Music is one of the first things that comes up in discussion when I talk about reading The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit with ‘normal’ people: “Oh yeah, I liked that book! But I just skipped through all the songs.” “Yeah, I’d probably have liked it better if there was more action and less singing…” It’s understandable, if one is reading Tolkien for the ‘action.’ But the fact that there is so much music in these works is important, and there’s far more to it than a few songs about Elbereth or Luthian or one of the many characters and events that exceedingly few people recognize. The world is brought into being by the Music of the Ainur, Sauron and Finrod duel through song, Tom Bombadil describes Old Man Willow as a “mighty singer” (LotR, Fellowship of the Ring, Book I Chapter VII), and so on. It seems clear from these brief examples that music is not simply a form of entertainment, a way of sharing history, or of expressing oneself. Music is, essentially, power. (One might also say it is magic, but since this term is very vague within Tolkien’s universe, I will use the word power instead, which is equally vague but less misleading.)
In this short exploration, I will consider the power of music within Tolkien’s universe. I do not expect to come up with any important answers here, but rather I intend to look at this idea of music as power, study a few examples, and raise questions for further research.