J.R.R. Tolkien, Using a Tape Recorder for the First Time, Reads from The Hobbit for 30 Minutes (1952)

Hav­ing not seen the first install­ment of Peter Jackson’s The Hob­bit tril­o­gy, I am required to with­hold judg­ment. As a Tolkien read­er from the first time I could strug­gle through the prose, I’ll admit, I’ve been on ten­ter­hooks (and not all reviews fill me with hope). In any case, I plan, like many a fan, to re-read Tolkien’s fairy tale nov­el before see­ing Jack­son’s film. It was my first expo­sure to Tolkien, and the per­fect book for a young read­er ready to dive into moral com­plex­i­ty and a ful­ly-real­ized fic­tion­al world.

And what bet­ter guide could there be through The Hob­bit than Tolkien him­self, read­ing (above) from the 1937 work? In this 1952 record­ing in two parts (part 2 is below), the ven­er­a­ble fan­ta­sist and schol­ar reads from his own work for the first time on tape. Some duti­ful fan has added a back­ground score and a slideshow of images of the author, as well as artists’ ren­der­ings of his char­ac­ters (includ­ing stills from Jackson’s Rings films).

Tolkien begins with a pas­sage that first describes the crea­ture Gol­lum; lis­ten­ing to this descrip­tion again, I am struck by how much dif­fer­ent­ly I imag­ined him when I first read the book. No doubt Andy Serkis deserves all the praise for his por­tray­al, but the Gol­lum of The Hob­bit seems some­how so much hoari­er and more mon­strous than the slip­pery crea­ture in Peter Jackson’s films. This is a minor point and not a crit­i­cism, but per­haps a com­ment on how nec­es­sary it is to return to the source of a myth­ic world as rich as Tolkien’s, even, or espe­cial­ly, when it’s been so well-real­ized in oth­er media. No one, after all, knows Mid­dle Earth bet­ter than its cre­ator.

These read­ings were part of a much longer record­ing ses­sion, dur­ing which Tolkien also read (and sang!) exten­sive­ly from The Lord of the Rings. A YouTube user has col­lect­ed, in sev­er­al parts, a radio broad­cast of that full ses­sion here, and it’s cer­tain­ly worth your time to lis­ten to it all the way through. It’s also worth know­ing the neat con­text of the record­ing. Here’s the text that accom­pa­nies the video on YouTube:

When Tolkien vis­it­ed a friend in August of 1952 to retrieve a man­u­script of The Lord of the Rings, he was shown a “tape recorder”. Hav­ing nev­er seen one before, he asked how it worked and was then delight­ed to have his voice record­ed and hear him­self played back for the first time. His friend then asked him to read from The Hob­bit, and Tolkien did so in this one incred­i­ble take.

Also, it may inter­est you to know what Tolkien’s posthu­mous edi­tor, his youngest son Christo­pher, thinks of the adap­ta­tions of his dad’s beloved books, among many oth­er things Mid­dle Earth. Read Christo­pher Tolkien’s first press inter­view in forty years here, and watch him below read­ing the end­ing of the Lord of the Rings tril­o­gy.

Look­ing for free, pro­fes­sion­al­ly-read audio books from Audible.com–including, for exam­ple The Hob­bit? Here’s a great, no-strings-attached deal. If you start a 30 day free tri­al with Audible.com, you can down­load two free audio books of your choice. Get more details on the offer here.

Relat­ed Con­tent

Lis­ten to J.R.R. Tolkien Read Poems from The Fel­low­ship of the Ring, in Elvish and Eng­lish (1952)

Down­load Eight Free Lec­tures on The Hob­bit by “The Tolkien Pro­fes­sor,” Corey Olsen

Free Audio: Down­load the Com­plete Chron­i­cles of Nar­nia by C.S. Lewis

Fan­tas­tic Footage of J.R.R. Tolkien in 1968

500 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free

Josh Jones is a writer and schol­ar cur­rent­ly com­plet­ing a dis­ser­ta­tion on land­scape, lit­er­a­ture, and labor.

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