Reading Tolkien Aloud

Several years ago, I read The Lord of the Rings to my boys. My wife took an occasional night, but I did most of them. I wanted to reread the books before I saw the movies, and the guys were ready, so we did it. It took four and a half months.

Tim Bray just did the same thing and his son is the same age as one of mine was.

I was very surprised at how The Fellowship of the Ring flowed when read aloud. I’d read The Hobbit to the boys the previous summer, and it was OK, but this book was really a step up. I’m guessing that J.R.R. read it to his wife until he got it right. He was a Beowulf scholar, so reading tales would have been natural for him. There is a story of him starting off the year proclaiming Beowulf in the original for the entire lecture.

Also, I never noticed that Tom Bombadil spoke in rhyme until I read it out loud. Hmm.

I did skip a very few spots when reading the books. There is a really long committee meeting where they are organizing the fellowship at Rivendell and things bog down. The Hobbit has this problem, too, when everyone gets together at Bilbo’s and just keep talking. Committee meetings don’t seem to work for reading aloud.

I also skipped a few gory bits in The Return of the King. And, that book didn’t read as smoothly as the others. The language got a bit fussier. Too many kings talking to each other, perhaps. At heart, it really is a novel of the heroism of the common people (“little people”?), so it works better when the merchants and farmers are in the spotlight.

Since Tim Bray links to a cool map of Middle Earth, I’ll link to something for those who are bored with gingerbread houses, The Battle of Pelennor Fields executed in candy. Take that, Tim. And my slipcased edition from the 70’s have the big fold-out maps anyway. And a price tag that I lettered when I worked in Waldenbooks, befofre bought it with the employee discount. So there. Physical media have such a different history than bits.

One other thing — the whole book is written at a walking pace and reading aloud seems to be the right speed. Only the bad guys and magicians have horses (Nazgul, elves, and Gandalf). Going fast is either very bad (you are being chased) or very, very good (you are on Shadowfax). There really is a lot of walking in the book. Tolkien did not like cars, so it may be that his writing follows the pace of his walking and cycling through England.

Overall, it works very well read aloud. Find an eight year old kid and try it.

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