Thursday, October 21, 2021

Zeppelin and Tolkien

In the late 60s and early 70s, EVERYONE had read or was reading The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, indeed, “Frodo Lives” was often found spray-painted on the Subway/Underground tile, you know, “the words of the prophets.”
Who could have known that when John Ronald Reuel Tolkien first published The Hobbit in 1937, the book would serve as a pillar of rock history? It seems the Elven-kings and queens, the bearded, pipe-smoking wizards, and the laid-back, fun-loving Hobbits played well with the Flower Children who sought to reconnect with nature in a rather romantic way but embracing fantasy rather than Shelley or Byron.
And, what about the influence the other way around? When The Hobbit, its popularity was apparent but, oddly, it took Led Zeppelin to launch Middle-Earth into a full-scale revival that far-exceeded the original publication.
Not readily apparent on LZ’s debut, Page and Plant were nonetheless fascinated with European and Middle-Eastern mythologies, influences that can be heard in their most iconic works, from “Immigrant Song” to “Kashmir.”
Tolkien’s influence on Plant first appeared on Led Zeppelin II, in which the singer alluded to Frodo Baggins’ journey in “Ramble On”. While the track is vague at first with its references to Middle-Earth, it culminates with the line: “T’was in the darkest depth of Mordor/ I met a girl so fair,/ But Gollum, the evil one crept up/ And slipped away with her.”

In 1971, the Led Zeppelin lyricist further pursued his passion towards Tolkien’s oeuvre with the track “Misty Mountain Hop”, where Plant’s cryptic references to The Hobbit coalesce with the description of a young man’s experience in mind-altering substances. Like Alice in Wonderland, of course, Tolkien’s epic was a mess of hallucinogenic imagery, and, as I’ve posted before, “The Battle for Evermore” was Plant enmeshing Middle-Earth with traditional English and Scottish folklore in lyrics like “The dark Lord rides in force tonight" and "I’m waiting for the angels of Avalon.”
On Houses of the Holy, the journey from Hobbiton continues in “Over the Hills and Far Away,” a title borrowing from Tolkien’s 1915 poem of the same name. In it, Plant refers to several events taking place in the book, one of them a riddle game played by Bilbo and Gollum. Another important link featured is when the One Ring is referred to as a woman, not far removed from Frodo, Sam, and Aragorn referring to the “beautiful lady,” or Gollum calling it “My Precious,” as if the ring was a living being.
Tolkien, by the way, said of Plant’s tributes, “You certainly have my permission to compose any work that you wish based on The Hobbit. … As an author, I am honored to hear that I have inspired a composer.”

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