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Lord of the Music: Examples of Diegetic Music

For literature enthusiasts and film enthusiasts alike, there is one story with which everyone is more or less familiar: The Lord of the Rings.  It’s a tale of good versus evil that has withstood the test of time and remains one of the leading fantasy stories in fiction to date. J.R.R. Tolkien uses successful literary devices to bring his characters and story world to life, and Howard Shore utilizes musical techniques to expand on these ideas.

Within the Story

While nondiegetic music clearly impacts storytelling in a subconscious context, diegetic music is inserted directly into the story world in the form of characters themselves either singing or listening to music as it happens in real-time.

Diegetic music is inserted directly into the story world for characters to interact with in real-time.

While one disadvantage of film is the tendency to show everything and tell very little, the use of diegetic music can be a powerful tool in that it allows a bit of telling. This connects what is happening on-screen to the events that happened in the past, creating a fuller context that adds emotional weight to the story. More on showing and telling here.

Edge of Night

Perhaps one of the clearest character arcs in The Return of the King belongs to Pippin. Audiences and readers alike do not expect much from Pippin, as he has been set up as one half of a comic relief duo in his friendship with Merry. Throughout the dark moments in The Lord of the Rings, Merry and Pippin are a constant source of light-heartedness; that is, until The Return of the King.

Gif from What Culture

Pippin’s personal growth from the beginning to the end of The Return of the King creates a stark contrast to his previous role as a comic character. The hobbit’s musical light-heartedness is on par with Merry’s, which is clearly presented in the form of “The Green Dragon” song, sung by both Merry and Pippin in remembrance of their favorite pub back home (Adams 278).

Oh, you can drink far and wide,

You can drink the whole town dry,

But you’ll never find a beer so brown,

But you’ll never find a beer so brown

As the one we drink in our hometown,

As the one we drink in our hometown.

You can drink your fancy ales,

You can drink ‘em by the flagon,

But the only brew for the brave and true…

Comes from the Green Dragon!


– The Return of the King, dir. Peter Jackson

However, the visual storytelling in all three films clearly shows that Merry is far more mature than Pippin. To highlight the contrast between the two, Pippin is separated from Merry and journeys to the home of King Denethor, Boromir’s father and the steward of Gondor, who grieves for his lost son. Pippin, who has never seen so much turmoil up close, is faced with the seriousness of the situation and realizes that the world is not as carefree as he once thought.

The moment of Pippin’s realization provides suitable contrast with “The Green Dragon” song in the form of “Edge of Night.” Denethor demands that Pippin sing him a song, but Pippin’s heart is not in it. The scene cuts back and forth between Pippin and Denethor, and Denethor’s son as he rides to near-certain death, as Pippin sings of doom and sorrow. He ends with the line, “All shall fade,” (Adams 300).

Home is behind

the world ahead,

and there are many paths to tread

through shadow

to the edge of night

until the stars are all alight.

Mist and shadow,

cloud and shade.

All shall fade.

All shall fade.


– The Return of the King, dir. Peter Jackson


Edge of Night shows up again in The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies


Aragorn’s Coronation Song

In stark contrast to Pippin’s coming-of-age character arc conveyed in “Edge of Night,” Aragorn’s coronation song signifies his own self-acceptance after a three-film struggle with who he is and the lineage from which he has descended.

Possible spin-off series featuring Strider?

Toward the end of The Return of the King, Aragorn is crowned king of Gondor. The first two films leading up to this moment depict Aragorn as a disgraced descendent of the Man who refused to destroy the Ring years ago.

Through the events of the story, however, Aragorn comes to accept his role as a leader in a world struggling against the destruction Sauron threatens. He has gained the respect of his friends and has proven himself to his enemies, and now he stands in front of his people as their king.

In the moment of his coronation, Aragorn decides to reclaim the words of his forefather as a tribute to his new reign.

Aragorn’s coronation song is only one verse, but it signifies a great change in Aragorn’s mindset. When translated, the lyrics are:

Out of the Great Sea to Middle-earth I am come. In this place will I abide, and my heirs, unto the ending of the world.

These are the words of Aragorn’s ancestor, the first king of Gondor. By singing this verse to his subjects, Aragorn acknowledges his past and comes to terms with who he is and who he is meant to be: the returning king.


Image result for king aragorn
Screen Rant has more to say about King Aragorn

Using Diegetic Music

In contrast to nondiegetic music, the diegetic songs throughout The Lord of the Rings create an overt depiction of tone and character development. By having characters sing songs themselves, even the suspension of disbelief allows for deeper immersion. The members of the Fellowship of the Ring do not hear “Fellowship” as they run into battle, but everyone attending Aragorn’s coronation hears his declaration of kingship and brotherhood.

The difference between nondiegetic music’s subtlety and diegetic music’s overt presence makes both types of music integral to the core of the films. They work together to form a cohesive story with varying moments of impactful artistry. The expansive use of styles, lyrics, and tone in these diegetic and nondiegetic parts of the score create a full world with the same heart as Tolkien’s original work.


Previously: Examples of Nondiegetic Music

Next Time: In Summary


* All references will be provided in the last installment of this blog series. *
Photo by Mark Fletcher-Brown on Unsplash