July 25, 2008

Gratuitous Tolkien Geekery Posting

As regular readers may recall, the eldest Llama-ette and I are making our way through The Fellowship of the Ring as our bed-time reading.

It's been a fairly long slog: Although I believe we began some time back in June, between camp, work travel and evenings when the gel stays up to watch Nats games, we are only now finishing up the chapter "The Council of Elrond".

Those familiar with LOTR will recall that this is probably the single chattiest chapter in the entire trilogy. It certainly is necessary in order to bring all the various threads of the story current for both the characters and the reader, but all of the action that occurs is related second-hand. Tough reading for all but the geekiest Tolkien fan (indeed, I used sometimes to skim it in my younger, more dissolute days), and even tougher for someone listening to such reading. When we started the chapter, I wondered how the Llama-ette would take it - whether she would stay focused, get bored or just wallow in contentment at being alone with Daddy. She has dispelled this wonder by repeatedly interrupting me to ask questions, many of which are answered in the very next paragraph that I am trying to get to. An infuriating practice, but at least it shows that she's paying attention.

Aaaaanyhoo, last evening I read Gandalf's account of his betrayal and capture by Saruman. As I've mentioned before, I always try to read characters' dialog in stage voices, reserving my natural speaking voice for the role of the narrator. For Gandalf, I've developed a delivery that is a bit husky, but quite polished and sharp. (One of the things I disliked about Ian McKellen's treatment of Gandalf in the moovies was that it was too mushy and mumbly at times. Gandalf has a quick mind, a quick temper and a quick wit, and that should be reflected in the way he speaks. As a matter of fact, my "Gandalf" voice is shaping up to be not very far from that of John Neville in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.)

The problem here, as you probably know if you've read this far, is that large chunks of Gandalf's account consist of his repetition of his discussions with both Radagast and Saruman, especially the latter. Reading all of that dialog straight through in Gandalf's own voice would make it fairly confusing to a listener who did not have the advantage of the printed text, so I found myself, in effect, imitating Gandalf's imitation of Saruman. A tricky piece of linguistic acting, as you might imagine, but I believe I pulled it off by modifying Gandalf's voice just enough when he was relating somebody else's speech to make plain that he wasn't the one doing the talking (if that makes sense). The question is whether the real Gandalf actually would have had to do this when relating his story. I doubt it, somehow, but I can't see any way 'round it when relaying it at third or fourth hand.

(BTW, I haven't yet decided exactly what the "real" Saruman will sound like, but I reckon he will be at once fairly close to Gandalf (since they are creatures of the same order), but at the same time somehow altered in order to reflect his fallen status. This will be complicated further by the fact that Saruman's chief power is in his voice and that he can change it to suit his audience and his needs. Fortunately, I have a while before I have to untangle this particular knot.)***

We will finish up the Council discussion in our next session. Although the gel has been both patient and engaged, I won't deny that she gave a huge sigh of relief last evening when I remarked that we only had a couple of pages of talking to go and would shortly be plunging back into more actual action.

***I warned you that this was a geekery post.


Extreme Tolkien Geek Yips! from Gary:

Don't be too hard on McKellen, Robbo. Apparently, he spent a considerable amount of time listening to the taped radio broadcasts of Tolkien himself reading the work and used the Oxford Don's own treatment of Gandalf as the inspiration for his own (mumbly, mushy and all).

FWIW, I'm in awe that you're taking on the task of reading Tolkien aloud. I did the same thing with "The Hobbit" last summer with my oldest and though the words flow nicely in your head it just much more challenging when you try to speak those passages. My jaw was sore for a week afterwards!

Posted by Robert at July 25, 2008 10:34 AM | TrackBack

Perhaps it's time to ask for one of those voice distorters for Christmas? It would at least extend the range of possibilities.

I'm certain that by the time you are ready to go through the books with the younger llama-ettes, you will have your techniques perfected!

Posted by: Diane at July 25, 2008 11:43 AM

There's a reason all the kids in our house get the same bedtime story. That sounds like way too much work. Right now my husband is reading the Prydain Chronicles to the kids, which might be a bit over the head of the three year old, but reading different stories would be mass chaos over here.

Posted by: Jordana at July 25, 2008 11:58 AM

You inflict Nationals' games on the girl? That could be construed as child abuse.

Posted by: rbj at July 25, 2008 12:59 PM

Keep up to good work, Robert! Mr. & I also value what sometimes seems the lost art of reading aloud, either a single book to one child or something aloud to the whole family.

Currently the Harry Potter books and the "Little House" books are the ones being read aloud. Along with a whole family listen to Mr. reading a study guide to a course on American History currently being watched on DVD.

And you thought you were geeky ... ;-)

Posted by: keysunset at July 25, 2008 01:45 PM

Connery. When in doubt, the answer is Connery.

Posted by: The Abbot at July 25, 2008 06:43 PM

Good for you! In my experience, voice characterizations needn't be of Mel Blanc quality to be appreciated: your kids will give you lots of credit for trying. If you make it through LOTR, let me suggest Kenneth Grahame and (later on) Wodehouse.

Posted by: Bill Befort at July 26, 2008 12:12 PM

I hope that you sing the songs. Though I don't think you get many songs until after Moria.

I think you will have a harder time with dwarfish than with Gandalf. One of the things I didn't like about the movies, was the Scottish accent that Gimli was given. Probably easy to do, but not really in keeping with the books.

Posted by: Zendo Deb at July 27, 2008 06:54 PM

In Re: Saruman - I thought Christopher Lee nailed it.

Posted by: Rheinman at July 28, 2008 11:27 AM