Of all the nerd debates, perhaps none is so cherished as the sacred tradition of the “book vs. movie” debate. What scenes were left out? What memorable quotes were altered? How well do the actors resemble the characters we’d pictured in our minds?
Anyone who’s engaged in such a debate knows, it can get bloody—especially when a die-hard fan of the books goes head-to-head with a movie fan who’s never read them.
But amidst the carnage, there’s one truth we can all agree on: Only a truly masterful composer can breathe life into the fantasy worlds we love, capturing their beauty, tragedy, and badassery.
Today, I want to showcase the very best of fantasy-inspired music. These are the tracks I come back to again and again, to relax at the end of a long day or find inspiration when writer’s block kicks in.
Although these are my personal favorites, they’re certainly not the only examples of awesome fantasy music out there. If you like my list, I recommend checking out Radio Rivendell, a commercial-free online radio playing fantasy music ’round the clock. It’s perfect if you need some background music while you’re plowing through homework.
Top 15 Fantasy Music Tracks
(in no particular order)
Album: Game of Thrones – Music From The HBO Series
Composer: Ramin Djawadi
Kailey’s Note: This theme gives me shivers every goddamn time. It is eerily subtle and entrancing, without question the perfect accompaniment for the epic finale of “Game of Thrones” Season 1. The rising crescendo really drives home the massive scale of the world George R. R. Martin created. Every aspiring fantasy author hopes to write a novel worthy of this music. I know I do.
Album: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Original Game Soundtrack
Composer: Jeremy Soule
Kailey’s Note: FUS RO DAH!!!
Album: Into the Green
Erdenstern is a German band that composes and records music for roleplaying games, and they’ve also put out an amazing set of seven CDs, each centered on a different colored theme. The next time you need inspiration music to plan your D&D campaign, look no further than Erdenstern. “Into the Green” was their first album, released in 2005, and features music themed around forests, hills, marshlands, and other common fantasy settings. Their other CDs explore deserts, oceans, tundras, caves—they even have one CD inspired by a steampunk universe!
Unfortunately, I can’t link to their music, because the YouTube videos keep getting taken down, but take a few minutes to look these guys up on iTunes. You won’t regret it.
4. “The Breaking of the Fellowship”
Album: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Composer: Howard Shore
5. “Yearning for the Peace”
Album: Hero – Music from the Original Soundtrack
Composer: Tan Dun
6. “Evacuating London”
Album: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Composer: Harry Gregson-Williams
7. “Dumbledore’s Farewell”
Album: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Composer: Nicholas Hooper
8. “He’s a Pirate”
Album: Pirates of the Caribbean – Original Soundtrack
Composer: Klaus Badelt
8. “On Top of the World”
Album: Into the Gold
Kailey’s Note: When I hear this track, I see the Himalayan mountains beneath a cold, hard sky—the Roof of the World. One of the major settings of my novel is inspired by the Himalayan mountains and Tibetan culture, so I always come back to this Erdenstern masterpiece when I need some inspiration.
9. “Requiem for a Tower”
Album: Corner Stone Cues Presents: Requiem for a Tower
Artist: Corner Stone Cues
10. “One Summer’s Day”
Album: Hisaishi Meets Miyazaki Films
Artist: Joe Hisaishi
Kailey’s Note: So beautiful it hurts…
11. “The Cottage of Lost Play”
Lyrics: J.R.R. Tolkien
Music: Colin Rudd
Kailey’s Note: Colin Rudd is a musician and admirer of J.R.R. Tolkien who has put several of Tolkien’s poems and songs to music. You can find all his works on YouTube, but this one is my favorite. Just listen to the words: “The air was neither night nor day, an ever-eve of gloaming light, when first there glimmered into sight the little house of play. New-built it was yet very old, white and thatched with straws of gold, and pierced with peeping lattices that looked toward the sea.” It’s a song that a wandering bard might sing by the fire on an early summer’s night…
12. “Ezio’s Family”
Album: Assassin’s Creed 2 – Original Game Soundtrack
Composer: Jesper Kyd
13. “Misty Mountains”
Album: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Artists: The Dwarf Cast & Richard Armitage
Kailey’s Note: Brilliant. Just…brilliant. When I heard there would be a new “Hobbit” movie, my first thought was for the songs. I trusted Howard Shore with the instrumentals, but what about the songs? What about “Chip the glasses, crack the plates” and “Fifteen birds in five fir trees?” I grew up with the animated Rankin/Bass version of “The Hobbit,” and its songs were magical to me. What if Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” didn’t do them justice? Then I heard this, and I knew all was well.
14. “Summoner’s Call”
Album: League of Legends Soundtrack
15. “The Blood of Cu Chulainn”
Album: A Celtic Romance
Composer: Jeff Danna & Mychael Danna
Kailey’s Note: All right, technically this isn’t fantasy, but it sure as heck sounds like it. For me, Celtic music always feels a little fantastical, and this song in particular conjures up the image of a moss-covered castle somewhere in Northern Ireland, with the king’s banner flying high in the wind.