Nature's Reclamation

A Theme for Nature


NATURE'S RECLAMATION, a theme for Nature, is music that spans events in the movies. Quiet as a moth, determined as angry Ents, it "represents Nature's resistance of encroaching evil" (Doug Adams, CR--FOTR liner notes, page 32).

The official title in the liner notes is 'Nature's Reclamation' but I will continue to use just 'Nature Theme'. Doug Adams maintains that, in Tolkien's world, Nature is a culture alongside of the Elves, Dwarves or Men. He also notes that the simple, pure melody of the Moth music is a 'antidote to the industrial beating of Isengard'. This echoes a comment I made below when I discussed how, even though I might think differently about this music than Howard Shore intended, we aren't that far apart in our basic thinking.

Below are some old thoughts of Michael McLennan's and mine about the name 'Nature' for this music.


Places this theme is heard in FOTR:

  • When the moth comes to Gandalf as he is held prisoner on top of Isengard. A boy soprano backed by a choir sing lyrics from A Moth in Isengard

  • When Gandalf recounts his escape from Isengard, the brassy music shows a momentary hint of Nature's Reclamation.

  • At Galadriel's Mirror, when Galadriel tells Frodo (after he has looked in the mirror) that he (Boromir) will try to take the Ring and it will destroy the rest, also. Frodo offers the Ring to Galadriel.

    This scene doesn't quite seem to fit with the others as an uprising of 'nature' or "Free Peoples" that the rest do. The dialog is:

    Galadriel (V.O):

    It is what will come to pass if you should fail. The Fellowship is breaking . It has already begun. He will try to take the Ring. You know of whom I speak. One by one it will destroy them all.


    If you ask it of me, I will give you the One Ring.

    [He holds out the Ring.]


    You offer it to me freely. I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired this.

    And Doug Adams does not mention the theme being used here in the Annotated Score. But I have listened to the clip carefully, and although it is a variant, I do believe it to be derived from that melody.

  • When Merry and Pippin, hiding under a tree root near Amon Hen, realize that Frodo wants to leave the Fellowship. They run out from the tree root and yell at the Orcs to act as a diversion so Frodo can escape. To me, it sounded like the Nature Theme with some notes 'dropped out'. 
    Here's how, theharmonyguy (on's old forum) described it: "The music that plays as the hobbits converse is mainly just a chord progression with nothing that melodic. But then it hit me - the harmonic progression is the same as that of the Nature theme. You can hum/sing/play the theme right over the chords used there - they're the same as when the theme's actually used in the score. Right at the end of the theme the harmony branches off, which corresponds with the Uruk-hai seeing, then charging, Merry and Pippin."

    Apparently Howard didn't consider this an instance of the Nature theme, however. DA COMMENT below. I think the scene does work well with the concept of how I looked at the music. So, I'm leaving it in this list just to provide fodder for thought.

Places this theme is heard in TTT:

  • A spare version is played on clarinet when Merry and Pippin, resting with their Uruk captors, hear odd noises coming from the Old Forest.

  • When Treebeard, who is carrying Merry and Pippin to the southern edge of Fangorn, realizes that Saruman has devastated the edge of Fangorn Forest. Treebeard roars out and more Ents come out of the Forest to join him in their March to Isengard. A soft chorus begins joined later by a boy soprano singing lyrics from The Ents

  • When things look grim at Helm's Deep and Aragorn urges Théoden to ride out to meet the Uruks who are overtaking the Helm. It is dawn of the 5th day and Gandalf has lived up to his promise to return on this morning. (This music was tracked in from the March of the Ents so the choral/solo voices are the same as the previous entry.)

  • The brassy, bold music used while the Ents destroy Isengard is based on the Nature Theme.

Places this theme is heard in ROTK:

  • A solemn version plays as the Rohirrim prepare to answer the summons of the lit beacons. Éowyn tells Aragorn that he has given them hope and we see Riders preparing to ride under the banner of Rohan. Théoden feels that their doom awaits them at the walls of Minas Tirith. Éomer gives a rallying speech and they ride.

  • A brassy, brave version plays while Théoden is clanking his sword on the Riders' spears as they prepare for battle. The melody is backed by a militaristic beat.

  • When the moth appears at the Black Gates followed by the Eagles who then take on the Winged Nazgûl. A boy soprano sings lyrics from lyrics from The Eagles.

