Tolkien Gateway

The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late

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The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late is the imagined original ditty that is dericed to 'our time' in the simplified nursery rhyme "Hey Diddle Diddle". The supposedly original was invented (by back formation) by J.R.R. Tolkien. The title of this version is given in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.

In the Inn at Bree ("At the Sign of the Prancing Pony", The Fellowship of the Ring Chapter 9) 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."

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."

Note that the cow is able to jump over the Moon with ease because the Man in the Moon has temporarily brought it down to Earth.

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.

A musical version of this poem was recorded by the Tolkien Ensemble on their CD A Night in Rivendell.