Friday, June 21, 2013

Fifteen Birds in Five Firtrees

The Movie: There is no equivalent sequence.

The Book: As the goblins feed the fires by the dwarves' trees, they sing a wicked song:

Fifteen birds in five firtrees,
their feathers were fanned in a fiery breeze!
But, funny little birds, they had no wings!
O what shall we do with the funny little things?
Roast 'em alive, or stew them in a pot;
fry them, boil them and eat them hot?

Burn, burn tree and fern!
Shrivel and scorch! A fizzling torch
To light the night for our delight,
Ya hey!

Bake and toast 'em, fry and roast 'em!
till beards blaze, and eyes glaze;
till hair smells and skins crack,
fat melts and bones black
in cinders lie
beneath the sky!
So dwarves shall die,
and light the night for our delight,
Ya hey!
Ya hoy!

What difference does it make? There is no significant difference to the plot, narrative, or any characterizations due to the lack of the singing.

My Opinion: As cool a song as this was, it just wouldn't have worked in film. I'm not even sure it worked in the book, to be honest. Most of Tolkein's songs make it seem like his world has this rich oral history; that all cultures and civilizations have in common a love for song. Songs like this, though, skirt the edges between "rich oral history" and "full-fledged musical." Are we, the audience, supposed to believe that the goblins have some reason to have memorized this song about a bunch of dwarves burning alive in the trees? Or did they all just spontaneously come up with the same lyrics at once? Even if it didn't stink of "sudden musical" there's something decidedly non-intimidating about carefully choreographed song, mid-battle. I'm happy this was left out.

"Alright guys, don't forget to start the chorus after the third refrain. And for Christ's sake, Gary, watch your D-sharps."


  1. The song works all right in the animated version where it's sort of played in the background - you don;t really *see* them singing it, but you're right, in the movie showing the jolly Orcs bursting into song smacks of Glee ;)

  2. And yes, it never did make much sense for them to have a song with those lyrics, and that they would all know it. Was this a common occurrence for the goblins? Did they often find a bunch of dwarves climbing trees and setting them on fire?

  3. And since the orcs stick to their black speech throughout the films- even when speaking directly to characters who shouldn't be expected to understand it- would they then have to sing the song in that language, with subtitles?