Recently I’ve been enjoying two great works on the art of film soundtracks; the Star Wars Oxygen podcasts and Doug Adams’ book The Music of Lord of the Rings. Both provide a blow-by-blow account of all the music that appears on the soundtracks of those respective film series, and I can strongly recommend both to anyone who likes to nerd out on these things like I do.
But, they also inspired me to do slightly more. So I watched the full extended editions of the Lord of the Rings, with the annotations of Doug Adams’ book, and made some extreme spreadsheet notes. This is what I found. Here are some fun facts and statistics from the use of films across the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
For starters, just how many themes are there?
There are nearly 11 hours of film in the extended edition of the four Lord of the Rings films. Across those films I found more than 90 different themes appearing a total of 636 times. That’s close on to one theme per minute.
Of those 90 themes, 33 are only heard once.
But 17 are heard 10 times or more.
2. What is the ‘main theme’ of the LOTR films?
While there really is no ‘main theme’ that unites the films, there are two themes in particular that you hear constantly. These are the Shire theme and the Fellowship theme. Through the trilogy, you’ll hear the Shire theme played 65 times and the Fellowship one played 64 times. The next most common themes were the History of the Ring and the themes for Rohan and Gondor. Each of those appears about 30 times.
2. Why do we hear the Shire theme so often?
The Shire theme essentially follows the Hobbits, particularly Frodo and Sam, throughout their journey.
In order to remain appropriate, the Shire theme actually appears in multiple variations through the film. Much of the first half of the first film is set in the Shire itself, and we hear both the normal statements of the theme (referred to here as the Pensive version) and a much jauntier Rural version. This rural version is only ever heard in the Shire and as such we don’t observe it again until late in Return of the King. The Pensive version however, along with a grander, sadder Hymn version follows Frodo on his journey to Mount Doom.
You hear the Shire theme 26 times in both the Fellowship of the Ring and the Return of the King, making it the most common theme in each of those films. But it’s much rarer in The Two Towers only appearing 13 times.
3. What about the Fellowship theme?
The Fellowship theme extends far beyond the life of the Fellowship itself. In fact, the theme is heard five times before it is even formed.
During the life of the full Fellowship we hear the theme 15 times, 5 of those before they even leave Rivendell.
Following the breakup of the Fellowship at Parth Galen, the Fellowship theme attaches itself to the trio of Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas. You almost always get a nice burst if it whenever one of them does something heroic. This leads to it being heard around 20 times in each film.
4. If Frodo, Gimli and Legolas don’t have themes, who does?
Aragorn, Gandalf, Sauron, Gollum, Arwen and Eowyn all have themes that are easily attributed just to them. But it’s only really Eowyn, Gandalf and Gollum whose themes return frequently whenever they do things.
Eowyn has a theme of her own which appears 4 times during The Two Towers, another heroic “Shieldmaiden of Rohan” theme, and relationship themes with both Aragorn and Theodan that appear in scenes she shares with them.
Gandalf also has multiple themes. The most prominent is “The White Rider” a theme which appears often triumphantly whenever he shows up riding his horse Shadowfax. He also has two more themes, a Gandalf’s Farewell which we hear a number of times when he appears to have died, or is leaving. Finally he also has a Gandalf the White theme which is heard twice and signifies his transition from Gandalf the Grey to the White over the course of The Two Towers.
Gollum has two significant themes, “Gollum’s Menace” and “Pity of Gollum”, closely related, these themes weave in and out of each other. They signify both the changes in his duplicitous character as well as how he’s viewed by Sam and Frodo during their journey.
5. You’ll never guess what the first music you hear is.
The very first musical theme you hear in the trilogy is the theme for… Lothlorien. Even though the action doesn’t arrive in Lothlorien for 2 ½ hours!
It is justified, plot-wise, by the fact that the prologue is narrated by Galadriel, of Lothlorien. But ultimately I suspect its presence there is because it is a particularly ancient, dark and mysterious melody which immediately captures just the right mood. After that it totally disappears. The melody isn’t heard again until the Fellowship finally reach Lothlorien. After that it returns on two occasions, during Helms Deep – where troops from Lothlorien arrive and fight, and in Shelob’s Lair when Frodo uses the phial given to him by Galadriel.
6. The kingdom of Rohan has its own theme – but nobody loves it
It takes a long time for the films to commit to the use of the Rohan Fanfare. It doesn’t appear at all in Fellowship, and appears only twice in the first hour of The Two Towers despite a lot of the action happening in Rohan. Instead, the early Rohan scenes are dominated by fairly non-descript underscore. It’s only when Theoden returns to himself and becomes more regal that the theme becomes a key part of the sountrack. That’s all reasonable, particularly since it is quite a heroic fanfare and there isn’t much place for that in those early themes. But then, after Helms Deep, when the army of the Rohirrim rides to the aid of Gondor, they are frequently accompanied not by their own fanfare, but instead by “Nature’s Reclamation” a theme which until that point had been attached primarily to the Ents. Is Howard Shore telling us that it’s actually the horses that are calling the shots?
6. The Dwarves and the Ents are all about… texture.
While there are themes for both the Ents and Dwarves, they aren’t particularly melodic or memorable. The Dwarvish sound of Moria is certainly very distinctive, with grunting Maori rugby players and drums but try listening for the melody and whistling along as you watch the scene. Nope, me neither! Likewise the Ents have a very distinctive combination of percussion and low woodwinds, but it blends in and is almost always entirely obscured by the creaking and stomping of the Ents themselves.
For examples of these themes outside of the films take a listen to the tracks “A Journey in the Dark” on The Fellowship of the Ring OST for the Dwarvish sound, and “Treebeard” on The Two Towers OST for the Ents.
That’s what I found interesting anyway. If you have any more thoughts, feel free to share them in the comments!