Elf-minstrels: Music as a battle tactic?

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Lindissë 06/Aug/2006 at 06:59 PM
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More than once, there have been mentions of the powerful natures of the songs that the Eldar sing. The most notable is likely Finrod’s battle against Sauron, as detailed in the Silmarillion., where both used songs of power. Whether or not that was a unique occurrence (and I can’t believe that singers more skilled than Finrod would not have been able to pull it off as well, at least in theory), there is also a comment about Elvish minstrels made in the Appendices referring to Aragorn:

“And suddenly even as he sang he saw a maiden walking on a greensward among the white stems of the birches; and he halted amazed, thinking that he had strayed into a dream, or else that he had received the gift of the Elf-minstrels, who can make the things of which they sing appear before the eyes of those that listen.” (Return of the Ring, Appendix A)

Since Elvish minstrels appear capable of creating illusions at the least (and quite possibly much more than simple phantasms, as we saw with Finrod), I began to wonder what some of them (Maglor in particular, as I am an unrepentant fangirl ) would be like in battle. Would they use simple sword and steel, or incorporate something a bit more... intangible, so to speak?

Nor can it be forgotten that Fingon, when he went off to rescue Maedhros, chose to bring a harp with him, rather than something that traditionally could be considered more useful in a rescue attempt.

Any ideas?
Tuna 06/Aug/2006 at 09:02 PM
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1) There are few minstrel’s who were more skilled than Finrod (Maglor and Daeron are the only ones, IIRC). And in addition being one of the greatest, Finrod was also the eldest son of Finarfin, and therefore possessed royal blood and whatever inherent power might be derived thereof (For Felagund strove with Sauron in songs of power, and the power of the King was very great ~Of Beren and Luthien, The Silmarillion). Few are those who could have topped Finrod in majesty of song, and the power to pull off the song-battle might not have been in them as it was in Finrod.

2) Using myself as an example, I often times listen to music which I find possessed of such beauty that I cannot help but have my mind drift away and feel my spirit "soaring on high." However, if I’m listening to Punk Rock, Heavy Metal, etc., I cannot help but shudder at (what I consider) the hideousness of the "music." My point being, Efl-minstrels singing songs of beauty (which I would equate to such things as Chanting for myself) might have the power to make the object of song appear before the eyes of those that listen, however, the effects of the song might not have the same effect upon those of different musical liking (i.e.- My brother detests chanting). For me, chanting is wonderful, for my brother, it is repugnant. For elves and elf-friends, the songs are beautiful, but for orcs, it might as well be a highly annoying siren who they desire to silence. But I see no power this might have in battle, except to make the enemy hate you all the more.

Phil_d_one 07/Aug/2006 at 05:12 AM
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Luthien puts Melkor and the rest of the hall to sleep using a song when she and Beren enter Angband to attempt to retrive a Silmaril, and the sleep is deep enough that he is only awakened when a shard from Beren’s knife slashes him across the cheek. She also moves Mandos to pity, a unique occurence in the history of Ea, using a song.

Yes, song does seem to have a particular power in Ea which supercedes the natural. But a point that I feel to be of relevance to the orginal question is the scenario: would song maintain the magical power that we see in these three examples (Luthien before Melkor, Luthien before Mandos, Finrod and Sauron) in the heat of battle, with people dying, war-cries going up everywhere, and a general scene far more chaotic than that in the examples we have. Somehow I find it unlikely, though you are welcome to disagree.

