Today’s post is provided by Josh Brown, who has been featured on here a few times before. He has a piece on Tolkien’s poetry and songs that will be coming out next month in Critical Insights: The Hobbit, and this is something I’m very excited about and going to have to try to get my hands on. The table of contents for this piece can be found at the end of the post. Enjoy this guest post from Josh and be sure to check out his other work.
When someone says “J.R.R. Tolkien,” Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit almost always come to mind first. No doubt he is most well-known for these seminal works of fantasy fiction, works that very nearly defined the genre and have been praised and admired for multiple generations.
But J.R.R. Tolkien was also a very accomplished poet (and linguist), and he made good use of poetry within his works of fiction as a means to worldbuild, support the plot, and bring life to the characters. Not a single chapter goes by in The Hobbit without a song or poem. Have you ever wondered why?
Take the dwarves’ poems, for example. Most are written as quatrains with rigid form and meter. In “Far over the misty mountains cold” the reader gets information about dwarvish history, heritage, craftsmanship, and traditions. The poem actually outlines the entire basic plot of the book: they are about to set forth on a journey to reclaim their lost inheritance.
Elvish poetry arouses imagery of nature, while at the same time keeping a playful and light-hearted tone. Consider “Roll-roll-roll-roll,” where the elves can make even the most repetitive kind of work seem like a game of sorts. They are whimsical and cheerful, and express and expose these traits of theirs through their poetry.
Goblin poetry is dark, evil, even terrifying, just like the goblins themselves. Goblins are basically the opposite of elves, and this comes through in their verse. Their poetry has clipped lines that brings forth images of jagged teeth and snapping jaws. The mono-syllabic word choices in their poems portray them as simple and grotesque.
Tolkien was a master of his craft. There’s no doubt he crafted each line, each word, and each syllable of every poem within The Hobbit for a very specific purpose. Whether dwarvish, elvish, goblin, or hobbit, Tolkien’s poetry offers a contrast between the races of Middle-earth in verse, structure, and theme.
Josh Brown is a writer living in Minneapolis, MN. He is the creator of “Shamrock,” a fantasy/adventure comic that appears regularly in Fantasy Scroll Magazine. His comic work has appeared numerous places, including the award-winning Negative Burn. His poetry and short fiction can be found in Mithila Review, Star*Line, Beechwood Review, Scifaikuest, SpeckLit, and a variety of anthologies such as Lovecraft After Dark (JWK Fiction), The Martian Wave 2015 (Nomadic Delirium Press), King of Ages: A King Arthur Anthology (Uffda Press), and many more.
Josh’s “Poems and Songs of The Hobbit” is an essay included in Critical Insights: The Hobbit, available from Salem Press in September 2016. Critical Insights: The Hobbit, features in-depth critical discussions from top literary scholars.
Critical Insights: The Hobbit
Table of Contents
Stephen W. Potts: The Portal to Middle-earth
Kelly Orazi: J. R. R. Tolkien’s World: Cultural and Historical Influences on Middle-earth’s Subcreator
Alicia Fox-Lenz: An Unexpected Success: The Hobbit and the Critics
Jason Fisher: The Riddle and the Cup: Germanic Medieval Sources and Analogues in The Hobbit
John Rosegrant: Bilbo Baggins, Harry Potter, and the Fate of Enchantment
Hannah Parry: “Of Gold and an Alloy”: Tolkien, The Hobbit, and Northern Heroic Spirit
Jared Lobdell: “Witness Those Rings and Roundelays”: Catholicism and Faërie in The Hobbit
Kris Swank: Fairy-stories that Fueled The Hobbit
Josh Brown: Poems and Songs of The Hobbit
Sara Waldorf: A Turning Point: The Effect of The Hobbit on Middle-earth
Jelena Borojević: The Hobbit: A Mythopoeic Need for Adventure
Kayla Shaw: Growing Up Tolkien: Finding our way through Mirkwood
Aurélie Brémont: How to slay a dragon when you are only three feet tall
M. Lee Alexander: Tolkien and the Illustrators