Have you ever listened to a song so powerful it brought tears to your eyes? Or heard a melody so strong it set your heart pumping and stirred your limbs to action? Music forms an integral part of my novel Orphan’s Song, so naturally, I wish I could claim credit for first dreaming up the concept of blending music and magic and powerful songs in fantasy.
But I can’t.
Honesty chains my tongue.
The “greats” beat me to it, not to mention the authors since their day who have penned novels with powerful music forming anything from a side-note to a central piece of the story. To which “greats” do I refer? I’m talking, of course, about Tolkien and Lewis — probably two of the most oft-quoted fantasy authors in the history of mankind … and elvenkind … and talking animalkind.
(I realize that I risk being relegated to the realm of the stereotypical when I admit Tolkien and Lewis were some of the authors who shaped my early reading and writing years, but once again honesty, right?)
From the first moment I picked up The Silmarillion, I was captivated by the story. But when I stumbled across the following snippet from the Lay of Leithian, the words seized me by the throat and refused to let go. Like Beren at the first sight of Luthien, I stood as one under a spell.
Then sudden Felagund there swaying
Sang in answer a song of staying,
Resisting, battling against power,
Of secrets kept, strength like a tower,
And trust unbroken, freedom, escape;
Of changing and of shifting shape,
Of snares eluded, broken traps,
The prison opening, the chain that snaps.
— The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
I was held captive by the hypnotic cadence, enthralled by the force of the lyrical words, and fascinated with the concept of the “songs of power” with which Felagund and Sauron fought.
Another powerful song makes its appearance when Luthien sings a deep sleep over all of Angband, enabling the heist of the Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown. And in Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew, music summons the dawning of a world when Aslan sings Narnia to life.
The Lion was pacing to and fro about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he had called up the stars and the sun; a gentle, rippling music. And as he walked and sang, the valley grew green with grass.
— The Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis
Beautiful, isn’t it?
But what about more recent fantasy—does music make an appearance there as well?
In recent years, the realm of Christian speculative fiction has seen the Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson where the songs of the ancient stones possess the power to transform and those of the Songmaiden are powerful. Or D. Barkley Briggs’s Legends of Karac Tor series where one of the characters has the ability to play the powerful “song of Aion.”
There are other speculative fiction titles I have discovered—in both the Christian and secular markets—that utilize music or melody or songs of power in some unique way.
Naturally, it set me to wondering, “Why music?”
What was it about music that drew me and these other authors to write it into our storyworlds? I pondered the question for some time before settling on what I think is the answer. A remarkably simple answer, actually.
I think it is because music possesses an undeniable power. As with the written word, the combining and blending of notes and rhythms offers endless possibility and carries the ability to strike at the hearts of all who listen—to both convey and produce emotion. The ability of music to sway the heart is something most people would acknowledge. Because of that, envisioning music as magic doesn’t require a great leap of the imagination on the reader’s part. It is hardly more than a child’s step.
Because the power of music is something most readers have experienced, when it is portrayed in fantasy, it is understandable, relatable, and resonates deep within the soul.
If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.
Deep below, a sepulchral rumbling from the depths of the earth—a distant melody—rose to greet her. Warm as a summer sunrise, the song caught her up in its embrace. The tears dried on her face. Her sorrow eased. The song was familiar—she had known it all her life—and yet new and wondrous, something too great to be fully known or understood. It spiraled upward, carrying her soul to reach for the sky.
— Orphan’s Song, Gillian Bronte Adams
Have you read a novel where music and magic became one? Why do you think music is often portrayed as powerful?