Tuesday, March 18, 2008

On reading aloud

I have read The Lord of the Rings probably thirty times in my life, about once a year since my mid-teens. About five years ago, I did something different, I read it aloud. April couldn't read the print on the edition we owned, and I found it intolerable that she had never read it before. We also hooked Sophia, who was then only five, at the same time. What I didn't expect was how moving I found portions of the book to be when read aloud. One particular piece was the finale to the "The Ride of the Rohirrim". I finished the chapter and all three of us sat stunned for a minute. Then April said in a small voice, "Wow, boys think different from me." I had read this chapter dozens of time before, silently, yet I had not felt this impact. I do every time now. Try it yourself. Read the following aloud and see if you don't feel a sudden elation, an urge to join ride and slay, and sing as you do so.

Then suddenly Merry felt it at last, beyond a doubt: a change. Wind was in his face! Light was glimmering. Far, far away, in the South the clouds could be dimly seen as remote grey shapes, rolling up, drifting; morning lay beyond them.
But at that same moment there was a flash, as if lightning had sprung from the earth beneath the City. For a searing second it stood dazzling far off in black and white, its topmost tower like a glittering needle; and then as the darkness closed again there came rolling over the field a great boom.
At that sound the bent shape of the king sprang suddenly erect. Tall and proud he seemed again; and rising in his stirrups he cried in a loud voice, more clear than any there had heard a mortal man achieve before:
Arise, arise, Riders of Theoden!
Fell deeds awake; fire and slaughter!
spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
a sword day, a red day, ere the sun arises!
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!
With that he seized a great horn from Guthlaf his banner-bearer, and he blew such a blast upon it that it burst asunder. And straightway all the horns in the host were lifted up in music, and the blowing of the horns of Rohan in that hour was like a storm upon the plains and a thunder in the mountains.
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!
Suddenly the king cried to Snowmane and the horse sprang away. Behind him his banner blew in the wind, white horse upon a green field, but he outpaced it. After him thundered the knights of his house, but he was ever before them. Eomer rode there, the white horsetail of his helm floating in his speed, and the front of the first eored roared like a breaker foaming to the shore, but Theoden could not be overtaken. Fey he seemed, or the battle-fury of his fathers ran like new fire in his veins, and he was borne upon Snowmane like a god of old, even as Orome the Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young. His golden shield was uncovered and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the white feet of his steed. For morning came, morning with a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. And the all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.

The sound of a human voice, reading the words of a master has powers that words on a page can only give a dim echo.

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