'The Hanging Tree' (and other songs from books)

Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay, the third instalment of The Hunger Games series, was a big disappointment. To me at least. There was a great story hidden somewhere in there, but it was rushed, it was bleak and (unlike the first two books which I couldn't put down) trying to finish it was more of a chore than a pleasure. For this reason, I was curious to see what the film-makers would do with it. Would an adaptation make sense of all those scenes I found it hard to picture? Would it be able to tell a story of war and its consequences that didn't make me want to top myself? Well probably not, as I doubt they'll change the ending. Also for most of these answers we'll have to wait, as they've split the story into two films. Could it have been done in one? Probably. Did it work as two? Surprisingly yes. I really enjoyed the film, not least because the one thing I was certain they would cut - Katniss singing The Hanging Tree - was actually included.

Songs in books are a strange thing. as you never get the full picture. However interesting the lyrics or how beautifully the music is described, it's difficult to imagine a tune. That's why it's great when an adaptation actually attempts to puts a melody to familiar words. Sometimes it falls flat, but usually hearing anything at all is better than reading lines and lines of poetry (*coughs* Lord of the Rings*cough*).  Below are some of the most memorable 'songs from books' as they appear on film.

The Hanging Tree 
MockingJay - Suzanne Collins

In Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins tells us that 'The Hanging Tree' is meant to be a old Panem Rebel song. Katniss's father would sing it around the house, although it upset her mother to hear him. The lyrics tell the story of a condemned man who sings to his love to come join him in the tree where he was hanged. Although the song might seem like the words of a desperate lover, its real message is of a revolutionary who urges others to follow him no matter the cost. The song has been set to music by the Lumineers and they've done a great job - haunting and catchy. 

Are you, are you
Coming to the tree
Where they strung up a man they say murdered three.
Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.
Are you, are you
Coming to the tree
Where the dead man called out for his love to flee.
Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.
Are you, are you
Coming to the tree
Where I told you to run, so we’d both be free.
Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.
Are you, are you
Coming to the tree
Wear a necklace of rope, side by side with me.
Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.

The Rains of Castamere
A Song of Ice and Fire - George R.R. Martin

'The Rains of Castamere'  - also known as the Lannister song - is another dark tale, telling the story of the second richest family in Westeros, the Rains, who dared to get above themselves and were slaughtered, one and all, by the richest family, the Lannisters. The song is often used in a threatening way and it tells us pretty much what the Lannisters are all about. It has been used to great effect in the show (I can think of one particular instance in series three...) and above we hear it sung by Bron (also known as Jerome of 'Robson and Jerome' fame).

And who are you, the proud lord said,
that I must bow so low?
Only a cat of a different coat,
that's all the truth I know.
In a coat of gold or a coat of red,
a lion still has claws,
And mine are long and sharp, my lord,
as long and sharp as yours.
And so he spoke, and so he spoke,
that lord of Castamere,
But now the rains weep o'er his hall,
with no one there to hear.
Yes now the rains weep o'er his hall,
and not a soul to hear.

Bella's Lullaby

Twilight - Stephanie Meyer

In the first Twilight novel, Edward composes this piece of music for Bella, revealing that he is oh-so musical and talented as well as being practically perfect in every other way. When they came to make the film the lullaby was one of the things that they had to get right - a lot of people thought Yiruma's  'River Flows in You' should be the chosen tune, but in the end Carter Burwell composed this melody, which turned out to be a perfect fit. 

The Hogwarts School Song 

Harry Potter - J.K Rowling

There is one mention of the Hogwarts school song over the course of the books, after Harry's sorting. Did the practice die out, or did J.K Rowling think the song a little eccentric, even for a school run by Dumbledore? I love it, and I'm glad they winnowed it in somewhere - although this scene, in The Goblet of Fire was missing from the final cut of the film. In the book Dumbledore asks everyone to pick their own tune, but that might have been a bit much on the ears, so hear we've got a jolly little melody and everyone giving it their all. Love it.

Hogwarts Hogwarts Hoggy Warty Hogwarts
Teach us something please-
whether we be old and bald

or young with scabby knees-

Our heads could do with filling

with some interesting stuff

for now they're bare and full

of air dead flies and bits of fluff

So teach us things worth knowing

bring back what we forgot

just do your best we'll do the rest

and learn until our brains all rot.

Cackle's Academy School Song
The Worst Witch - Jill Murphy

Bring back any memories? Jill Murphy's children's series about a hapless trainee witch was turned into a CITV show back in the nineties, and the first verse of the Cackle's school song became its theme. It's definitely got the flavour of a school song, very choral but also catchy. My childhood right there.  

Onwards ever striving onwards
Proudly on our brooms we fly
Straight and true above the treetops
Shadows on the moonlit sky
Ne'er a day will pass before us
When we have not tried our best
Kept our cauldrons bubbling nicely
Cast our spells and charms with zest.

That's What Bilbo Baggins Hates
and Far over the Misty Mountains
The Hobbit - J.R.R Tolkien

There are a lot of songs in Tolkien's books and maybe the film was too ambitious to cram two into this first scene with the dwarves, but the songs themselves work well. Misty Mountains creates a great atmosphere - if it is missing the instruments described in the book - and the plate song is fun. Still, neither beat Billy Boyd singing 'All Shall fade' in Return of the King - a song adapted from the final verse of Tolkien's 'The Walking Song'. 

Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread
Through shadows 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 twilight, cloud and shade,
Away shall fade! Away shall fade!
Fire and lamp and meat and bread,
And then to bed! And then to bed!

I'd' a Pluck a Fair Rose for my Love
Ross Poldark - Winston Graham

In Winston Graham's first Poldark novel, our hero causes scandal among his own class by marrying his kitchen maid, Demelza. Her first real intro into society is Christmas at Trenwith, his cousin's estate, and although Demelza can't play an instrument she impresses the assembled company with a sung rendition of an old Cornish folk song. In the book she's a bit tipsy by this point (and goes on to sing a more risqué song afterwards) but the TV series went with a more serious feel. Eleanor Tomlinson has a really pretty voice and the reactions from the other guests - especially Ross - makes this scene really touching.

I'd a pluck a fair rose for my love
I'd a pluck a red rose blowin'
Love's in my heart, i'm tryin' so to prove
What your heart's knowin'

I'd a pluck a finger on a thorn
I'd a pluck a finger bleedin'
Red is my heart, wounded and forlorn
And your heart needin'

I'd a hold a finger to my tongue
I'd a hold a finger waitin'
My heart is sore, until it joins in song
With your heart matin'


  1. We shall have to get together and discuss Mockingjay because I loved it and found myself welling up in The Hanging Tree part.xx

    1. We should, feels like I haven't seen you in a while. I really liked it too! Though Gen reckons they made Coin too likeable - we will have to talk it over! xx


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