Why I Believe The Last Goodbye is the Perfect Last Song by Dreamflower

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(August 2015 LOTR Community Non-fic Challenge)
Theme: Non-fiction
Subject: The Last Goodbye
Type: essay


 

Why I Believe The Last Goodbye is the Perfect Last Song


The very first time I heard The Last Goodbye by Billy Boyd sung prior to the release of The Hobbit: the Battle of Five Armies. I was moved to tears. The song was all I could have hoped for as an ending to Peter Jackson's portrayal of Tolkien's Middle-earth through the course of six epic movies.

Of course, there is the element of satisfaction and appropriateness, that the person who portrayed Peregrin Took in The Lord of the Ringsis now the one who sings this song. One can imagine Pippin, older and wiser than he was when he followed his cousins and friends into his own adventure paying tribute to the first of his cousins whose Adventure propelled theirs, as well as to the epic journey of which he was a part. There is a feeling about the song that Billy Boyd seems to be channeling Pippin once more.

And of course, it would be in character for Pippin to sing such a song, as he sang "The Edge of Night" in LOTR: The Return of the King(a song which Billy Boyd also composed the music for, to lyrics by Tolkien, slightly adapted). It is hard not to believe that when performing this song, Billy transports himself back to his role of Bilbo's young kin, but from a somewhat older perspective. It certainly feels that way to me.

I love music, but I am no musician, nor even a musical scholar. I cannot comment on the technical aspects of the melody, but I do have some personal observations on the music. There is a gentle wistfulness to the tune, beginning with those opening notes that seem almost like snowflakes, as it gradually leads into that sorrowful first verse. And there are places where some of the phrasing seems to lightly hint at the end song of LOTR: The Return of the King, "Into the West", by Annie Lennox, without losing its own originality. Throughout the song, the music maintains a sense of melancholy nostalgia.

But mostly, it is the lyrics that helps to anchor "The Last Goodbye"into, not just Peter Jackson's version of Middle-earth, but also to that of J.R.R. Tolkien's creation.

I saw the light fade from the sky;
On the wind I heard a sigh;
As the snowflakes cover my fallen brothers,
I will say this last goodbye.

This verse is clearly in Bilbo's POV. It is intensely personal and painful. The battle has ended in a victory won only through heartache and loss. Night is coming, the bitter day is over: "As the snowflakes cover my fallen brothers..."we are reminded that the fighting took place in the cold of winter. I had always known somewhere in the back of my mind that this portion of Bilbo's story took place in winter, but it took the film to show me what that meant in terms of the Battle.

The Dwarves were able to discover the entrance to the halls under the Lonely Mountain on Durin's Day: "when the last moon of Autumn and the sun are in the sky together" on first day of the dwarves' New Year, which was "the first day of the last moon of Autumn on the threshold of Winter."(TH, Chapter III, "A Short Rest"), and several days or perhaps even weeks, took place before the actual Battle of Five Armies took place. Peter Jackson showed us the snow, ice and bitter cold that would have accompanied the conflict.

In the books, the bleakness of a cold winter suits the tragedy of battle's end; while in the film, the landscape becomes a part of the story as snow and ice provide the treacherous footing for the fighters. Most particularly the fight between Thorin and Azog upon the ice actually dependson the weather. To call forth this imagery in the song ties it with these scenes.

With the phrase "...my fallen brothers..."we are made to understand Bilbo's grief: throughout the journey, he's developed a close, almost familial, bond with the Dwarves of Thorin's Company. They are his brothers now, but three of them are fallen, and he will miss them sorely. The snowflakes cover them, which seems to me to hint at the cold of sorrow and grief: both literally and figuratively, his friends are cold and gone.

Then comes the first refrain:

Night is now falling.
So ends this day;
The road is now calling
And I must away.
Over hill and under tree,
Through lands where never light has shone,
By silver streams that run down to the sea.

Followed by the three lines of the next verse:

Under cloud, beneath the stars,
Over snow on winter's morn,
I turn at last to paths that lead home.

Compare this to Tolkien's own version of "Roads Go Ever, Ever On" in the last chapter of The Hobbit:

Roads go ever, ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.
(TH, Chapter XIX, "The Last Stage")

In comparing it to the first refrain, we see most strongly the influence of Tolkien's own poetry and songs. Something I noticed in Tolkien's poems is that frequently they are driven by prepositions, especially the "hobbit walking songs".

