Pippin’s song is a key emotional point in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. The short, melancholy tune, sung mostly acapella, is performed by Pippin for an unfeeling Lord Denethor. Denethor gorges on food – tomato bits dribbling down his chin like blood – as his son Faramir embarks on a military suicide mission.
The scene is something that never happens in the books, although the lyrics from the ‘The Edge of Night’ come from another song by Tolkien. The tune was composed and performed by actor Billy Boyd, who has since referred to it as a huge highlight of his career.
Pippin’s Song Lyrics, The Edge of Night
"Home is behind the world ahead And there are many paths to tread Through shadow to the edge of night Until the stars are all alight. Mist and shadow Cloud and shade All shall fade All shall fade"
What Does Pippin’s Song Mean?
Billy Boyd said in the DVD commentary he imagined the song as something Pippin “probably heard his Grandfather sing, you know, from when the hobbits were looking for the Shire”.
The lyrics come from the final verse of a walking song featured in The Fellowship of the Ring. Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin sing it in Chapter three, ‘Three is company’, shortly after their first encounter with a black rider. The hobbits begin humming “as hobbits have a way of doing as they walk along, especially when they are drawing near to home at night”.
The song itself was by Bilbo, who “had made the words, to a tune that was as old as the hills, and taught it to Frodo as they walked in the lanes of the Water-valley and talked about Adventure”. The full lyrics of the last verse are comforting, with mentions of coming home for food and rest.
“Home is behind, the world ahead
And there are many paths to tread
Through shadow to the edge of night
Until the stars are all alight.
Then world behind and home ahead
We’ll wander back to home and bed,
Mist and shadow, Cloud and shade
Away shall fade! Away shall fade!
Fire and lamp, and meat then bread
And then to bed! And then to bed!”
This is in stark contrast to when Pippin sings it in the film. He omits any references to going home, and critically changes “away shall fade” to “all shall fade”.
It’s not just the mist and shadow fading, but everything Pippin holds dear. At this point in the story, the young hobbit questions if he will ever see the Shire, or his beloved friends and family, again. The song of adventure becomes almost a funeral dirge, particularly in the context of Denethor’s appalling treatment of Faramir.
Listen to The Edge of Night song below:
Why Does Pippin Break Down Crying After Singing it?
Pippin’s face crumples on the final word of his song, as he finally gives way to silent tears. This is Pippin’s darkest moment in The Lord of the Rings. He is far away from the Shire, the Fellowship of the Ring is broken. Pippin doesn’t know if Frodo and Sam are even still alive, much less if they will succeed in their mission to destroy the ring. Hardest of all, he’s been parted from his best friend and cousin, Merry.
Then there’s Denethor’s callous indifference to Faramir. This is shocking for the audience too, but a particular loss of innocence for Pippin. Still haunted by Boromir’s sacrifice, Pippin’s first instinct had been to swear fealty to Denethor to honor the former’s memory. Pippin then met Faramir, a man who is not only Boromir’s brother, but strong enough to resist the one ring and let Frodo and Sam go.
Denethor’s cruel treatment of his surviving son – sending him to near-certain death in an attempt to retake Osgiliath – goes against all of Pippin’s values. Loyalty, family, love, and forgiveness – none of these qualities exist in the Steward he has just sworn allegiance to.
Faramir is punished with indifference and likely death for an inevitable military failure. Is Pippin perhaps thinking of the big mistake he just made – stealing and looking into the Palantir – and how he was treated in comparison? Chastised but also immediately taken under Gandalf’s wing for his own protection?
Pippin’s tears at the end of his song are a realization that mighty lords in great halls aren’t always good people. He has pledged his fealty to a horrible man, and he is more alone – and far from home – than ever before.
Why is Pippin’s Song Scene so Moving?
Pippin’s song is effectively heartbreaking due to its use of sound and clever juxtaposition of simultaneous events. The film has just shown Faramir and his company ride through Minas Tirith for Osgiliath. In the streets, women and children threw flowers in acknowledgment of what is clearly a suicide mission. Gandalf begs Faramir not to go, telling him that Denethor does loves him and will “realize it at the end”. The music swells to a dramatic climax and Faramir and his men ride, slow motion, into battle.
Then the music stops, and we have Denethor eating his tomatoes – horribly. Pippin’s beautiful voice, unaccompanied, is set to Faramir and his men cut down by arrows. This abruptly cuts back and forth to Denethor’s foul table manners.
Finally, just as it becomes clear Faramir is about to fall, the song ends. We see Pippin’s tears and even Gandalf looking stunned. The great wizard sits alone in the city streets, momentarily defeated and lost for words.
The audience at this point feels much like Gandalf, shocked and heartbroken. The contrast of Pippin’s beautiful song with the violence of battle, and the cruel, slovenly indifference of Denethor, is a masterpiece of editing.
Why Did the Filmmakers Include Pippin’s Song?
As previously mentioned, Pippin never sings for Denethor in the books. The idea for the song came from co-screenplay writer Philippa Boyens.
One night during early filming, the cast and crew of The Lord of the Rings went out to a karaoke bar. Boyd performed Tom Jones’ Delilah, and Boyens was highly impressed at his singing ability. She remembered an existing part in the script when Denethor asked Pippin if he could sing, and worked ‘The Edge of Night’ into the movie from there.
Boyd recorded the song at Abbey Road Studios. In composing the melody, he was careful to make it as different as possible from the happy drinking song performed by Pippin and Merry earlier in the film, at Edoras. Boyd went on to write and perform ‘The Last Goodbye’, the end credits song for The Hobbit: the Battle of the Five Armies (2014).
Here is a video of Billy Boyd talking about the song at the Fan Expo Vancouver 2014: