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Author: Dreamflower
Title: Why I Believe The Last Goodbye is the Perfect Last Song
Rating: G
Theme: Non-fiction
Subject: The Last Goodbye
Type: essay
Summary:An analysis of why the song works so well as a finale to Peter Jackson's series of movies set in Middle-earth
Word Count: 1,927

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 Rings is 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 depends on 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 did pay 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.

Comments

( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
lindahoyland
Aug. 29th, 2015 12:30 am (UTC)
Your essay made me play the song which I'd not heard.
dreamflower02
Aug. 29th, 2015 12:49 am (UTC)
What did you think of it, as it was your first hearing? Did it move you?
lindahoyland
Aug. 29th, 2015 12:50 am (UTC)
I loved the words, but cannot say the music did much for me. "Under the Misty Mountains " moves me. I'm glad I watched the video,though.Thank you.

Edited at 2015-08-29 12:51 am (UTC)
dreamflower02
Aug. 29th, 2015 01:00 am (UTC)
Not everyone loves "The Last Goodbye" as much as I do. But I'm glad you liked the video.

TBH, even though I did not like the movies of TH as much as those of LotR, I liked most of the songs better than those in LotR, which were not as much based on Tolkien's own songs as those in TH were. (I liked HS's scores in both of them very much though, in the score department, LotR had a slight edge over that of TH.)
periantari
Aug. 29th, 2015 12:52 am (UTC)
I was just listening it to it couple times yesterday!:)
Will give more thoughts soon.
dreamflower02
Aug. 29th, 2015 01:01 am (UTC)
I listen to it often.
periantari
Aug. 29th, 2015 02:45 am (UTC)
I love it very much! Though i still like "Into the West" a tiny bit more. I think it's because it's so soothing to me.
This song has great lyrics though and i loved your analysis of it.
dreamflower02
Aug. 31st, 2015 04:34 pm (UTC)
"Into the West" is very much like a lullaby, I think; especially with the lines about "sleep" and "safe in my arms". It is probably more soothing for that reason.

I am still majorly ticked off that "The Last Goodbye" did not get an Oscar nom.
lin4gondor
Aug. 29th, 2015 01:20 am (UTC)
This is an excellent analysis of the song, full of all kinds of awesome food for thought! It's one of my favorite songs from all the films. I first heard it as part of the official music video PJ put out as they wrapped up the final filming -- it contained scenes from the movies (Hobbit & LotR both) mixed in with scenes of the actors having fun together as well as taking leave of one another -- so it also has that aspect of it, too, for me, of saying farewell to the whole marvelous experience of following the bringing to life our favorite Middle-earth stories through the films.
dreamflower02
Aug. 31st, 2015 04:21 pm (UTC)
That was the first time I heard it too, and was so blown away by it. And then to hear it in the context of a movie ending I felt it even more.
periantari
Aug. 29th, 2015 02:43 am (UTC)
I agree with so many points that you have. It is awesome that they use Billy to sing this song and i could hear that bittersweetness in here and the theme of grief and loss is so pervasive in here but there is hope as well.
I think these themes are my favorite in LotR and Hobbit which makes these stories resonate so much with me.

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.

I love this thought and agree with it so much. I love this song so very much too and was listening to it again and again yesterday reminiscing and tearing as well.

Great essay.
dreamflower02
Aug. 31st, 2015 04:22 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much.
shirebound
Aug. 29th, 2015 02:26 pm (UTC)
beginning with those opening notes that seem almost like snowflakes

Ohhhh, I hadn't made that connection before. You're right! Even *thinking* about the song gives me chills, which is my barometer for a soul-stirring piece of music. Everything about it is perfect, and I love your essay.
dreamflower02
Aug. 31st, 2015 04:23 pm (UTC)
And with the winter setting, it makes chills a very appropriate reaction. I love that the song picked up that imagery and made it a part of it all.

