J.R.R. Tolkien in Bournemouth, 1965.
Tolkien was first introduced to a tape-recorder by his friend, George Sayer, in 1952. He had never seen or used one before and insisted on first recording the Lord’s Prayer in Gothic to cast out any demons. He was so impressed by the sound quality that he sat down and read out passages from his manuscript of The Lord of the Rings, then still an unpublished work. Some of these original recordings can be heard here.
‘Riddles in the Dark’
The Hobbit, ch. 5
This is the first recording of Gollum (as imagined by his creator) as he encounters the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, who has lost his way in the dark under the Misty Mountains.
Tolkien clearly enjoyed reading his works aloud and this can be heard in the different voices he gives his characters.
The ring verse
The Lord of the Rings, Book I, ch. 2
The ring found by Bilbo under the Misty Mountains is revealed by Gandalf to be the Master-ring, the One Ring, forged by Sauron, the Dark Lord long ages ago.
Tolkien reads out the ring verse in Gandalf’s voice.
‘Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit’
The Lord of the Rings, Book IV, ch. 4
During their long march from the Black Gate to Cirith Ungol, Frodo, Sam and Gollum pass through the once-fair land of Ithilien. Here Sam decides to cook a meal for Frodo — with Gollum’s help.
Tolkien shows his skills as a performer in the dialogue between Sam and Gollum.
‘The Ride of the Rohirrim’
The Lord of the Rings, Book V, ch. 5
As the Riders of Rohan come to the aid of the people of Gondor, they find the city of Minas Tirith besieged and the outer defences already on fire. It seems that they have arrived too late but their king Théoden exhorts them to ride forth and cover themselves in glory come what may.
Tolkien chose to record this passage, one of his favourites, which captures the northern heroic spirit.
The Lord of the Rings, Book I, ch. 5
Pippin recites one of Bilbo’s favourite bath songs. This light-hearted hobbit verse clearly amused Tolkien: listen for his chuckle at the end.
Song of Tom Bombadil
The Lord of the Rings, Book I, ch. 6
Tom Bombadil’s song precedes him as he bounds into view just in time to save the hobbits from the clutches of Old Man Willow.
Tom Bombadil was a character who pre-dated The Lord of the Rings; Tolkien first wrote a poem about him in the early 1930s.
Ents’ Marching Song
The Lord of the Rings, Book III, ch. 4
The wrath of the Ents’ bursts forth in a war song as they march on Isengard and the treacherous Saruman.
Tolkien brings the Ents to life with his powerful rendition of their rolling language which disappeared from the final published text.
The Lord of the Rings, Book II, ch. 8
Galadriel sings a song of lamentation as she bids farewell to the Fellowship as their boats bear them down the Great River.
Tolkien sings this verse in the style of a Gregorian chant. It is written in Quenya, one of his Elvish languages.
A Elbereth Gilthoniel
The Lord of the Rings, Book II, ch. 1
‘the sweet syllables of the Elvish song fell like clear jewels of blended word and melody. “It is a song to Elbereth”, said Bilbo.’
This verse is written in Sindarin, one of Tolkien’s invented Elvish languages. It is not translated in The Lord of the Rings but it is a hymn to Varda (Elbereth), the Queen of the Stars.
During the 1960s as The Lord of the Rings increased in popularity particularly in America, journalists, broadcasters and producers sought to interview Tolkien, seeking explanations about his work. Although he was willing to discuss his books, these requests distracted him from his primary task of revising and completing The Silmarillion, and consequently only a few audio interviews survive.
Irene Slade, 1964
Irene Slade interviewed Tolkien for the BBC in November 1964. It was broadcast on the Home Service on New Year’s Day 1965 as part of a radio programme called ‘Reluctant Olympians’, in the series, A World of Sound.
Only a small part of this interview is extant but it captures Tolkien’s memories of writing the opening line of The Hobbit, his children’s reaction to the story and his views on whether it should be classed as a fairy story.
Denys Gueroult, 1965
Denys Gueroult interviewed Tolkien for the BBC in January 1965. The interview dealt almost exclusively with his most well-known work, The Lord of the Rings. It was published on audio-cassette in 1980.
Extracts from this forty minute interview reveal Tolkien’s views on the location of Middle-earth and the nature of hobbits, as well as his own Atlantis complex.