Like everybody else these days, I find myself forever pressed for time, juggling multiple chores and projects—not least of them is finishing the third novel in our Legacy of the Stone Harp series, which inches its way to completion. A few months ago, I began an audiobooks subscription through audible.com, and it’s proven to be the perfect way to make good use of the time I spend in the car, driving to and from work, driving my children to sports activities, etc. Using my quota of once-monthly audiobook downloads, I began with the superbly presented Tolkien and the West, by Professor Michael Drout, then moved through several of Professor Drout’s other audiobooks, which were no less engagingly narrated. Even my 13 and 15 year old sons, normally decidedly apathetic about their dad’s excitement over matters literary and intellectual, got caught up in the enthusiasm and unpretentious clarity of his approach.

After a most enjoyable stint with Drout, I turned to the audiobook version of Lord of the Rings done by Rob Inglis, who is flawless in his single voice narration, presenting the whole range of characters in the trilogy with an ingeniously fertile subtlety of nuance and elocution. It certainly was a different kind of experience. What a difference mode of presentation makes! It was the first time I had heard Tolkien read aloud rather than reading him on the printed page. What strikes me vividly with this narrated version is the formality of Tolkien’s diction. Its heroic, antique cadences are made evident not just in the latter parts of the trilogy, but also in its opening sections, while the larger story is still germinating in the homely security of the shire and then marching out slowly to the wider world. It’s done with an artful and suggestive delicacy that carries intimations of what is to come, as we move deeper into the narrative and the vast, sonorous spaces of Tolkien’s heroic canvas.

While Tolkien’s shift towards a loftier diction is apparent even to a reader of the printed page, the spoken version elevates this insight, giving it point and emphasis. I think it’s because the audiobook engages the aural sense and changes the very nature of the experience, charging it with a whole new perspective. In other words, listening to the book being read has an altogether different cognitive dimension, lifting Lord of the Rings into a realm that has, it seems to me, no small affinity to music, where rhythm and measure add their vesture to the naked autonomy of the word.

Joining the Middle Earth Network Community

It’s official. My co-author Jim Anderson and I have moved our blog site to the network of sites that constitutes the Middle Earth Network. We’re pleased and honoured to be part of this rich cultural enterprise… and grateful as well to those who made the transition possible, beginning with our dear friend, Ted Nasmith, who first broached the idea and acted as a go-between with the folks at the Network, when we began to pursue this option. Also, thanks go out to Lara, Mark, and Jeff, who certainly made smooth our paths and were unstintingly kind in their help.

It’s wonderfully appropriate that this blog entry—the first to occur under this new arrangement—is being posted on Hobbit Day, the birthday held in common by Bilbo and Frodo. Hobbit Day is relevant here on so many levels both as an allusive image of the creative work that Jim and I have done together in our Legacy of the Stone Harp series, but also in the way it is suggestive of the wider, communitarian scope of Tolkien’s imagination and his dynamic concept of literary tradition—a perfect justification of the need for a venue like the Middle Earth Network, no less important in our own day than the Inklings were in theirs.

Community in its many aspects is central to Tolkien’s vision. Which is why, when it comes to hobbits, birthdays are an occasion for grandly altruistic interaction with friends and family, especially since it is their custom to give gifts rather than receive them. Also, it should be remembered that the Red Book of Westmarch, which tells the great story of the Third Age of Middle-earth and of which The Lord of the Rings is a brilliant fragment, is a collaborative creation, involving the wordcraft of many hands, Bilbo and Frodo not least of them. Communities such as the Middle Earth Network continue this inestimably valuable work of collaboration.

Deeply appreciative of the role that the Inklings played in fostering his imaginative and creative life, in a fanciful echo of Beowulf, Tolkien penned the following words of praise, which are translated here from Old English by Humphrey Carpenter and which could just as easily apply to those in our own day who fulfill the same role:

“Lo! We have heard in old days of the wisdom of the cunning-minded Inklings… how those wise ones sat together in their deliberations, skillfully reciting learning and song-craft, earnestly meditating. That was true joy!”