Review: The Road Goes Ever On: A Song Cycle by Donald Swann and J.R.R. Tolkien (Guest Post by MoMo @ Remnants of Wit)

Tolkien Reading Event 2019

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Tolkien and the Mysterious. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!

The Road Goes Ever On book review

If you’ve read The Lord of the Rings, you know how much Tolkien loves songs. His characters are always singing, whether to tell a story, pass the time, or lament a fallen comrade. This Christmas, I was excited to receive a book of the music to Donald Swann’s The Road Goes Ever On: A Song Cycle, a series of seven of Tolkien’s poems set to music.

The Book Itself

The book I received is old but still in good condition. The inside has lovely Elvish calligraphy along the top, done by Professor Tolkien himself!

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The binding has come apart a bit and it’s a little big for my family’s piano, but otherwise I’m satisfied with the book.

After an introduction by the composer, we have all seven songs:

  1. “The Road Goes Ever On”
  2. “Upon the Hearth the Fire is Red”
  3. “In the Willow-Meads of Tasarinan”
  4. “In Western Lands”
  5. “Namarië (Farewell)”
  6. “I Sit Beside the Fire”
  7. “Errantry”

And after those, we have some translations and commentary for the Elvish songs, which are helpful for those of us who don’t happen to be fluent.

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The Music

I am not a very musical person, so I can’t exactly say what makes each song good or not. But I most often catch myself humming “The Road Goes Ever On” and “Upon the Hearth”—they’re fun to sing as you walk or do the dishes. That said, “In the Willow-Meads” is gorgeous, and the Gregorian-chant style “Namarië” is simple, but hauntingly beautiful. I’m not as fond of “Errantry,” although I know and love the poem, because its meter makes it difficult to play and sing.

However, the voice parts are a little high, so altos and basses, be prepared to transpose. The piano parts aren’t that hard (source: my father who sat down and effortlessly sight-read “Upon the Hearth”). Also, there are guitar chords printed above each bar of music. According to my sister who’s quite good at guitar, the songs rage from average to difficult.

The Lyrics

Of course they’re wonderful. The best of Middle Earth is on display here—from the hobbits to the ents to the elves, with a non-Lord of the Rings poem even thrown in the mix. Tolkien is a master poet; every syllable of his lyrics adds to the beauty of the poem as a whole. Honestly, the

poems are music in and of themselves, but I’m glad that someone decided to set them to music anyway.

The Verdict

The Road Goes Ever On is a lovely song cycle that encompasses the breadth of Tolkien’s many different styles of poetry. From what I can tell, such books aren’t very common anymore (I think

mine was from an estate sale). But if you like music and The Lord of the Rings, and you come across a copy, don’t pass it up! If you’d like to listen to the song cycle, here’s a link to a performance of the whole thing from beginning to end (it’s about 20 minutes long and starts at 41:00 in the video listed).

Now I’d like to hear from you! Have you listened to these songs? What did you think of them? Let me know in comments!

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About the Author

Hi, I’m MoMo. I’m a student, reader, writer, and Tolkien fan. The Professor sometimes makes his way into my blog, Remnants of Wit, where I write about the ways books relate to everything else. I am also an avid proponent of buttered toast.

8 thoughts on “Review: The Road Goes Ever On: A Song Cycle by Donald Swann and J.R.R. Tolkien (Guest Post by MoMo @ Remnants of Wit)

  1. Krysta says:

    I love that you reviewed this! I’ve never seen a copy or heard anyone talk about it!

    Also, do you know Otter of I Am Otter? She also loves toast.


    • MoMo @ Remnants of Wit says:

      I hadn’t heard of it either! I think that if it were to come back in print, people would want to buy it, though. I haven’t met this Otter you speak of but I’ll go look her up 😉 Thanks for publishing my post!


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