A week ago, I wrapped up my annual reading of J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings."

I love those books. I've loved them ever since I first read them in elementary school. Each time, the world of Middle Earth becomes more vivid than before.

Well, this year my "LOTR" fix was highlighted by a couple of events.

First off, artist Alan Lee — a world-renowned fantasy and "Lord of the Rings" artist, who was recruited by director Peter Jackson to help design sets and costumes for the "Rings" movie trilogy — made an in-store presentation at Borders two weeks ago.

I went to hear him talk about his craft and had him sign his newly published "Lord of the Rings Sketchbook." (Say it loud — I'm a nerd).

The second event was getting the new Suzanne Ciani CD, "Silver Ship."

Ciani is one of my favorite contemporary instrumentalists. She is known for her early electronic-synthesizer works, as well as her acoustic-piano albums — "Pianissimo," "Pianissimo II" and "Pianissimo III."

When I put "Silver Ship" into my CD player, I knew it could be a great soundtrack to my "LOTR" reading.

I listen to a lot of music when I read, and I have a few CDs I spin when I open any Tolkien book: George Winston's "Autumn," David Lanz's "Sacred Road," Tingstad & Rumbel's "Pastorale" and, of course, Howard Shore's "Lord of the Rings" film-trilogy soundtracks.

I wasn't looking for any new "Rings" music, but I have always loved Ciani's work. And I was looking forward to hearing what she was doing these days.

Although her album was inspired by her trips to see her extended family in Italy, the music seemed perfect for Middle Earth. The opening dreamy work "For Lise" sets the tone with the flowing piano and orchestral highlights. It reminded me of a lazy sunny afternoon in Hobbiton.

The next work, "Wine Dark Sea," is more exotic sounding, with minor chords and notes that bring out the mystery of elfin culture.

The reverent lament of "Stromboli" (which is not about the "Pinocchio" puppeteer) contains a longing for simpler times. I envisioned this as Sam Gamgee's theme, as he slowly watches his master, Frodo Baggins, stumble toward corruption while possessing the One Ring.

"Eclipse," with its majestic waltz, fits in with the romance of future King Aragorn and his betrothed elf princess, Arwen.

And the last song (and title track), "Silver Ship," parallels the Academy Award-winning song, "Into the West," found on Shore's "Return of the King" soundtrack. Both are lullabies. Both vocalists — Annie Lennox on "Into the West" and Valerie Wilson on "Silver Ship" — sing about surrendering one's soul to ships headed toward the afterlife. (Although "Into the West" talks of gray ships, the shades of gray and silver can be confused at a distance.)

Anyway, I know Ciani was inspired by the coastlines, landscapes and marketplaces of Italy when she wrote and recorded "Silver Ship."

When I listen to the CD in that state of mind, I can see the Amalfi Coast, the gardens of Tuscany and the bustle of Florence.

But when I get into my Middle-Earth head space, the music lends itself well to that magical fantasy land of hobbits, elves, dwarfs and men.


E-mail: scott@desnews.com