Saturday, November 24, 2012

Tolkien Sings

So, it was from a comment on a post earlier this week (thanks, Trotter*) that I learned three new recording of Tolkien reading from THE HOBBIT not only existed but were being made public.  That same day, Janice sent me a link to one of the pieces, which was available online. Here's JRRT himself, not just reciting but actually singing one of the dwarves' songs at Bag End ("That's What Bilbo Baggins Hates"):

Following up on Trotter's information about all three clips being available on the enhanced 75 anniversary edition of THE HOBBIT e-book, we made the discovery that my Kindle is too old for the text-to-audio software to work (it worked when we first got it, so suspect it might still on the older books, but apparently there are compatibility issues with the newer books). But, lest we despair, it turns out that Janice's iPad plays them just fine. Even better, it turns out to have four clips in all (the fourth being the superb "Riddles in the Dark" recording made at George Sayer's house circa 1952) and the three new ones being

(1) "That's What Bilbo Baggins Hates" (see above)

(2) "Far Over Misty Mountains Cold"

(3) "Roast Mutton"

The first two are relatively brief: first Tolkien's singing a song and then his recitation of a second, both from Chapter I of THE HOBBIT. The most interesting thing about these is the tune of the first -- I tried to find out, when working on MR. BAGGINS, whether the many songs in THE HOBBIT had actual tunes, and eventually concluded that the answer was 'probably not'. Good to learn, from a most unexpected but unimpeachable source, that I was wrong: some did (though probably not all).

The third is by far the longest, covering the entire troll-encounter scene from Chapter II. Listening to this more or less answers another point that'd long puzzled me: it's often been asserted that Tolkien gave the trolls cockney accents, which seemed out of keeping with their decidedly rural character. Hearing him now, they come across much more like country lumpkins. So, with the addition of this piece, we now have recordings of most of two chapters of THE HOBBIT (II and V) in Tolkien's own voice.  Amazing stuff.

--John R.


ADDENDUM, Sunday November 25th

One thing I forgot to add: I don't know when this extra recording was done, but the text of ROAST MUTTON Tolkien uses is that of the first and second editions, not the third edition of 1966, so presumably it predates the latter. And if we believe George Sayer's story about introducing Tolkien to home recording in 1952,** that means it couldn't date from before that year. A close comparison with the various texts might pin it down more specifically; all I noted was that the mention about policemen is in the text read by Tolkien, as had been the case prior to the third edition, so the recording must date from pre-1966.

**that this is not a professional recording is suggested by the fact that at one point the telephone rings



N.E. Brigand said...

I would be most interested to know if experts in English folk songs or popular songs can tell if Tolkien has matched his words to some pre-existing tunes.

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear N.E.B.
Well, we know that Tolkien once did a whole book of songs that way, the SONGS FOR THE PHILOLOGISTS, in which the tune he uses the most is "O'Reilly" (better known over here as 'Sweet Betsy from Pike'). One song adapted from that collection into LotR took its traditional melody with it: "The Stone Troll", to the tune "The Fox Went Out", So I too wd be much interested in a musicologist looking for Tolkien's sources, both for this and if any specific Gregorian chant inspired the tune to "Namarie".