Celebrimbor 07/Aug/2006 at 06:17 AM
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I am inclined to agree with Phil_d_one. I think the potency of song, at least as a weapon, would be compramised amidst the clamour of an open battle. In addition to the songs that have already been mentioned it would seem that Luthien cast down the tower of Tol-in-Gaurhoth with a ’declaration’, "Then Luthien stood upon the bridge, and declared her power: and the spell was loosed that bound stone to stone, and the gates were thrown down, and the walls opened, and the pits laid bare...", Of Beren and Luthien, The Silmarillion. Obviously one might only speculate over the specifics of this ’declaration’, but it seems likely that this was a verbal declaration. In which case said declaration and verbal power might be classed as another example of words as weapons.
Phil_d_one 07/Aug/2006 at 06:23 AM
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Celebrimbor: In the earliest version of that story, The Tale of Tinuviel (published by CT in TBoLT II), the scene you mention is also present. There, Tevildo built his castle by use of certain magic words (in a similar way to Sauron using the Ring on the foundations of the Barad-dur), and when he is forced to yield these words to Tinuviel, she uses them to destroy the castle. Though obviously certain elements of the scene changed drastically by the time Of Beren and Luthien was written, I would venture that yes, it was indeed merely a verbal declaration as opposed to an actual song. This both because of the wording of the quote, as you well note, as well as because of this aforementioned precedent

Red Saelind 07/Aug/2006 at 06:25 AM
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In the "Fall of Gondolin" [BOLT II] the people of the Fountain went "into battle to the music of flutes". I’ve often wondered if it had to do with keeping a marching order, or was an act of defiance toward the enemy? Or perhaps a song of power against enemies. Any thoughts?
Isilduror 07/Aug/2006 at 07:55 AM
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I believe in the case of that battle, the music was there simply to uplift the spirits of the soldiers, to give them hope. In context it doesn’t appear to be music with power enough to affect their enemies greatly.

But, as people have said already in this thread, the ’power’ of music and/or song seems to have a much greater effect in Ea than it does in real life. Even the making of Ea was done via song, which most certainly seems to be the most supernatural occurence of ’music’.

The problem is distinguishing when music alone plays a part, or when it is, if you like, a platform for a different sort of ’power’, as must be the case with Luthien putting Melkor to sleep.

Tuna 07/Aug/2006 at 08:09 AM
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In my defence for forgetting Luthien, was her putting Melkor to sleep really of the same power as the song-battle between Finrod and Sauron? Melkor thought he had a prize beyond his wildest dreams and was falling susceptible to the power of ambition, making him much less aware of the present than one would normally have been, especially with one of such renown in his presence. As Phil and Celebrimbor, rightly I believe, say, with the very real threat of death, it would be hard for one’s mind to wander off and go to sleep whereas Melkor was "safe" in his underground lair. Also, her moving Mandos to pity might be naught more than her beautiful voice and one of the saddest stories in the history of Ea. Being the softy we all know Hoth...erm Mandos to be, it is still a remarkable feat, but not one that is necessarily against his character.

geordie 07/Aug/2006 at 10:09 AM
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Two things - Luthien also put the great wolf Carcharoth into forgetful slumber; it seems as much to ease his agony for a while as much as to put him out of the way.

And the quote about Luthien laying bare the pits of Sauron’s fortress! Unforgettable! And is’nt it similar to the episode in App B where we are told of Galadriel doing the same to Sauron’s former dwellings of Dol Guldur? But are we told how that’s done? Is it by use of song, too? Galadriel seems to be a mighty singer. ’I sang of leaves, of leaves of gold, and leaves of gold there grew. I sang of wind, a wind there came and in the branches blew’

Or is all that just Tolkien being poetic in both senses of the word?
DeluhatholSilverleaf 07/Aug/2006 at 10:20 AM
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or can songs actually mean some sort of spell/enchantment in THe Lays of Beleriand of Luthien it was said:

"Now doth her council shape;
and Melians daughter of deep lore
knew many things, yea, more
than then and now know elven-maids" 

The Lay of Leithian, lines 1425 to 1428
Bearamir 07/Aug/2006 at 12:31 PM
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Ladies & Gentlemen:  This thread has been nominated for transfer to Ad Lore.  From what I can see, this discussion definately has the potential to generate some interesting discussion...so without further ado:  Please prepare for move to Ad Lore. 
Geirve 07/Aug/2006 at 02:33 PM
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Just a brief note concerning Luthien and Carcharoth (and I suppose Luthien and Melkor). I think her ’sleep’ powers were not shared by any other Elves - they apparently were derived from Melian (who was associated also with Irmo):

some power, descended from of old,
from race divine beyond the West,
sudden Tinuviel possessed
like inner fire (The Lay of Leithan)
DeluhatholSilverleaf 07/Aug/2006 at 11:14 PM
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hmmm, looks like i’ll have to repost:

