In this bi-monthly column, I’ll be writing about some of my favorite love songs from the year 2000 to now.
Lord Huron – “She Lit a Fire”
From: Lonesome Dreams (2012)
By the time Beren, son of Barahir, laid eyes on Lúthien Tinúviel for the first time, he had seen some shit.
Along with his father, cousins and about a dozen comrades, he survived Dagor Bragollach, the Battle of Sudden Flame, which marked the end of the Siege of Angband and the destruction of his people’s lands. As is recounted in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, that battle led to Beren and his fellows becoming hunted outlaws. As a result of a betrayal (caused by the sorcery of Sauron), Beren’s father and the company entire were slaughtered by orcs. Filled with grief, Beren hunted down the orcs, retrieved his family ring and spent the next four years wandering and fighting the servants of Morgoth alone.
Eventually he fled his homeland, passed through the high regions of Gorgoroth and the wilderness of Dungortheb, a region where “horror and madness walked.” And all this struggle was just the prologue to Beren’s most famous acts. Because when he passed into the hidden realm of Doriath, he came upon Lúthien, daughter of Thingol and Melian “as she danced upon the unfading grass…”
But she vanished from his sight; and he became dumb, as one that is bound under a spell, and he strayed long in the woods, wild and wary as a beast, seeking for her. In his heart he called her Tinúviel, that signifies Nightingale, Daughter of Twilight, in the Grey-elven tongue, for he knew no other name for her.
And that’s how the greatest love story in all of Tolkien’s Middle-earth began.
There’s a theory in postmodern literary criticism that basically puts forth the idea that an author’s intent is irrelevant to understanding their work. Instead, it’s all about the reader’s engagement with the text. So, does that mean that when I hear Lord Huron’s “She Lit a Fire” as essentially a modern version of Tolkien’s “The Lay of Leithian,” I’m not just letting my Tolkien obsession run away with me? That might be giving my bullshit too much credit, but the connections are right fucking there:
When last I saw her she was dancing all alone
Perhaps my chance was then, I’ll never know
I’ll search the world until there’s no place left to go
And if she leaves it, I will follow…
Read Beren and Lúthien’s chapter in The Silmarillion and you’ll find these exact images and sentiments, which is just one reason I find the bridge to be the loveliest part of the song. It also reminds me of someone – so clearly I can see her now. Some stories transcend time and medium
One of the highlights from the debut full-length album from Lord Huron (fronted by Ben Schneider), “She Lit a Fire” is propelled by a chugging acoustic guitar riff and some otherworldly vocal harmonizing. The whole thing is designed to give you a sense of constantly moving through big spaces under open skies – like the narrator can’t help but be driven on in pursuit of their disappeared love.
There’s a better than even chance at some point in your life, you’ve seen someone – maybe at a bar, the office, or at a concert – and felt instantly enchanted by them. It’s an electrifying feeling, like you can’t stop looking at them, even if you wanted to. But perhaps you check your phone, or say something to your friend, and when you look back, they’re gone. “She Lit a Fire” asks what if you tried to find them instead of just going about your day? It’s the stuff of a thousand romantic comedies, but that doesn’t make the situation any less relatable.
Lyrically, the song taps into the familiar trope of a going to whatever length necessary to find the person you love (The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” and Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” are just a few examples that come to mind). While these songs are romantic in an abstract, poetic sense, they are absolutely horrendous as a guide to love in the real world. When you apply even the slightest scrutiny to them, these songs all but celebrate obsession and stalking. This is succinctly described in Megan Garber’s November 2016 The Atlantic article, “How Rom-Coms Undermine Women,” where she discusses the “Dobler-Dahmer theory” put forth in CBS’ How I Met Your Mother: “If the person on the receiving end of the gesture is romantically interested in the gesturer, then—à la Lloyd Dobler, Heartsick Hero—it’s charming. If not, the gesture will come off as creepy and stalkery and threatening and awful (in the manner of Jeffrey Dahmer, the cannibalistic serial killer).”
Returning to the idea of author intent, I’m certain Schnieder didn’t intended anything creepy with “She Lit a Fire,” and I’m still able to connect to the dedicated romantic sentiment the song expresses. If you’ve ever really fallen in love with someone, you understand how it feels to know in your bones there is nothing you wouldn’t do for that person. And when regular metaphors fail to do justice to that feeling, these kinds of grand examples allow us to tap into the power of story to convey the limitlessness of our adoration. But it’s not difficult to see how it can be taken in an unintended way.
“She Lit a Fire” is one of my favorite love songs from the past decade, but for the love of god, be aware of what it could connote and don’t take it literally. Unless you’re wandering through the wood and come across the most beautiful elf maiden in history – people create entire worlds around that shit.
You may remember me from such films as: A Case of You (2013) and A Walk in the Woods (2015).