Hear J.R.R. Tolkien Read From The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit

In “Epic Pooh,” a lengthy, can­tan­ker­ous essay on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings that sav­ages the trilogy’s nos­tal­gic, mid­dle-class ide­ol­o­gy, fan­ta­sy maven Michael Moor­cock takes a long quo­ta­tion from a 1969 review by Clyde S. Kil­by as his epi­graph. Artic­u­lat­ing just the view Moor­cock rails against, Kil­by writes,

For a cen­tu­ry at least the world has been increas­ing­ly demythol­o­gized. But such a con­di­tion is appar­ent­ly alien to the real nature of men. Now comes a writer such as John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and, as remythol­o­giz­er, strange­ly warms our souls.

We may uncrit­i­cal­ly enjoy Tolkien as “redo­lent of time­less­ness,” as does Kil­by, or see in his work—as does the skep­ti­cal Moorcock—a reac­tionary sen­ti­men­tal­ism, “the prose of the nurs­ery-room… meant to soothe and con­sole….”

In either case, the effect is achieved: what­ev­er else we make of The Lord of the Rings—Ortho­dox alle­go­ry, anti-mod­ern polemic, envi­ron­men­tal­ist fable, etc.—it is also, with­out a doubt, pos­sessed of a strange pow­er to soothe, to envel­op, to trans­port read­ers to a plane where all human action (or hob­bit, elf, or dwarf) is ampli­fied a hun­dred­fold and giv­en immea­sur­able sig­nif­i­cance. In this respect, his work may be com­pared to the ancient epics that inspired it, though some may think it hereti­cal to say so.

Tolkien fans couldn’t care less. As his biog­ra­ph­er at the Tolkien Soci­ety observes, “he has reg­u­lar­ly been con­demned by the Eng. Lit. estab­lish­ment, with hon­ourable excep­tions, but loved by lit­er­al­ly mil­lions of read­ers world­wide.” While hard­ly a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the “estab­lish­ment,” Moor­cock echoes their crit­i­cal judg­ments. I am sym­pa­thet­ic to some of them. But then I pick up the books, or watch the sweep­ing Peter Jack­son adap­ta­tions, and my sus­pi­cions drop away. I can become again the thir­teen-year-old read­er who spent hours ful­ly immersed in the grandeur, hero­ism, humor and dread of Mid­dle Earth. This respite from the fre­quent, har­ried con­fu­sion and fatigue of adult­hood is most wel­come, even if, in the end, it is found in what Moor­cock calls “com­fort­ing lies.” But per­haps that’s what we want from epic fan­ta­sy, after all, Moorcock’s high lit­er­ary seri­ous­ness notwith­stand­ing.

And as for myself, at least, the full immer­sion in Tolkien’s world goes dou­ble when I hear the author him­self read his work. We’ve fea­tured many selec­tions of Tolkien read­ing in the past—from The Fel­low­ship of the Ring (in Elvish!), The Two Tow­ers, and Rings pre­cur­sor The Hob­bit. Above, you can hear many of these read­ings and much more, com­piled by Uni­ver­si­ty of Edin­burgh researcher Sean Williams for his pod­cast Voice on Record (Part 1 at the top, Part 2 above). Along the way, Williams offers much help­ful con­text and reads the lin­er notes from the orig­i­nal LPs from which these record­ings come. And yes, Tolkien does, indeed, lapse into nurs­ery rhyme, in “The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon” (or “There is an Inn,” at 10:30 in Part 1), a poem from The Hob­bit. In his voice, it is delight­ful to hear.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lis­ten to J.R.R. Tolkien Read a Lengthy Excerpt from The Hob­bit (1952)

“The Tolkien Pro­fes­sor” Presents Three Free Cours­es on The Lord of the Rings

Read an Excerpt of J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1926 Trans­la­tion of Beowulf Before It’s Final­ly Pub­lished Next Month

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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