Tuesday 30 April 2024

Nicol Williamson's abridged audio Hobbit (1974)

There are (officially) only two (!) complete recorded readings of The Hobbit (Rob Inglis and Andy Serkis) - all the rest have cuts, thereby (almost-inevitably) removing some of my personal favourite parts. 

Of these condensed Hobbits; my favourite is that of Nicol Williamson; who loved Tolkien's works, and carefully edited the text himself; so that it is mostly shortened by very large numbers of small cuts: leaving-out innumerable little phrases and joining passages - rather than the usual (because much easier) practice of deleting whole major chunks of text. 

(By contrast; Martin Shaw's excellent narration astonishingly leaves-out Thorin's deathbed reconciliation with Bilbo!)

Furthermore, Williamson was - at his best, such as here - a genuinely inspired actor. His Hamlet in the 1969 movie is overall the favourite I have encountered (and I've seen many versions of this greatest of all Shakespeare's works); and his Merlin in the movie Excalibur is deep, brilliant, and unforgettable. 

The characters are clearly distinguished by dialect and pitch: e.g. dwarves deeper voiced and with Yorkshire accents, elves lighter in tone and with Received Pronunciation. Smaug speaks like a "peppery" senior officer in the British Army; while Gollum - being a thief - is naturally Welsh (;-p)  

Here, Williamson narrates with absolute commitment and detail, and with beautiful phrasing; avoiding that "on autopilot" quality, with false emphases and mispronunciations, that is all-too-common among audiobook readers; who work under extreme pressure of time, and with little chance for preparation - and who are at root "busy professionals" doing a job - rather than doing what for Williams was clearly labour of love. 

The soundscape and background music, of a medieval type, enhances the reading. I can't discover much about the musicians, except that Bob Stewart, the renowned psaltery player, was involved.  

The original multi-LP vinyl version of The Hobbit, must have been a treasure to possess - as such things often were in that era of "concept albums", with art work, booklet etc. 

Sunday 21 April 2024

Tolkien gave a lecture about The Notion Club Papers in Stonyhurst seminary, March 1946

Oronzo Cilli has found a description of a lecture JRR Tolkien gave at the Roman Catholic boarding school of Stonyhurst, in Lancashire (where his son John had been a member of staff); on the evening of 31st March 1946 - the day before leaving after a week's working holiday. 

The description was made in a register by someone who attended the lecture; who reports that Tolkien said he had been working on The Notion Club Papers since 1945 (fitting with the chronology established by Christopher Tolkien).  

The lecture was apparently on Part One of the NCPs as published in The History of Middle Earth, Volume 9; and included reading from the work-in-progress, since the report notes:

The book was a clear skit on, the well know publications of Mr. H. G. Wells. Mr. Wells in his books has often portrayed life in the planets and the means of getting there by specially constructed rockets etc. Professor Tolkien in his book has stressed more the mental side than the material and has marked his characters to reach the planets by means of the mind.

The use of "skit" demonstrates the humorous nature of this early part of the work, at this point - and how it was received by the audience. 

The report also notes that Tolkien: "was scarcely audible to most of the people in the House" - an oft-complained-of deficiency!

As often happens, the Question and Answer session seems to have drifted off-topic!

In the questions that followed, it was plain to see that some members of the house had missed the whole point of the paper, because the majorities of questions put were irrelevant dealing with the psychological aspect of dreams rather than the actual book itself. 

A separate notice in the Stonyhurst college magazine adds: 

This meeting was chiefly remarkable for question time, where the discussion turned mainly upon dreams and was the occasion of interesting confessions by members of the audience, although we would have been spared these self-revelations had more of the listeners grasped the real point at issue.

While the reporter was apparently rather irritated by the nature of the Q&A, it is understandable that the strange accounts of dreams and "remote viewings" in this part of the NCP, might attract more interest than the, rather technical and professional, discussions of the nature of science fiction travel!