Artwork © by Jef Murray

Artwork © by Jef Murray

“Far over the Misty Mountains cold,
To dungeons deep and caverns old,
We must away, ere break of day,
To seek our pale enchanted gold.”

The poem and song echo through my mind this week. It is a fact that I never heard a melody setting for Tolkien’s original poem that truly fit it; that is, until Howard Shore’s recent soulful rendering. And when first I read the poem as a child, the words seemed to have more of a martial than a melancholic ring to them. But melancholy suits the poem, as it suits much of Tolkien’s work. Why is that? Why does Tolkien’s storytelling cast over us a perception of loss: a deep sense of something precious sundered?

“The dwarves of yore made mighty spells,
While hammers fell like ringing bells,
In places deep, where dark things sleep,
In hollow halls beneath the fells.”

The bitter winds arise beyond the walls of our home, and there are predictions of snow in Maryland, whither I shall travel at week’s end. On my way, I’ll glimpse true misty mountains as we fly over the Shenandoah Valley and follow the white-dusted ridges of the Appalachians. Peering through curled clouds at fog-shrouded valleys, I wonder what creatures might yet dwell in some forgotten vale or hidden cave below; more importantly, I wonder, too, what dark things sleep within my own heart, and that remain unshriven…

“On silver necklaces they strung
The light of stars, on crowns they hung
The dragon-fire, from twisted wire
The melody of harps they wrung.”

We shall gather together Friday evening; an informal setting with one old friend and one new, and we shall attempt to blend voices together in celebration of ancient tales and legends. My friends are far more skilled in the making of music than am I, yet if time permits, I may attempt to chant Bilbo’s tale of “Earendil the Mariner” to those who have yet to hear it. For that tale, of a soul caught up from a mortal into an immortal life, surely has relevance to all of us as this year passes, and as we contemplate the failing light…

“Now call we over the mountains cold,
‘Come back unto the caverns old!’
Here at the gates the king awaits,
His hands are rich with gems and gold.”

Despite the seeming melancholy, at the heart of all things written by J.R.R. Tolkien there lies this promise: a promise of good things and true; of desires, dreams, and destinies wrought with great magic, skill and beauty….

“To Rivendell, where Elves yet dwell
In glades beneath the misty fell.
Through moor and waste we ride in haste,
And whither then we cannot tell.”

Jef Murray is an internationally known Tolkien and fantasy artist/illustrator and counterfeit essayist. His paintings, sketches, and writings sprout sporadically from the leaves of Tolkien and Inklings publications (Amon Hen, Mallorn, Beyond Bree, Silver Leaves, Mythprints) and Catholic journals (The St. Austin Review, Gilbert Magazine, The Georgia Bulletin) worldwide. Visit Jef’s website at

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