This is echoed in "The Last Good-bye", with "over", "under", "by" and "through". The song and the character in the song (whether Bilbo, Frodo, Pippin, or just some hobbit on a more homely journey) is propelled forward by these words that take him through a landscape easily imagined: hill and tree, lightless lands (clearly a reference to the darkness of the tunnels and caves), and streams. It reminds us of Tolkien's songs without quoting them exactly.

Then we come to the second refrain:

And though where the road then takes me
I cannot tell.
We came all this way
But now comes the day
To bid you farewell.

This is the point of the song: Bilbo is saying good-bye to those friends whom he has made on his odyssey. The purpose of the Adventure has ended; his friends have their home in the Lonely Mountain back, and it is time for him to go back to the home he has longed for almost ever since he left it.

And yet we see in the next verse what his quest has meant to him:

Many places I have been
Many sorrows I have seen
But I don't regret
Nor will I forget
All who took the road with me

These lines resonate with many layers of meaning: there is the personal meaning to Bilbo, who grew to deep friendship with those who took the road with him, especially those who are lost; there is the meaning that applies to the future, to Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin, who will return changed from their own quest with the memory of many sorrows and of people whom they grew to love, who took the road with them; and finally there is the more general and yet also deeply personal meaning to those who hear the song and can recall their own journeys and those they have loved, and maybe lost, along the way.

To me this verse is the best one of the song, and ties together all the movies, not just The Hobbit but also The Lord of the Rings. In it we can see Bilbo's face as he enters Bag End and says of Thorin "He was my friend", as well as the scene in The Green Dragon, in which the four hobbits toast the memories of their friends in LOTR: Return of the King.

There is another repetition of the first refrain:

Night is now falling
So ends this day
The road is now calling
And I must away
Over hill and under tree
Through lands where never light has shone
By silver streams that run down to the sea

Once again, we are drawn into the wider world of the books by this refrain, and in this repetition we can imagine Bilbo reminding himself that he cannot linger any longer. It brings us to the next verse:

To me, I think of Bilbo taking his deep breath to actually leave his friends behind. Here he is speaking to those friends who still remain, whom he may once more see again if they ever come his way, when "tea is at four".

To these memories I will hold,
With your blessing I will go,
To turn at last to paths that lead home.
And though where the road then takes me,
I cannot tell,
We came all this way
But now comes the day
To bid you farewell.

In the first verse, he bid "good-bye" to his fallen brothers. In this verse, he bids farewell to those surviving friends who are gathered there to fare him well, also. He reminds them he will hold on to all the memories he's made during his time with them, and asks their blessing on his departure.

It would seem the place to end the song, and yet, after a musical bridge, we are brought back to the place where the journey began: sixty years later, when Bilbo prepares a speech for others he's leaving behind:

I bid you all a very fond farewell.

These words are in a slow contemplative voice, they are in a completely different tone reminiscent of the way Bilbo spoke the words at his Birthday Party. We have come full circle, ending where we began in An Unexpected Journey.

Bilbo is going back. At one-hundred and eleven, he's ready to leave the Shire behind once more as he bids farewell to the home he had returned to. Again, I think of this as tying in not only the movies but the books. In the books he didpay one last visit to his friends in Erebor, in the films he didn't quite make it, but it was his intention when he left. Those to whom he's bidding farewell now are not the companions he bid farewell in the earlier part of the song, but those to whom he had come home, all those exasperating relatives who kept knocking on his door, as well as his more beloved kin.

And in these last words we can also go forward to another farewell as Frodo leaves the Shire behind as well, accompanying his beloved Bilbo on "one more adventure" at the Grey Havens. And to me it also reflects the books in the "fond farewell" Sam, Pippin and Merry also made another sixty years after their first journey ended.

Finally, it is a fond farewell to the magnificently imagined re-creation of Middle-earth that Peter Jackson and others had so painstakingly built for us over the course of the years. Others may someday have their own versions, but to this one, it is finished. It's a farewell, for we may come together with friends to see it again; but a visit only and never the bright newness we experienced before.

These observations reflect my own feelings about the song; I confess I cannot get enough of it, and it continues to bring a suspicious moisture to my eyes every time I hear it. I hope my musings on it may give other listeners food for thought.




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