There are dozens of musical themes in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, but very few are quite so dear to me as “The Shire,” one of the earliest themes we hear in The Fellowship of the Ring. After the Prologue establishes how the story came to this point, we meet Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), who has been waiting for Gandalf (Ian McKellan) to arrive. Today is Bilbo Baggins’ 111th birthday and most of the Shire has been invited (with the rest turning up anyway).
Most of this scene is a conversation between Frodo and Gandalf, talking about Bilbo’s party, how the reputation of the Baggins family never recovered after the “incident with the dragon” in which Gandalf was “barely involved”, and also how Bilbo has been acting more odd than usual in recent weeks.
There’s a brief cut-scene here which shows Bilbo frantically searching Bag End for something (revealed to be the Ring, which had been sitting safe in Bilbo’s pocket the entire time). There is also a lovely moment when the Hobbit children come running up to Gandalf’s cart and beg for some fireworks. And just as they think they won’t get any, a small flurry of fireworks comes out of Gandalf’s cart, to the delight of the children.
A lot of the finer details of this theme are lost in the dialogue and rumble of Gandalf’s cart, so I’ll highlight some of my favorite parts:
- Underlying most of the theme (Before the well-known flute solo) is what sounds like a harpsichord, a keyboard instrument that plucks the strings instead of beating them with a hammer (like a piano does). There is an inherent rustic quality to a harpsichord that puts one in mind of the countryside and is a perfect instrument for describing the Shire musically.
- As Bilbo describes the different qualities of Hobbits, the music takes a rather quirky turn, with short bursts from the flutes and strings. This symbolizes both Bilbo’s good humor in describing his fellow Hobbits and the general innocence of the Shire’s residents.
- The music takes a more soothing turn as Bilbo describes what Hobbits really love (and it’s not food): peace, quiet and good-tilled earth. The strings really take over here, with the harpsichord fading back.
- Lastly (and this is the part most people love best), after Frodo jumps off the cart, we hear the enchanting flute solo as Gandalf rides his cart up to the gate of Bag End. Though the entire piece symbolizes the Shire, it is this flute solo that really encapsulates the peacefulness that exists here. This is what everyone imagines the countryside to be like, and if the Shire really existed, people would go there and never come back.
I love watching this scene, it always makes me smile, no matter how bad a mood I’m in at first. Howard Shore does a great job of using the music complement the scene and it just sounds amazing. I hope you enjoy listening to “Concerning Hobbits/The Shire.”
*all images are the property of New Line Cinema