“Can you sing Master Hobbit?” Denethor, Steward of Gondor asks a timid Peregrin Took.
“Well, yes,” Pippin answers, his evasive gaze betraying him. “At least well enough for my own people. But we have no songs for great halls… and evil times.”
The next scene is probably the single most disgusting frame in Peter Jackson’s entire The Lord of the Rings trilogy. After contesting Pippin’s concession that he knows no songs fit for the towering halls of Minas Tirith, Denethor bites into a cherry tomato in a way that words can’t quite capture – vulgar is too sweet-smelling, repulsive is too soft. As the juices slowly drip down his mouth, unwiped and utterly reprehensible in the narcissism of being too powerful for table manners, Pippin takes a deep breath and sings one of those “no songs for great halls” of his people.
I’ll let you listen below instead of just typing out all the words right away, because aside from being a bona fide phenomenon of subtle exposition, Pippin’s song is a musical marvel – something made particularly impressive when you consider that Billy Boyd composed and sang it himself.
Instead of a typical montage moment in the final instalment of a trilogy oozing suspense – which might be scored by misplaced Zeppelin or some shit – this is a vocal spectacle performed by an actor while still in-character. As New Line Cinema executive music producer Paul Broucek says in the Special Extended DVD Edition of The Return of the King, “Instead of a noisy battle scene, you have the juxtaposition of the beautiful, haunting melody that Billy created and sings, and that Howard [Shore] supports with very simple underpinnings of orchestra growing out of it.”
Most importantly of all, though, The Edge of Night specifically hearkens back to everything that has occurred up until this precise moment:
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.
While Pippin sings, Faramir and his regiment from Gondor charge at Gothmog and his band of orcs in an attempt to reclaim Osgiliath – an attempt so futile that even a Pyrrhic victory seems impossible. Faramir – younger brother of the late Boromir – has just been told by his father that he wishes he had died in his eldest’s stead, and is recklessly charging towards his death as Pippin sings about fading into the opaque and obscure.
But it’s so much more than that. This is the single moment in The Lord of the Rings where the stakes are highest. Sure, you might argue that Frodo being captured by Shelob or refusing to destroy the ring – or doing any of the other absurdly stupid shit he’s known for – are more ostensibly intense, but this is the first time the missing, potentially never-to-be-found-again pieces of the puzzle are consciously recognized as absent. It’s not brazen by any means – if anything it’s as hazy as the mist and shadow referred to in the song – but as Pippin sings we think of Merry, Sam, Frodo, Aragorn, and the rest of the Fellowship. We notice the immense distance between them, this ragtag group of masters and misfits tightly knit out of arbitrariness just to be unravelled out of cruel necessity. We think of Boromir – who was done dirty in the films – and, if you’ve seen the extended edition of The Two Towers, how he would never in a million years have allowed his brother to attack Osgiliath with such a pathetic number of would-be warriors.
All of this is attributable to Boyd’s performance, which deserved about ten awards for this scene alone. There are times in music where you know someone has momentarily lost themselves in cadence, a sort of liminal lapse in consciousness where the music transcends the person – the best example of this, I think, is the highest scream at the end of Jeff Buckley’s Grace. This phenomenon is also present in The Edge of Night, but it’s much quieter. After singing that last phrase – “All shall fade, all shall fade” – Pippin snaps back to reality and winces painfully, no doubt thinking about his best friend Meriadoc Brandybuck. Except it’s a case of thinking about multiple things at once – thinking of Merry means thinking of their separation, which in turn leads to Pippin recalling his impulsive and immature actions with the palantir, the reason he was brought here in the first place. It’s a case of coming so far and stumbling at the last, second-to-last, or tenth-to-last hurdle. The journey has been long and arduous, but the end is not just out of sight – it’s invisibly close.
I think the events that follow this have a much larger impact on The Lord of the Rings than people ever give them credit for. This realization at the end of Pippin’s performance – as he looks at Denethor’s meat-bloodied chin raised high in a chamber of ostentatious extravagance above the festering chaos below – is what gives him, a lost soul among the soulless, reason to fight for Faramir’s protection. This, as well as his decision to temporarily join Gandalf on the front lines, plays a huge part in Minas Tirith’s rough but effective self-preservation prior to the arrival of the Rohirrim. The ensuing Battle of the Pelennor Fields – second only to Helm’s Deep, I reckon – sees a sort of mirroring between Pippin and the very much alive and kicking Merry, whose four-foot-six stature flits between oliphaunts and Haradrim as if it’s nobody’s business.
I know lots of you are all for Frodo and Sam, but the scene where Pippin finds a wounded Merry after the battle is an all-timer for me. It’s probably my favourite reunion in the entire trilogy aside from “Welcome, my Lords, to Isengard,” which – you guessed it – also features both of these hobbity legends.
All of this stems from the short but massively affecting performance of The Edge of Night. It’s difficult to compile a list of the best moments in The Lord of the Rings, a trilogy teeming with incredible writing, but there’s just something particularly special about this one for me. Merry and Pippin have always been two of my favourite Tolkien characters – mostly because of how raucously they behave in the books – but this scene and all of the subsequent ones it informs transcend all of that. It’s probably my high point of the entire trilogy – and that’s even with Denethor’s too-yucky-for-words cherry tomato chomping.
Next: Miranda’s Butt Shots Might Be Removed, But What’s With Liara’s Boobs In The Mass Effect Remasters?
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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