Doug Adams comment regarding the scene with Merry and Pippin near Amon Hen:

From his blog (Oct. 25, 2010)

This was actually one of the discussions I had with Howard while I was researching FOTR. The chord progressions are similar, though not identical. The Nature theme (Shore's title) is:

A min - F Maj - A min - F Maj - F# dim - F# min - F# Maj - B min - E min - C Maj

... while the Parth Galen sequence is:

A min - F Maj - A min - F# dim - F# min - F# Maj - B min - G Maj - A min

Close, but not precisely the same, as you can see. I asked if the similarity was purposeful, but HS insisted it was simply meant to be part of a consistent harmonic language, and was *not* a quote of the Nature theme. Since it remained a question mark in my own mind, I decided that the final word should go to the creator.

So while this moment *could* be read as a truncated/varied setting of the Nature harmonies, it is not listed as such in the book, in order to reflect HS' intentions.


Magpie comment regarding the title of 'Nature':

I wasn't entirely comfortable with declaring Nature a culture, especially in the sense that it plays a part in events. I've never seen Nature in these books as a sort of Gaia spirit.

My original name for this theme was "Hope (and then 'Help') Unlooked For." (passages from the book using this sort of phrase can be found immediately following this comment) The scenes using this melody involve timely uprisings or arrivals of members of the Free Peoples of Middle-earth against overwhelming instances or forces of the Shadow. Low hope was a factor in these cases. (How can Gandalf possibly get off Orthanc - who knows he's there? What can Merry and Pippin do against a horde of Uruk-hai? Fangorn, himself, says the Ents are probably marching to their doom. And the hold out of Helm's Deep can not endure against the onslaught of Saruman's army.) To my eyes, the major concept in the scenes using Nature's Reclamation represents a sense of help arriving from unlikely places at unlooked for times with, perhaps, a nudge from a guiding hand.

But I've never envisioned Nature as being that guiding hand. To me, this story is one of good vs. evil... free people vs the shadow. There is certainly a sense that free people are closely attuned to and highly revere nature. I think, if anything, the free people are defenders of nature. I don't think nature itself is an active agent or player in the story. To me, a tree is nature. The trees are defended by the members of the free people, The Ents and the partially sentient Huorns.

When I set out to reconcile my early attempts to categorize and describe this music with more current, official comments, I wrote this:

...if I take what I see as a battle of the Free Peoples against the Shadow (or more simply Good vs. Evil) and 'reclassify' it as a battle of Nature vs. Industry (terms I've heard used by various members of the cast and crew of the films)... then HS and I are saying the same thing, just using different terms.

Fine points like this are useful in helping us examine our own understanding and interpretation of the books. But they don't have to serve as points of contention. I ended my statement above with, "So I happily acquiesce to Howard."


Quotes from the book using the phrase, 'Hope Unlooked For':

Éomer's remark to Gandalf after Gandalf arrives at Helm's Deep bringing reinforcements. (In the book it's Erkenbrand, not Éomer, that comes with Gandalf to HD.)

'The dark night has passed, and day has come again. But the day has brought strange tidings.' [Éomer] turned and gazed in wonder, first at the wood and then at Gandalf. 'Once more you come in the hour of need, unlooked-for,' he said.

'Unlooked-for?' said Gandalf. 'I said that I would return and meet you here.'


TTT, Book 3, Chapter VII, Helm's Deep


Frodo asks Faramir how things fare in Minas Tirith...

'What hope have you for that city in your long war?' 'What hope have we?' said Faramir. 'It is long since we had any hope. The sword of Elendil, if it returns indeed, may rekindle it, but I do not think that it will do more than put off the evil day, unless other help unlooked-for comes, from Elves or Men.'

TTT, Book 4, Chapter V, The Window on the West


The black ships from the south do not hold Corsairs, they carry Aragorn and an army of Free People. When Éomer meets Aragorn on the Pelennor Fields he says,

'...twice blessed is help unlooked for, and never was a meeting of friends more joyful.'

ROTK, Book 5, Chapter VI, The Battle of the Pelennor Fields

Michael on the Nature Theme (from his TTT analysis part 6): (written before the releases of the Complete Recordings)

The Nature, or Reclamation of Nature, Theme

Firstly in terms of linking the film’s (ROTK) multiple climax scenes, it was very effective. It suggested that Théoden's ride was a parallel resistance to the ‘Last March of the Ents’. The Nature theme would again appear in ‘Stone Breaks, Ground Shakes’, and using the same theme gave the scenes a continuity they would not otherwise have had.

The reader may well ask though – even if it serves a valuable role in ensuring some continuity for the audience, what other function does it serve here to underscore the decision of Théoden to ‘ride out’? Recently Paul Tonks reported that Shore considered this music a motif for ‘Nature’, or, interestingly enough, the ‘Reclamation of Nature’. I think this theme has more to do with the latter than the former. In all scenes where it appears, there is something of a choice for one of the main characters. That choice is to either allow the will of evil to continue, or to stand in the way of evil. To allow the skewed morality of a world dictated by ‘selection’ – where the strongest wills dominate the weakest – or to support a more natural order where the Free Peoples live in balance. I think the latter choice is what is meant by “reclamation of nature”. It is not a mere physical conflict about what is Nature and what is Industry. It is a spiritual conflict about what is natural and worth fighting for, and what is not. What is part of the theme of Illuvatar, and what is part of Melkor’s distortion of that theme?

