Nursery rhyme "Hey Diddle Diddle" and the poem recited by Frodo at the Inn in Bree (before meeting Strider) share the "cow jumped over the Moon" idea. I think they also both had a fiddle as well, as a rhyme to diddle.

Is that a coincidence (e.g. may be both hail from a famous expression/story), or did Tolkien expand on some sort of intentional connection between them? (the latter is not improbable, as LOTR was meant to be the missing legends of Old England, whereas Hey Diddle Diddle is English folklore).

3 Answers 3


The poem Frodo recites is clearly meant (in the frame of reference in which the Arda mythology is real) to be the poem from which the modern "Hey Diddle Diddle" is derived. Immediately before the text of the poem are the words:

Here it is in full. Only a few words of it are now, as a rule, remembered.

Moreover, the whole of the modern poem can be found almost verbatim within the LotR poem:


So the cat on his fiddle played hey-diddle-diddle


[T]he 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.

  • 4
    +1. This is the same frame of reference in which golf is derived from Golfimbul, for example. Mar 9, 2013 at 20:10
  • 3
    +1 and this is typical Tolkien at his most playful; trying to devise a framework and history in which a bit of modern nonsense doggerel may actually have sense and meaning!
    – user8719
    Mar 10, 2013 at 0:37

The earliest version of this rhyme is given in History of Middle-earth 6, in the chapter entitled "Arrival at Bree", and there it's noted that it was originally published in 1923 in Yorkshire Poetry Volume II no 19. The original title that Tolkien gave it is worth quoting:



A Nursery Rhyme Undone and its Scandalous Secret Unlocked

This version is different to that published in Fellowship of the Ring, but there is a clear lineage with several points of similarity and even identical wording:

  • It takes place in an inn "beneath an old grey hill".
  • The ostler and his cat appear in it.
  • As do the dog who likes jokes and the cow who gets drunk on music.
  • The spoon is specifically identified as being a "Sunday spoon".
  • The Man in the Moon gets quite drunk indeed.
  • Etc.

Christopher Tolkien mentions two subsequent versions which move towards the final form, with this being virtually attained by way of amendments to the second, although he does not give these intermediate texts.

It's therefore quite clear (and the title alone gives that away) that it was Tolkien's explicit intention when he originally wrote the rhyme that it should serve as a "background story" or "original version" for the more familiar nursery rhyme of today. Subsequent revision and reuse then saw it make it's appearance in Lord of the Rings.


I think Tolkien makes us feel at home in this strange land of Middle-earth by showing us a rhyme that we all know. It also makes the story seem more authentic to state it is the version we know that is newer.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.