It is widely acknowledged that ‘The Lord of The Rings’ is one of the greatest books of all time, and that it has had a deep influence on 20th century culture and continues to do so. This also includes the genre of music and the works of Tolkien were also responsible for heavily influencing one of the greatest bands of all time – Led Zeppelin.
The reason why Zeppelin’s songs were influenced by Tolkien was due to their singer. Staffordshire- born Robert Plant is a huge fan of the authors’ three principal works – ‘The Hobbit’, ‘The Lord of The Rings’ and ‘The Silmarillion’ – and the landscape of Middle Earth in which the tales are set.
Direct references include the song ‘Ramble On’ that name-checks both Golum and Mordor. The opening lines of “leaves are falling all around, time I was on my way” is a more subtle reference to Frodo’s departure in autumn at the beginning of his epic quest in ‘Lord of The Rings.’
The song ‘The Battle of Evermore’ mentions the Ringwraiths as well as “the Dark Lord rides in force tonight” referring to Sauron. The line “The magic runes are writ in gold” is likely to be the One Ring that was inscribed with runes and which Frodo was obliged to destroy.
The song ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ takes its name directly from the mountain range in Middle Earth.
In other songs the references are more subtle. ‘Over The Hills and Far Away’ is from ‘The Hobbit’ and tells of Bilbo, Gandalf and the company of dwarves that go in search of treasure. ‘No Quarter’ also acknowledges the last battle in the same book.
The above-mentioned songs are straightforward connections, although some listeners will no doubt be able to discover allegorical references. ‘The Battle of Evermore’ also contains references to “the Queen of Light she took her bow and then she turned to go.” This can be interpreted as Eowyn when she bids farewell to Aragorn and then joins the Rohan Army. Aragorn himself, in the same song, may be “the Prince of Peace embraced the gloom and walked the night alone” as he departs for the Paths of the Dead.
The classic ‘Stairway to Heaven’ is about Frodo’s departure for the Undying Lands where the chosen ones go to spend the end of their days, and his sadness at leaving his friends behind when“there’s a feeling I get when I look to the west and my spirit is crying for leaving.” The song could also be an interpretation of the tale of Aragorn and Arwen.
Tolkien’s influence on Zeppelin also included imagery. In their 1976 concert film ‘The Song Remains The Same’ a grey cloaked bearded figure appears which is likely to be an interpretation of Gandalf. This same figure also appears on the inside cover of their fourth album.
On a more personal level Robert Plant also named his dog ‘Strider’, a pseudonym of Aragorn.
During the 1980s a plethora of heavy metal bands either derived their name from The Lord of The Rings, or sang songs about Tolkien-created characters. The majority of work by Blind Guardian contains some direct reference to Tolkien. The progressive rock band Rush also paid homage to Tolkien by recording a song called ‘Rivendell’, whose title name-checks the homestead of the elves. Scottish soft-rock giants Marillion took their name from a shortened version of ‘The Silmarillion.’ Keyboard wizards Rick Wakeman and Bo Hansson have both released albums entitled ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ Even Leonard Nimoy, better known as Mr Spock from Star Trek, recorded a single called ‘The Ballard of Bilbo Baggins.’ Having heard this one could argue whether this was a career mistake – “It’s rock Jim, but not as we know it!”