Merry and Pippin face this choice at Amon Hen when they can choose to distract the Uruks from pursuing Frodo. What they are really doing in that scene is deciding whether they really are too small to be of much use to the Free Peoples against Sauron. The words of Galadriel – ‘even the smallest person can change the course of the future’ – are what the two young hobbits choose to believe. The idea that the small must bow to the large is not natural in Tolkien’s world, but a common assumption among those who judge the measure of a man by ‘the reach of his arm’ (quoting Éomer). The hobbits are also standing up for principles that are right and part of Tolkien’s natural – they place the value of their own lives below that of their friend. And for this they are rewarded. Indeed, the avalanche begun by the ‘two small stones’ choosing to help Frodo at Amon Hen not only snowballs into Treebeard’s decision, it leads them to an exulted position where Kings bow before them, a thing few people of greater stature have accomplished in far longer lives.

Treebeard’s decision to aid Nature is far more obvious because he seems to be Nature Incarnate, the Burnham Wood come to life. So he leads a bunch of trees against Isengard and washes away the industrial waste by unleashing a dammed river. This is Tolkien the environmentalist, or so we are meant to believe. But there is something else going on here. Treebeard has to come to a serious decision about whether he is ‘part of this world’. He agrees intellectually that ‘war affects us all’, yet he is not prepared to make hasty decisions about righting the wrongs of the world. When he leads the March of the Ents, he is signalling that righting the wrongs caused by Saruman is worth more to him than his own life. He is also reclaiming his majestic nature, realising again, as Gandalf predicted, that he is strong indeed, and the servant of no wizard.

Thirdly, there is Théoden. In this scene he is prepared to admit defeat to Saruman’s machine of war. This defeat will mean the destruction of the Rohirrim, of their way of life, of the aid they could provide to Gondor in time of need, of their admirable treatment of horses, etc. In the place of the Rohirrim, who coexisted with the world around them, would rise an order based on the domination of beings and an endless atavism for more conquest. In Tolkien’s universe then, it is not a natural thing for Théoden to choose surrender here. Though it may cost his life, he has a duty to fight on – not for ‘death and glory’, but ‘for (his) people’. Théoden has already faced this choice once in the trilogy by throwing off the debilitating ministrations of Grima and Saruman. His character arc, which began there, has built to the choice he must make in this scene. For his ‘exorcism’ at Gandalf’s hands was equivalent to a Christian salvation – the spirit and body were redeemed, but the mind was not. Almost from the moment of his release, he began to shrink from the appropriate response – which was to resist Saruman. Even though it is in the nature of men to resist oppression, Théoden's instinct in the film to this point has been to shrink from the hand that strikes. Like Treebeard, he would rather weather the storm from a safe vantage point. Slowly does he realise, like Treebeard, that there is no weathering of this storm. What then “can men do against such reckless hate”? The natural thing. Resist it. “Ride out and meet it head on.” Théoden finally makes the choice to reclaim what is natural that Merry and Pippin and Treebeard have already made, and Shore’s choice of the Nature theme for this scene is far from anachronistic, but positively inspired.

Finally, on the music…

The duality of wills in Tolkien’s universe as captured in Shore’s music could not be more apparent. The theme for the Reclamation of Nature is for when the Free Peoples reclaim their true nature, and the Nature of the world as it ought to be. Could there be any greater contrast to the skewed 5/4 rhythms of the Isengard theme? The Nature theme can be both beautiful (‘Last March of the Ents’) and terrible (‘Stone Breaks, Ground Shakes’), respectively like the thing that the theme represents, and the battle for that thing. Note that the above rationale has focused on three particular instances of the theme’s usage. I believe the above argument can be easily applied to the appearance of the Moth in both FOTR and ROTK, similarly to its uses in association with the Rohirrim in ROTK (surely it is a natural thing in Tolkien that men should not ‘break all bonds of fellowship’, but come to each other’s aid), and to its appearance in the cue ‘Dinner Debate’ in TTT:EE.

And if you skipped all that mumbo jumbo, I don’t blame you. My point was that the music fit the scene very well. Nature, and the reclamation of nature, could as easily describe natural instincts and precepts as the flora and fauna we normally associate with the term. If it is ‘a natural thing’ that a humble people should not cow before their enemies but bear themselves with dignity in the fight for what right, then it is no less appropriate that the Nature theme appear in this scene than in the ‘Last March of the Ents’.