Book Meme 2012: Theme Song

Seeing as The Egotist’s Club and Jubilare have settled on a variety of choices for this topic, I shall take the same liberty. After all, it’s not an easy task. It’s true I do often hear some kind of soundtrack when I’m reading a book, but it’s usually one my mind makes up on the spot. And when listening to songs I often see in my mind’s eye a story to fit it. But finding a single song that encapsulates the heart of an entire existing story or character becomes surprisingly difficult.

Here are a few I was able to come up with.

1. Mannheim Steamroller’s “Red Wine” has always struck me as an extraordinarily dignified song that nonetheless exudes warmth and beauty. It’s reminiscent of “Greensleeves” in that regard; in ¾ time, its harpsichord melody gives it the stateliness of a waltz. But the emotional cries of the flute give it a quality that is also earthy and natural. This isn’t a song for a cathedral of stone, but a cathedral of trees, which we visit in our dreams.

And so it is that I match “Red Wine” with George MacDonald’s Phantastes. This book is almost beyond description; to know what it feels like, you simply must read it yourself. In it, a young man named Anodos finds himself transported to the Fairy World, perhaps through dream or perhaps through magic. He travels through a vast and bewildering forest filled with various fairies, trolls, knights, princesses, and other creatures, some of which embody holiness, and others which embody various evils.

It’s a dreamlike story, one you can imagine watching through the flickering flames in a campfire. There is a stateliness to it; MacDonald’s Victorian prose is dignified and eloquent, his themes involve the journey of man to become holy, and the climax takes place in what might well be called a woodland cathedral. Yet it is full of emotional and spiritual yearnings. Joy, terror, and melancholy all meet in this story, and while Mannheim Steamroller’s “Red Wine” may not have much terror to it, I hear in it much of the other two.

2. In researching this topic, I came across another interesting match. One of the most soulful, heartwrenching songs I have heard in recent years has been “The Hill” by Marketa Irglova, from the movie Once. The song is directed to her absent husband, whom she desperately wants to please but hasn’t apparently been able to. Their marriage is troubled, and they have temporarily separated, but in one powerful scene, Marketa’s character (called only The Girl) walks home at night singing this song to herself, pouring her heart out to the dark streets and expressing all her sorrow, her longing for love, and her accusations: namely, that he never seems to acknowledge her feelings, her struggles, or her thoughts.

And this reminded me of Ness in The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff. There are some key differences: The Girl clearly loves her husband and desires his affection, whereas Ness hasn’t yet found herself able to love Aquila for most of the book. Yet Ness has some of the same accusations against Aquila that The Girl has against her husband. Aquila isn’t cruel, not intentionally; he just doesn’t spare hardly any thoughts for Ness’ own struggles and emotions until it’s too late, and when he does realize them he doesn’t know what to do, so he does nothing. I could imagine Ness singing this song, especially later in the book when she and Aquila do become a little closer together, but still don’t quite understand each other and still hurt each other emotionally. And, gladly, both women find reconciliation and love by the end.

3. When I listened to Celtic Woman’s cover of Nightwish’s “Walking in the Air” recently, I suddenly remembered one of my favorite children’s books. Moonhorse by Mary Pope Osborne is an absolutely magical poem with gentle, cool illustrations about a girl who is taken on a beautiful, cosmic journey by a flying horse…a moonhorse. Technically, she’s riding in the air instead of walking, but the song’s soaring poetry and mysticism fits well a journey that takes the girl and her Pegasus past living constellations, across the hunting paths of sky wolves, to where they lasso the moon and pull it across the sky.

We’re walking in the air
We’re dancing in the midnight sky
And everyone who sees us greets us as we fly.

And indeed, as they fly gracefully past planets, stars, and comets, all the creatures of space greet them as they go.

Lastly, David “Fathead” Newman’s “The Thirteenth Floor” is a song I am waiting to find the story for. It’s filled with great jazz flute riffs, jingling cymbal beats and drum rhythms, and it makes me think of an acrobatic duel in a city alley involving hip urban elves. That mix of breathy flutes and cool jazz is just infectious! But I don’t know of any existing book that it fits, so I’ll probably have to write that one myself.

Unfortunately this YouTube video is only part of the song. The full song, which can be found on iTunes under David Newman’s CD “Bigger & Better,” includes a short gap of silence after the YouTube video ends, and then it builds slowly to an exciting, action-packed conclusion.


  1. Wow, that’s a beautiful song by Mannheim Steamroller. I only have their Christmas albums and Fresh Aire 7. I need to get some more of their other, older albums. Red Wine sounds like the stuff on their “Christmas” album, which is really my favorite of their holiday albums. And it is indeed a good match for Phantastes; the harpsichord and Greensleeves-esque tune give it a very medieval feel to me.

    Hey, I remember that jazz elves song. You sent it to me a long time ago. The closest I have come to finding a story about hip urban elves is the Bordertown series, though I think you could write better hip urban elves.

    Actually, “Walking in the Air” is a song from the 1982 short animated film The Snowman, which in turn was based on a wordless children’s book from 1978. I think you would like it. I grew up watching the movie at Christmas. It’s the story of a boy who makes a snowman, and it comes to life and flies him to the North Pole. Kind of like Frosty, but way better, in my opinion. And the art is gorgeous–it looks just like an illustration charmed to life. Anyway, here is the clip with the song. I’m glad you found another story for the song to go with. I have the Celtic Women version on my iPod, as well as two piano versions. I really like George Winston’s adaptation–he plays new age piano.

    1. “Red Wine” is from the CD Fresh Aire II; I grew up listening to Fresh Aires II, III, and IV, and I love them all. Beautifully expressive music; sometimes gentle, like a whisper, sometimes stately, and sometimes spine-tinglingly energetic (when they break out the synthesizer, usually, although they also have the distinction of being able to use synthesizers subtly and tenderly). I tried a couple of their other songs, but couldn’t find books to match them.

      You’re right, I did send it to you! Eventually I’ll write a story for it, probably a short one or a novella, but my ambition is to have the story become an animated movie of some kind, with the alley-way action sequence choreographed to the song.

      Ah, thanks for reminding me! I saw “The Snowman” as a kid and do remember being very affected by it, but I haven’t seen it since. It seems someone uploaded the whole thing onto YouTube also — I’ll have to check that out. The art is really beautiful; I love how it captures the acceleration and exhilaration of flying, but in a dreamlike state.

  2. “But I don’t know of any existing book that it fits, so I’ll probably have to write that one myself.” Yes indeed, my friend. You must!

    These are absolutely beautiful pieces of music. The first one, I think, is my favorite, and the fact that you matched it with Mr. MacDonald made me grin. 🙂

  3. These are all great matches!
    “The Thirteenth Floor” makes me think of a detective or spy novel. It sounds fun and should be a story with men in tailored suits, tough, brilliant women, and a car chase or two.

    1. Definitely something noirish, or very early pre-noir, like ’20s or ’30s “The Sting”-style, but urban fantasy. Tailored suits, tough, streetwise broads, and fancy car chases should be easy to come by. And jazz. Very influenced by “Lackadaisy,” too. (I forget, do you read that webcomic?)

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