"Now doth her council shape;
and Melians daughter of deep lore
knew many things, yea, magics more
than then and now know elven-maids"

The Lay of Leithian, lines 1425 to 1428
(my bold)

so Luthien knew magic, probably being the daughter of Melian the maiar, the quote also gives us the idea that she was possibly the only elven maiden to do so.
Geirve 08/Aug/2006 at 03:26 AM
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Deluhathol, what is the point of reposting this quote so soon? Let me put more my point more explicitly. The problem is, what in Luthien’s powers was ’learnt’ (and therefore in principle available to other Elves, too), and what was a consequence of her Maia heritage (and thus not accessible to other Elves). The fragment I have quoted (from the encounter with Carcharoth) strongly suggests that the power to invoke sleep was of the second class. geordie’s pointing to a similarity between dealing with Luthien and Galadriel with Sauron’s fortesses leads to the conclusion this ’magic’ was learnt (plus, it is suggested that Galadriel’s powers were partly due to her association with Melian). There is also a similarity between changing appearance by Luthien and by Finrod, so probably this ’magic’ was learnt, too (and was that ’magia’ or ’goeteia’, as the deads of elven minstrels?).
DeluhatholSilverleaf 08/Aug/2006 at 06:23 AM
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Geir if you read the qoute at all, you wuold have seen exactly why i reposted it, i foolishly left out the wird magic in the first post, it would help if you’d have atleast read the posts before deciding to give me a heads up...im also fully aware of what the others posted, or why would i include this qoute?
Arvellas 08/Aug/2006 at 01:52 PM
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Sometimes we tend to forget in these modern times that music used to be a much larger part of life than it is now.  When there were no TVs, no CD players, and no radios or anything along those lines, people sang a lot to pass the time, at work, in their spare time(not that there was much spare time before the introduction of many modern appliances), and yes, in battle.  Music was often used to kindle the spirits of the soldiers and keep them moving to a steady beat so that they would not panic and lose control.  Indeed, Tolkien seems to place a lot of importance on the spoken word, which I assume extends to the sung word.  I agree with the idea that the Elves would probably have been able to put song to some rather spectacular use in battle.
Vugar 08/Aug/2006 at 03:11 PM
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geordie, in the published Silmarillion, the transfer of the mastery of the tower is rather brief and not well explained. Sauron is simply said to yield to Lúthien the tower and that is that. However, there is mention of the spell that ’bound stone to stone.’

The Lay of Lúthien provides more insight into what transpired, at least at that point within the evolution of the mythology.

"this shall be,              
unless the keys thou render me                     
of thy black fortress, and the spell              
that bindeth stone to stone thou tell,          2785
and speak the words of opening.’"

Christopher Tolkien gives a great explanation of the spell’s role in the mythology as it progressed, as it was an earlier element from the Tale of Tinuviel concerning Tevildo. As it is found in the Book of Lost Tales II:

"Huan released his enemy when he yielded the mastery of his
dwelling. This last is very notable: the utterance by Tinuviel of the spell
which bound stone to stone in the evil castle (p. 29). Of course, when this
was written the castle of Tevildo was an adventitious feature in the story
-- it had no previous history: it was an evil place through and through,
and the spell (deriving from Melko) that Tevildo was forced to reveal was
the secret of Tevildo’s own power over his creatures as well as the magic
that held the stones together. With the entry of Felagund into the
eloping legend and the Elvish watchtower on Tol Sirion (Minas
Tirith: The Silmarillion pp. 120, 155 -- 6) captured by the Necromancer,
the spell is displaced: for it cannot be thought to be the work of Felagund,
who built the fortress, since if it had been he would have been able to
pronounce it in the dungeon and bring the place down over their heads --
a less evil way for them to die. This element in the legend remained,
however, and is fully present in The Silmarillion (p. 175), though since
my father did not actually say there that Sauron told Huan and Luthien
what the words were, but only that he ’yielded himself’, one may miss the
significance of what happened"

