Welcome back to Reading continues: an informal and personal reading (and in some cases a very slow rereading) of the works of JRR Tolkien.

Bilbo's last song

Grieving over a book is a real thing. Some speak of the idea of ​​a “hangover”, of the “feeling when a reader finishes a book – usually fiction – and can’t help but think of the fictional world that is running out of pages” . So how do you say goodbye to one of the most epic and complete sagas in modern literature?

THE LATEST SONG OF BILBO is Tolkien’s lament for the world that was and, on a literal level, Bilbo’s passage from Middle-earth to the Eternal Earths in the west. The short piece – composed of three stanzas, composed of four rhymed couplets each – is sung by Bilbo just before he is about to embark on the ship bound for Valinor.

The origin of the publication of THE LATEST SONG OF BILBO is also linked to the transmission of an inheritance in some respects. In 1968, when Tolkien was 76, he retired from Oxford and moved to Bournemouth. After a serious leg injury, involving surgery and a cast, he found unpacking his 48 pound crates a chore. Her editor Allen & Unwin sent secretary Margaret Joy Hill to help her, and she discovered the poem in the pages of an old notebook. In October 1971, Tolkien officially gifted her the poem, which she arranged for publication shortly after her death in 1973.

It begins with an end. “The day is over, turn off my eyes, but travel long before I lie. Goodbye friends! I hear the call. The ship is next to the stone wall.The meaning of the first three lines is clear, especially in the context of the LOTR outcome. The ship next to the stone wall was one built by Círdan the shipwright, who rescued a large ship to transport Elrond, Gandalf, Galadriel, Bilbo and Frodo to Valinor. You can remember to The Silmarillion that mortals were prohibited from going there after the destruction of the island of Númenor. As ring bearers, Bilbo and Frodo were given permission to enter – with a small plea from Gandalf and Arwen, the latter having taken the “Lúthien choice” and remained in Middle-earth.

Bilbo's last song

Shadows long before me lie, under the sky still leaningBilbo muses in the second stanza, acknowledging not only his own impending demise, but his place in the larger cycle. “But islands are hiding behind the Sun that I will raise before everything is done; there are lands to the west of West, where the night is calm and sleep is rest.”The lands to the west are, of course, Valinor, previously inaccessible to anyone except the Eldar. This is the first direct reference to Bilbo’s destination and his passage from one world to another.

Bilbo then says that his trip is “Guided by the lone star”, Which in this case refers to the star of Eärendil, or the evening star. The star is actually a Silmaril, carried in the sky by Eärendil the Sailor, who wore the star on his forehead to guide him. It is the brightest star in the sky, containing the light from the two trees that were ultimately used to create the sun and moon by the Valar. In the Second Age, the star guided Edain to Númenor. Sam and Frodo also used the light of the Elves’ “most beloved star” to pierce the darkness at various stages of their journey (including Shelob’s lair). It is a beautiful symmetry, where the end of the Third Age is marked by the return of the Evening Star to its role of maritime guide.

In the final stanza Bilbo concludes: “I seek the West, and fields and mountains always blessed. Farewell to Middle-earth at last. I see the Star above my mast!”Bilbo was 131 when he left, surpassing Old Took as the oldest hobbit who ever lived. Yet the farewell to Middle-earth is also a farewell to the Third Age, and as the Elves and the Ring-bearers leave the elven port city of Gray Havens, the Age of Men begins. As such, this poem could very easily have fitted into the last pages of The king’s return, but has been omitted in favor of other conclusions.

When Peter Jackson made his film The king’s return, he could not use BILBO’S LATEST SONG but instead ordered To the west, a similar song written by Fran Walsh, Annie Lennox and Howard Shore, performed by Lennox during the credits. You can hear THE LATEST SONG OF BILBO performed in several locations, the most notable of which is Donald Swann’s composition embedded above. There’s Stephen Oliver’s version for the BBC radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, and a quick search will reveal several live performances floating around.

A great read for those who aren’t quite ready to dive into the appendices, but not yet ready to say goodbye to their recent (re) reading of The Lord of the Rings. As evidenced by this excessively long piece, it may be only 149 words long, but it carries a weight that transcends its deceptively diminutive packaging. Kind of like the hobbit who wrote it.

In the next chapter of Reading continues, I will finally immerse myself in these LOTR Annexes. For now, I’ll be drifting through the Eternal Lands on this great ship made of candy and an endless playlist.


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