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.

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