Everything about it is perfect

*nods*
febobe
Aug. 30th, 2015 04:00 am (UTC)
Lovely! My eyes are all misty now. <3
dreamflower02
Aug. 31st, 2015 04:24 pm (UTC)
Thank you dear!
sian22redux
Aug. 30th, 2015 10:28 pm (UTC)
Dreamflower what a wonderful piece..I adore that song and listen to it frequently...The words send shivers down my spine..especially the line about snowflakes and for some reason the part 'so ends this day'. Billy Boyd has a simple yet unaffected voice that gave it a power I think it wouldn't have otherwise with a more dimmensioned voice. A friend commented that she thinks JRR is a bad poet but how can one think that with such imagery? The snowflake line has refused to leave my mind and with it somehow I also saw an image of ash from Orodruin covering Frodo and Sam and Gilgalad much earlier. Ash like snowflakes.. You never know where great words will take you.
Thank you so much for this...
dreamflower02
Aug. 31st, 2015 04:31 pm (UTC)
The snowflake line is very touching and I think sets the key for all the rest of the verses.

I've heard some people say that about JRRT's poetry as well. Aside from the "tastes vary" factor, I think those who dismiss it are just not used to his type of poetry. It's not "modern" enough to suit them. His poetry is part of an older tradition in which poems and songs were not merely part of a story, but were stories themselves. They look for hidden meanings when, really, it's all out there to see at first glance.

Not only is his imagery amazing, but he has such a linguist's ear for the way language, rhythm, meter and sound should flow. I love that the songs for TH more closely followed Tolkien's own poems, and especially the way this one in particular made use of his device of using prepositions, which make his poems much more like action than contemplation.

sian22redux
Sep. 1st, 2015 01:16 pm (UTC)
I think you are exactly right Dreamflower...his poetry does what it says on the box and beautifully..meant to be spoken aloud and heard. they feel like fable sometimes with echoes of a bardic voice.

Sad to say RL took over and my nonfic piece is not polished enough to submit yet. Since it is a comparative essay it needs the sources brought in properly. Is August non-fic a tradition? should I save it for next year?
dreamflower02
Sep. 1st, 2015 02:53 pm (UTC)
You can post late, if it is only going to be a couple of weeks. Or you can save it either for our traditional January "potluck" challenge; (In which you can either post something you did not finish during the year or you can pick a prompt from a list of leftover prompts throughout the year; you can enter as many things as you like.) Or you can save it for next August.

(Yes, that's become a tradition. Originally non-fic was a floating theme, in that it was offered once a year but not any special month. But in recent years we started keeping it in August--it comes usually before everyone is already bogged down in academics, but close enough to the school year to let people shake out their summer mental cobwebs.)

Edited at 2015-09-01 02:55 pm (UTC)
hhimring
Sep. 4th, 2015 07:30 am (UTC)
That's a very good analysis! I didn't quite fall in love with the song immediately, as apparently you did, but it's really grown on me, for precisely the reasons you say.
dreamflower02
Sep. 4th, 2015 03:00 pm (UTC)
I also posted this on TORn, and someone pointed me to early discussions of the song on the forums from when it first came out, and a great many people had your reaction: they at first didn't like it, then it grew on them.

And many had my reaction as well, moved to tears on first hearing it. On YouTube, there are maybe a couple of dozen vids of people taping themselves reacting to it the first time. (Something I found a little odd, but I suspect that's a generational thing.) Most of them seemed to have a similar reaction to mine.

I started out loving it, and the more I heard it, the more I liked it also, as not only something that emotionally moved me, but as a well-crafted piece of art.

Edited at 2015-09-04 03:00 pm (UTC)
hhimring
Sep. 5th, 2015 09:09 am (UTC)
I think, in my case, I liked it the better the more I came to see it as the conclusion to all the films rather than just to BOTFA, because my feelings about that film were a little mixed (literally: liking some things a great deal, but others not much at all). So perhaps less to do with the song itself, but what I associated it with.
blslarner
Oct. 1st, 2015 06:52 am (UTC)
I thought on this essay the other night as I watched TBOFA once more, noticing details I'd missed in the theater, and then swooning over the final artwork and this song.

Thank you for adding to my appreciation for the song! And I rejoice Billy Boyd sang it!
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )

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