Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Wireless, part two

So, here's the final half of the second of Tolkien's two English-language dialogues from 1930, 'Wireless'*


Lesson Thirty: "Wireless"


The Curious Friend [A. Lloyd James]: Well, how's your wireless going?

The Wireless Enthusiast [J. R. R. Tolkien]: Oh, not too badly, though I've had some difficulty lately in getting distant stations. I suppose it's the weather.

ALJ: What station are you trying to get now?

JRRT: I want to pick up Daventry if I can. Do you ever get any of the English stations?

ALJ: I do sometimes, but mine is only a three valve set, and not of the latest type either, so I'm not always successful in getting England.

JRRT: Sh! Here we are. Listen.

ALJ: What is he saying?

JRRT: This is London and Daventry calling the English Isles. He is going to tell us all about the weather, and then there will be a concert from the Queen's Hall.

ALJ: That ought to be very good.

JRRT: It is. Sh! Listen. Can you hear the orchestra tuning up? And now the applause as the conductor walks up to his desk.

ALJ: What are they going to play? Have you got the programme?

JRRT: Yes . . . Here they are as clear as anything. You know this, of course. The Tristan overture by Wagner.

ALJ: Isn't it marvellous? To think that we can sit here in comfort and listen to music hundreds of miles away!

JRRT: Yes, it's very wonderful indeed. Who would have thought it possible, say twenty-five years ago, that we should be able to hear, whilst sitting in our own room, a waltz played in Vienna, a mazurka played in Warsaw, chamber music from London, an opera from Berlin or Rome.

ALJ: And before long, I suppose, television will be as common as broadcasting is to-day.


--while 'At the Tobacconist' had a v. good match between its topic and our mental image of JRRT, at first glance it's rather surprising to find Tolkien talking about something as modern as radio was in 1930. But Tolkien was no Luddite: he drove cars throughout the 1930s and 1940s, took trains, used a typewriter, and made broadcasts on radio. We don't know how much of this script's detail Tolkien was responsible for, but its devotion to music shd also not surprise us: Tolkien loved music, and seems to have been v. well-versed in it -- his wife was a good enough pianist to have considered a career as a professional musician; we have several mentions of him attending concerts in Oxford when occasion offered; and one of the earliest glimpses into what might be the Inklings beginning to coalesce comes in Tolkien and Lewis getting together with Warnie on a regular basis to listen to recordings of Wagner's complete works (which, given from the date that these must have been .78rpms, with only a few minutes' worth on music on each side, was a considerable task).

One way in which this transcript might be misleading it that anyone reading it might well imagine that the various sounds Tolkien and Lloyd James are describing are actually audible in the background. Alas no: there are no sounds of radio-tuning to find a station, an orchestra tuning up, the conductor walking out, or indeed the Wagner: only the two men talking, like Shakespearean actors conjuring up what the audience is supposed to imagine. Even so, the casual allusion to the coming of television in the final line is surprising, and prescient.


*i.e., 'Radio'.


Andrew said...

Thanks for this, John; it's fascinating. The radio transmitter at Daventry is still there.

It's odd that the recording refers to the English Isles - they are now called the British Isles - maybe usages have changed over 70+ years?


David Bratman said...

The "Tristan overture", eh? It's usually called a prelude rather than an overture, as it's short and not self-contained. But I suppose usages vary.