Hey Diddle DiddleHey Diddle Diddle
is a nursery rhyme
In a brilliant tour de force, J. R. R. Tolkien invented (by back formation) the imagined original ditty that is recorded in the simplified nursery rhyme. In the Inn at Bree ('At the Sign of the Prancing Pony', The Fellowship of the Ring ch. ix) Frodo jumps on a table and recites 'a ridiculous song' invented by Bilbo. "Here it is in full," said Tolkien. "Only a few words of it are now, as a rule, remembered."
- Hey diddle diddle,
- The cat and the fiddle,
- The cow jumped over the moon,
- The little dog laughed to see such fun,
- `And the dish ran away with the spoon.
There follows the tale, in thirteen ballad-like five-line stanzas, introducing each element in turn: "the Man in the Moon himself," the ostler's "tipsy cat/ that plays a five-stringed fiddle," the little dog, the "hornéd cow
- "as proud as any queen.
- But music turns her head like ale,
- And makes her wave her tufted tail
- And dance upon the green."
and "O! the rows of silver dishes/ and the store of silver spoons."
At the climactic moment
- "With a ping and a pang the fiddle-strings broke!
- the cow jumped over the Moon,
- And the little dog laughed to see such fun
- And the Saturday dish went off at a run
- with the silver Sunday spoon."
Part of Tolkien's brilliance in establishing the epic
mood is his ability to introduce a version of a familiar saying and give the reader a sense of hearing the old proverb afresh, as if spoken for the first time, in the heat of the moment.
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