This is My Father’s Shire

Have you ever heard a snippet of a song, and it instantly reminds you of a different song, but you’ve forgotten the name of one or the other? That was bothering me this morning at the Communion hymn at Mass.

Mike was up in the loft beginning a hymn on the organ as people began to social distance their way up to the altar, and in my slightly reflective but mostly  bewildered state, I asked myself, “why is he playing that song from the Lord of the Rings movies, you know, the one about the Shire?”

After the first two bars of the hymn, I was in Hobbiton. It’s a wonderful hymn, but the title escaped me. I approached Mike after Mass to ask him what the name of the Communion hymn was that he played, but he said “I don’t remember,” hustled into his car and drove off.

I didn’t think much about it the rest of the day, but when I got a free moment this evening, it popped back into my head and I had to research it. After scrolling my thumb raw through Google page after page, I finally got a hit.

First, the tune from LOTR is Howard Shore’s “Concerning Hobbits.” It recurs throughout all three movies.

But what was the name of the hymn? It eluded me. Then after scrolling through Google search pages until my thumbs were sore, I found out that I wasn’t crazy.

Way back in 2003, a fan on a Lord of the Rings fan forum noticed the same thing I did, and stated up front that only nerds such as himself would even notice the similarity, or care whether there was some backstory connection. My soulmate!

The hymn is an 18th Century English creation named “This is My Father’s World.” It praises the beauty of creation, something Vladymir (from 2003) thought Tolkien might have loved. I’ll bet he at least heard it at some point.

Just to satisfy your curiosity, here are both tunes:

The Howard Shore work from the LOTR movies is an instrumental, but the background of the hymn is interesting. The melody was written by Franklin L. Sheppard and named Terra Beata. He adapted it from a traditional English tune his mother used to hum to him as a child.  Sheppard wrote it specifically to accompany the Maltbie Davenport Babcock poem “This is My Father’s World.” The two were friends.

Babcock was a minister in upstate New York, and the poem was inspired by walks he’d take around Lake Ontario and Niagra Falls. Sadly, he died in his early forties, but his wife had his writings published posthumously, including “This is My Father’s World.” Sheppard wrote terra beata and published it in 1915. It was quickly picked up by hymnal publishers.

Here are the words:

This is my Father’s world,
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world:
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world,
The birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white,
Declare their maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world,
He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world.
O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world:
why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let the earth be glad

So in the end, my friends, the sustaining line throughout Peter Jackson’s LOTR trilogy, the one that keeps coming back around and sustaining the story line, is but a riff on terra beata, which has its roots in traditional English music. It was probably a well known pub song, as many English hymns were based on such well known and loved songs.

I think Tolkien would have liked that.


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