Galadriel may have gained mastery of Dol Guldur in a similar manner, or perhaps no; but one can wonder.              
Ethirost 14/Aug/2006 at 10:58 PM
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This might be humming off key amongst the Tabernacle Choir, but...y’all are missing one facet of music as a battle tactic: Psychological warfare.  Music has, at times, been used for the sole purpose of disheartening the enemy.  Look to the bagpipe for example.  It’s an ungodly, sqwacking instrument (even though I find it catchy..I am slightly tone deaf).   The Scots would use the pipe with a drum corps to pysche up prior to battles, and the enemy, most times the British, would be subjected to the eerie caterwhauling as they waited in the dread of coming battle.

I do suppose that elves would be entirely unsuited to transforming their graceful songs to psychological warfare.  The dwarves maybe, but I can’t see the Elves capable or even physically tolerant enough to make music that is either eerie or disturbing.

Thorondel 15/Aug/2006 at 06:11 PM
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Don’t forget the south in the American Civil War. They had a high-pitch, bloodcurdling scream/wail they used while atttacking the Northern lines. While not precisely music, the idea is the same.
DeluhatholSilverleaf 18/Aug/2006 at 11:19 AM
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Also there are the songs of Tom Bombadill and the Old Man Williow, Tom Bombadill tells us how his songs are stronger than Old man Willow’s..also in the Barrow where Sam, Merry, Pippin and frodo are trapt, To Bombadill uses music again to defeat the Barrow-Wight. 
Bearamir 19/Aug/2006 at 11:04 AM
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Quote: Originally posted by Thorondel on Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Don’t forget the south in the American Civil War. They had a high-pitch, bloodcurdling scream/wail they used while atttacking the Northern lines. While not precisely music, the idea is the same.

Ah yes, the legendary "Rebel" yell...to this day they *still* don’t know precisely what it sounded like (but I suspect, given the origins and cultural heritage of a lot of the people in that area, that it was a lot like the "yell" the Scots used).

Another example of "music" would have been the fife & drum brigades in the American Revolutionary War...or the drummers used in the American Civil War.  To assist in the moving of men, personnel (and morale!), nothing quite matches the sound of  a drum and/or fife.  

On the "aboriginal" side of the fence...you have the chants of the Zulu and Masai warriors.  Part dance, part drumming, part vocalization, to the men at Roark’s Drift and Isandalwana, the sound was unmistakeable (and very intimidating)


Koranti 19/Aug/2006 at 01:17 PM
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Music as a whole is a very powerful thing. And can be used for many things.

Where warefare is concerned, also remember Helm’s Deep. The horn scared the orcs. (and everyone else)

...And then, sudden and terrible, from the tower above, the sound of the great horn of Helm rang out.

All that heard that sound trembled. Many of the Orcs cast themselves on their faces and covered their ears with their claws. Back from the Deep the echoes came, blast upon blast, as if on every cliff and hill a mighty herald stood. But on the walls, the men looked up, listening with wonder; for the echoes did not die. Ever the hornblasts wound on among the hills; nearer now and louder they answered one to another, blowing fierce and free.
~The Two Towers, pg 157

The movies definitely underplayed the power of the horn.

As for the "rebel yell," the picts also used a similar strategy against the romans. They quite literally stripped naked, painted their whole bodies blue, and ran into battle shouting various songs while swinging large clubs on ropes over their heads.
King Gothmog 21/Aug/2006 at 07:16 PM
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in tolkiens works the voice and words seem to be very powerful things.  Looking at his works and the characters involved.  Shouts of defiance almost scare off a Balrog, Elven music sooths.  As a whole he puts great emphasis on the power of noise.  I believe that for Tolkiens works the word is a powerful thing and what greater expression of words are their than song.  So yes I do believe that music of a very talented or powerful being could have effect on the opponent if not fatal but killing is not the only means to victory.