluctance to adventure, rather than continuing Bilbo’s eagerness. To Bilbo, the song ensures a story-worthy adventure with a return journey, but for Frodo, it’s just the opposite.

The song changes again, however, when there is a return journey for both Bilbo and Frodo, which hints at their voyage across the sea and into the west. Again, quietly to himself, Bilbo sings in Rivendell after Frodo has returned from his quest. Frodo has destroyed the Ring, but has retained the song, and seems to bring it back to Bilbo.

The Road goes ever on and on

Out from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

Let others follow it who can!

Let them a journey new begin,

But I at last with weary feet

Will turn towards the lighted inn,

My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

And so, Bilbo’s “There and Back Again” journey and Frodo’s quest to destroy the Ring have both come to a conclusion. Bilbo sings this final version, which ends the adventures for both Hobbits, but passes on the adventure. Bilbo is ready to retire from traveling, and Frodo has completed his quest. As Frodo has left the last pages for Sam, however, it’s as if Bilbo has left the rest of the Red Book for those wishing to follow his footsteps down the road and begin anew, adding to or changing the songs to mirror their feelings as they go.

Thanks, as always, for reading,

MTCIDC,

CD

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