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Every five years or so, I re-read The Lord of the Rings. It’s one of very few books I bother to return to. I first read it at age eleven. A good bit of it must have gone over my head, and yet I recall being terrified of the Black Rider, sniffing ominously after Frodo as he hid in a hollow, his fingers slowly reaching for the Ring…

Naturally I took special notice of the food and drink of Middle Earth. Lembas, the delicious and sustaining waybread of the elves, interested me greatly, as did the special drink that Glorfindel offered the tired hobbits when he met them on the way to Rivendell. Most amazing of all were the two Ent-Draughts given to Merry and Pippin by Treebeard, one invigorating like a forest breeze, the other earthy and rich. The Sauv Blanc and Cabernet of the Ents, as it were.

I re-read LoTR during my honeymoon, which had a decidedly epic quality, being also enlivened by a viewing of the complete “Ring Cycle” by Wagner on public television. (Yes, there is nothing like making love to The Ride of the Valkyries, conducted by James Levine of the Metropolitan Opera. Talk about Great Performances…). But the epic moments were balanced by plenty of relaxation. Never before or since have I had a vacation that consisted almost entirely of hobbit-like reading, eating, drinking, desultory strolling about, and climbing into cozy beds.

I say “almost” because there was also a rather strenuous, un-hobbit-like bicycle trek, undertaken at the behest of the Tyrannical New Husband. (That was before he became the Lovable and Long-Suffering Husband that he is today). The interlude still stands in my mind as something of an Edenic ideal of pleasure, though I gained eight pounds in less than two weeks, possessing neither your average hobbit’s metabolic capacity, nor the TNH’s gusto for cycling through clouds of biting black flies (a.k.a. Servants of the Enemy).

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I will only read them in this edition, with Tolkien’s paintings on the covers! Well-thumbed and beloved paperbacks. Click photo for source (wired.com)

My most recent re-reading is not a reading at all. I’ve been listening to the audiobook of the trilogy, and I’m amazed at the wealth it has to offer. Tolkien was steeped in cultural traditions that were based in oral poetry: the Anglo-Saxon, the Celtic, the Finnish. He was a natural-born bard, and like the Irish and Icelandic sagas, his work is punctuated by regular bursts of song and verse. I’m ashamed to say that I skimmed over these, or even skipped them, in many of my previous readings. But all they required was the right  Singer to make them come alive.

Rob Inglis is the actor who performs (I hesitate to say “reads”) the trilogy, and what a performance it is! He created distinct voices for the (virtual) cast of thousands, in itself an amazing feat. Like Tolkien himself, he excels at conveying every register of the language, from the gossip of the Shire folk, to the tavern-talk in Bree, to the dignified and heroic speech of Aragorn and Boromir, and the ethereal mythic lays of the elves. The languages of Middle-Earth roll off his tongue with utter credibility, and still have the power to move me to tears at times, just as they did when I was eleven.

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Photo: musicalflyingsquad.org

I’ve discovered very little about this Talented Man online. There is an interview with Audiofile about the 1990 recording of the trilogy, in which we learn that he actually wrote much of the music for the songs. I learned here that he’s a devotee of the musical, and has written shows himself. He has also played Falstaff, which in and of itself makes him a Beautiful Man in my book!

Thank you for the Songs, Mr. Inglis!