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Audio Recordings of JRR Tolkien Reading His Works

Updated on January 1, 2015
Cover art for "J.R.R. Tolkien Audio Collection"
Cover art for "J.R.R. Tolkien Audio Collection"

Hear Tolkien Read "Hobbit" & "Lord of the Rings"

Years ago, I was delighted to hear a scratchy recording of J.R.R. Tolkien reading the Gollum chapter of The Hobbit aloud. He's surprisingly good, and it brings the story to us in a vivid way that audiobooks by others can't quite match.

Over the years, other recordings of Tolkien have surfaced reading Elvish from The Lord of the Rings or other snippets from The Hobbit.

They're never great quality, but they're good enough to hear and understand. At long last, they've been gathered together into an audiobook supplemented with Tolkien's son Christopher reading selections from The Silmarillion.

Rare Recording of Tolkien Reciting the Ring-Verse

JRRT Audio Collection

For Tolkien fans, the most important parts of this audio collection are the wonderful reading of "Riddles in the Dark," the riddle-game between Bilbo and Gollum, and Tolkien's reading of "A Elbereth Gilthoniel" from The Lord of the Rings, which helps us hear what this Oxford linguist meant for Elvish to sound like.

This is an exhaustive 2-CD collection containing numerous readings from The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien's Middle-earth related poetry in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. A third CD contains JRR Tolkien's son Christopher reading excerpts from his father's posthumously-published magnum opus, The Silmarillion, recounting the Tale of Beren and LĂșthien and other stories that were part of the history of Elrond, Aragorn and Middle-earth.

Alas, this collection came out in 2001, and we're still waiting for an mp3 edition.

Kindle Edition of the Hobbit

The Enhanced edition of The Hobbit, released on Kindle and iBooks, includes all of Tolkien's drawings and watercolor illustrations for the book, plus four recordings of the author reading selections:

  • The "Roast Mutton" chapter with the trolls
  • The "Riddles in the Dark" chapter with Gollum
  • "Chip the glasses and crack the plates" song
  • "Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold" poem

Note that the drawings have been colorized to match the watercolors; click them to revert to Tolkien's original ink drawings!

11-minute Tolkien Interview

This album contains interviews with eight famous British authors. In addition to JRR Tolkien, there are rare interviews with Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh, P.G. Wodenhouse, Noel Coward, and William Golding.

Tolkien's eleven-minute interview begins with the question, "Is Lord of the Rings an allegory?" (we already know his answer to that one), and proceeds to his career and observations about the contemporary world. I haven't listened to all of it, but it's a rare glimpse of JRRT captured during the sixties after The Lord of the Rings had made him famous.

Vinyl Record Albums

As far as I can tell, most of the old recordings of JRRT on vinyl are part of the Audio Collection I listed first. However, for reference, there are two old-fashioned vinyl records of Tolkien:

  • J.R.R. Tolkien Reads and Sings The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring
  • J.R.R. Tolkien Reads and Sings His The Two Towers and The Return of the King

They're available on Amazon and eBay from third party sellers, but you'll pay a hefty premium. Unless you're a collector, go with the Audio Collection.

Other Recommendations

The BBC's masterful 13-episode radio play of The Lord of the Rings is NOT read by J.R.R. Tolkien; rather, it is an audio dramatization featuring a much younger Ian Holm as Frodo.

It's my favorite dramatization of The Lord of the Rings, because it retains Tolkien's language, characters, and words, painstakingly abridged for an audio play.

Some parts of Tolkien's magnum opus are missing for brevity's sake -- alas for Tom Bombadil! -- but one will never have the whiplash sense that "that didn't happen in the book!" or "that's wrong"!

For an in-depth review of this dramatization with sound clips, see The BBC Dramatization of The Lord of the Rings.

Finally, for those of us who still have record players, there's one more great recording that's only available on vinyl: J.R.R. Tolkien: Poems and Songs of Middle Earth. It's not a recording of Tolkien, but rather, a performance of Donald Swann's collaboration with Tolkien, The Road Goes Ever On, in which Swann put a collection of Tolkien's Elvish and Middle-earth poems to music. This recording has Swann on the piano and William Elvin (!) singing. I believe Tolkien was present for and gave his blessing to this performance.

© 2012 tinw


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