I'm currently re-reading The Fellowship of the Ring (Swedish translation from 1971) after 20+ years. I'm 170 pages in.

One thing that strikes me, and which I didn't remember at all, is the numerous songs displayed with full lyrics, occurring regular intervals.

The first time, I thought it was nice and perhaps could offer a glimpse into the way that hobbits make songs and sing, but then it happened again... and again... and again... and again...

It seems as if everyone loves singing weird songs. The hobbits must have extremely good memory since they can seemingly memorize an entire long text by just hearing it once.

Did Tolkien always want to become a song composer or something? I find that it distracts and annoys me a lot when the "story text" is interrupted by these songs which I have to attempt to come up with a melody for in my head, and it seems to "ruin" the book in a hard to describe manner. Almost as if this is "filler content" that was added but could just as well have just been mentioned/described rather than fully laid out in text for the reader.

What's with all the songs? And that Tom Bombadil guy is even weirder than I remember him...

  • 1
    You may be interested in Are there any statistics on how many people skip poetry in LOTR? :-)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jul 15, 2020 at 21:29
  • Well, a book is more than just its plot...
    – Tsundoku
    Jul 16, 2020 at 9:26
  • 1
    Beowulf, which Tolkien studied in his day job as a Professor of Anglo-Saxon, does exactly the same thing—there’s a scene where the characters all listen to a song that tells an entirely different story, unrelated to the main narrative. I don’t know if it’s a common convention in Anglo-Saxon literature but I assume that’s where it came from.
    – Torisuda
    Jul 16, 2020 at 22:58

1 Answer 1


This is a heavily oral culture, rather than one dependent on the written word. This tends to strengthen the memory.

It is also one in which there is no recorded music. As a consequence, one has to sing, or listen to a friend sing, if one wants music. This also aids in learning music.

In the pre-modern and even early modern societies that Tolkien drew upon, regularly singing would be a commonplace thing. You would also be able to draw up new lyrics spontaneously, not from nothing, but from having long mastered many standard lyrical tropes and putting them together in new ways.

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