'Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor
I met a girl so fair
But Gollum and the evil one
Crept up and slipped away with her
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Christ Church college
(thanks, Nigel Swales)
It is no secret that both Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin were huge Lord of the Rings
fans. It’s also no secret to the diehard fans of the greatest band of the 1970s that these two jokesters wrote Tolkien references - some hidden and others obvious - into many of their songs. Perhaps the most blatant of offenses can be found in the final verse of "Ramble On."
Recorded in New York during their second U.S. tour, "Ramble On" appeared on 1969’s Led Zeppelin II
, one of the greatest rock albums of all time (other notable tracks include: "Whole Lotta Love," "Heartbreaker," and "Thank You"). Each song on the final cut of the album was recorded and mixed at various locations between performances across America. Plant said of the experience, “We'd do a rhythm track in London, add the vocal in New York, overdub the harmonica in Vancouver, and then come back to finish mixing at New York."
Given the variety of locations that could be used for this particular track, my readers might be wondering why I’ve chosen Oxford, in the United Kingdom. Plant, who’d previously been slighted song-writing credit on the album sleeves due to contractual obligations, began to move outside the box on Led Zeppelin II
and many of his lyrics - and even vocal style - pointed toward the band’s future direction. "Ramble On" is an homage, not just to Lord of the Rings
, but to J.R.R. Tolkien himself.
The opening line, “Leaves are falling all around,” is a paraphrase of the opening line of "Namarie," a poem by Tolkien. Additionally, the autumn scenery sets a tone reminiscent of the opening chapters of LOTR in which Frodo leaves the Shire on his journey to Rivendell in the Misty Mountains (another Zeppelin song, "Misty Mountain Hop," takes its name from a location in Middle Earth, something the constraints of one-dimensional maps won’t allow me to do).
Punts on the River Thames in Oxford
(thanks, Rudi Riet)
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien worked at Pembroke College, located in the town of North Oxford (a suburb of Oxford) in the United Kingdom as a professor of linguistics. He penned much of Lord of the Rings
while living at 20 Northmoor Road. His fascination with languages inspired him to create more than one during his lifetime, however, the most well-known and influential have been his dueling language of the elves: Sindarin and Quenya, both of which featured heavily in all his literary works.
At the onset of the Great War in 1914, Tolkien and his three best friends (the four friends became the four hobbits) enlisted to fight for Queen and Country and it was many of his experiences that led to his personal and political beliefs, and subsequently became major themes in LOTR, the greatest of which is possibly the concept of nature versus technology and the "fires of industry."
Situated in central, southern England, Oxford is one of the United Kingdom’s fastest growing cities. Known as a university town, the "city of dreaming spires" is home to the University of Oxford, which is also the oldest in the English-speaking world. The city’s prestigious reputation began in the 12th century when King Henry II granted Oxford’s citizens the same exemptions enjoyed by those who resided in London.
During World War II, when Tolkien was enjoying the success of his recently published The Hobbit,
the city avoided bombing by the Germans and was overall mostly ignored. It’s been rumored that Adolf Hitler felt so enamored with the architecture there, he planned to make it the capital city of his Third Reich, had Germany conquered Europe. A place beautiful enough to capture the attention of Hitler himself was certainly capable of fueling the imagination of the father of fantasy’s magnum opus.
Lord of the Rings was first published in 1954 when Robert Plant was only six years old. Maybe growing up only 80 miles northwest of Oxford helped feed his love of Tolkien’s writings. But whether geography had anything to do with his fandom or not, the high-fantasy influence of Lord of the Rings and other Tolkien works bled their way into Plant’s lyrics for over a decade and helped expose new generations of rock lovers to Middle Earth.
~ Justin Novelli
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