I have received my UK edition of the Millennium Edition, and I thought I’d share with the American part of the world what was in that CD that we will not be receiving.
I have OCRed the text on the CD jacket that describes the origins of this piece of work. I have also made MP3’s of several of the tracks. This is the voice of Tolkien himself reading his own works.
“This disc is based on a tape recording that J.R.R. Tolkien made when he was staying in my house in Malvern, Worcestershire. It was in August 1952. For the whole of that summer he had been depressed because The Lord of the Rings, the book on which he had worked for fourteen years, had been refused by publishers, so that he had almost given up hope of ever seeing it in print. But the fact that they had all returned it had made it possible for my wife, Moira, and I to borrow the only complete typescript and to become with our friend, C.S. Lewis, about the first passionately enthusiastic Tolkien fans. There arose the question of how to return it to its author. Since it could not of course be entrusted to the post, I wrote to ask when he would be at home in Oxford for me to deliver it. His reply indicated that he would be quite on his own in the second half of August and perhaps even rather lonely. We therefore invited him to come to Malvern to pick up the typescript and to stay for a few days.
“It was easy to entertain him by day. He and I tramped the Malvern Hills, which he had often seen during his boyhood in Birmingham or from his brother’s house of the other side of the Severn River valley. He lived the book as we walked, sometimes comparing parts of the hills with, for instance, the White Mountains of Gondor. We drove to the Black Mountains on the borders of Wales, picked bilberries and climbed through the heather there. We picnicked on bread and cheese and apples, and washed them down with party, beer or cider. When we saw signs of industrial pollution, he talked of orcs and orcery. At home he helped me to garden. Characteristically what he liked most was to cultivate a very small area, say a square yard, extremely well.
“To entertain him in the evening I produced a tape recorder (a solid early Ferrograph that is still going strong). He had never seen one before and said whimsically that he ought to cast out any devil that might be in it by recording a prayer, the Lord’s Prayer in Gothic, one of the extinct languages of which he was a master. He was delighted when I played it back to him and asked it he might record some of the poems in The Lord of the Rings to find out how they sounded to other people. The more he recorded, the more he enjoyed recording and the more his literary self confidence grew. When he had finished the poems, one of us said, ‘Record for us the riddle scene from The Hobbit‘ and we sat spellbound for almost half an hour while he did. I then asked him to record what he thought one of the best pieces of prose in The Lord of the Rings and he recorded part of The Ride of the Rohirrim. ‘Surely you know that’s really good?” I asked after playing it back. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘it’s good. This machine has made me believe in it again, but how am I to get it published?’
“I thought of what I myself might do in the same difficulty. ‘Haven’t you an old pupil in publishing who might like it for its own sake and therefore be willing to take the risk?’
“‘There’s only Rayner Unwin,’ he replied after a pause.
“‘Then send it to Rayner Unwin personally.’
“And he did. And the result was that even during his lifetime over three million copies were sold.
“When he got back to Oxford, Tolkien wrote to thank us for having him, a letter in Elvish that is one of my most valued possessions.
“These recordings of poems and prose from The Lord of the Rings display the inventiveness and imaginative variety characteristic of the work; ‘One ring to rule them all’ is an evocative statement of a basic theme, the corrupting influence of power. Snow White and the other Elvish poems take us into a world of intense and sorrowful beauty. The most difficult thing in imaginative writing is to produce creatures that are delightful and convincing as well as very good. Tolkien has succeeded. He succeeded too in poems of a quite different sort, in the popular and light hearted ‘Sing hey! for the bath at break of day’ and in the amusing and fantastic ‘There is an inn…’
“Track 11 includes the author singing ‘Troll sat alone’ rather freely set to an old English folk tune called The Fox and Hens. He no doubt had it in his head when he composed the words, for the two blend admirably. Some of the strength of his work comes from its folk quality or earthiness. It was in his blood: his brother spent his life tilling the soil in the vale of Evesham, and he himself was happy to garden.
“One of the most remarkable pieces in the whole selection is the passage of Elvish, spoken in Track 16 and sung to plain chant as the final recording on the disc. Elvish is the beautiful and musical language that Tolkien invented in his undergraduate days. It can be said to be the origin of The Lord of the Rings, for having invented a language Tolkien had to invent creatures who spoke it and then to give them a history and a literature. (For more information see Appendices E and F of the books, with the aid of which students at certain schools have taught themselves to read and write the language.) Considering its impromptu nature the plain chant is remarkably well sung.
“Following a moving elegy for Boromir, a fine piece in a noble literary tradition, Tracks 22 contain poems from the beautiful world of the tree-elves. The Ents are in the opinion of many the finest of all Tolkien’s imaginative creatures, because they owe nothing whatever to any other writer or tradition. They are as truly original as literary invention can be, and their marching song is most forcefully read.
“We meet Sam Gamgee in the long prose passage from Book Four in which he tries to get Gollum or Smeagol to help him prepare a meal to revive the exhausted and sleeping Frodo. Gollum has developed markedly since the days of The Hobbit, Sam is the ideal feudal servant, and the writing blends the noble with the homely and the humorous.
“Track 29 is even more remarkable. Tolkien here achieves in The Ride of the Rohirrim the rarest thing in modern literature, the truly heroic. It was C.S. Lewis’s favourite passage and one that he often asked me to play when he came to stay. He once remarked of it, ‘That’s at least as good as anything in Homer.’
“And to round out the disc Track 32 has a passage from the great climax on Mount Doom, when in a wonderfully sustained and almost unbearably exciting narrative Gollum is finally made to serve a noble purpose at the Crack of Doom.” — GEORGE SAYER
Tolkien went on to record the following in his letter that he sent off to Rayner Unwin, his future publisher on August 29, 1952.
“I have recently made some tape-recording of parts of the Hobbit and The Lord (notably the Gollum-passages and some pieces of ‘Elvish’) and was much surprised to discover their effectiveness as recitations, and (if I may say so) my own effectiveness as a narrator, I do a very pretty Gollum and Treebeard. Could not the BBC be interested? The tape-reel is in the possession of George Sayer (English Master at Malvern) and I am sure he would forward it for your and anyone else’s trial. It was unrehearsed and impromptu and could be improved.” — J.R.R. Tolkien
Click here for the CD Cover Art (556K).
Click here for “One Ring to Rule the All”
Click here for Elven poems.