Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I Just Read The Hobbit. Aloud. The Entire Thing.

Before the holidays I started reading The Hobbit aloud to my little boy as part of our bed time ritual. Sure, at just under six months old he's too young to understand English, but I'm keen to start early in helping him to develop a decent vocabulary, attention span, and taste for storytelling. Before The Hobbit he got a good taste of Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, H.P. Lovecraft, and Jack Vance too. Bed time has been a good excuse for me to re-re-read some of my favorite short stories.

Shortly after the new year we finished The Hobbit and now we're reading Wind in the Willows. I must say that finishing The Hobbit felt like somewhat of an accomplishment. I've never read an entire novel aloud before, and I feel like it improved me in some way. It was certainly good practice for DMing; if  anything, it was consistent, repeated study in using my voice to control pacing and evoke atmosphere. And, yes, it was fine practice for speaking in character, which I do as a DM fairly regularly (my family is saturated with thespians, I can't help it). By the end of The Hobbit I had developed a different voice for each dwarf. I was kind of proud of myself, actually!

The experience also intensified my visualization of the The Hobbit quite a bit. I usually read pretty fast, but slowing down and giving every word a chance to breath resulted in my practically memorizing the story - all the characters, the plot, the chapters, everything. In this sense it's also been great reading aloud a lot of my favorite C.A.S. and Vance stories as well. I'd love to re-read Vance's Planet of Adventure series aloud some time, although the prospect of reading a whole series of novels still seems a little daunting. After we're done with Wind in the Willows we are going to do Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsong, which is a very sweet little book, and one of a sadly small number of fantasies with a compelling female protagonist.

People tell me I have a pretty good reading voice. I've been toying with the idea of reading some classic short stories for podcasts. Maybe I'll give it a try!


  1. Love it! I've been reading to my kid for a few years each night (we're actually doing the Hobbit as well, and then starting Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series). There's a convergence between literature and old school tabletop roleplaying games that's at risk with kid's today; one of the groups I run is a bunch of 8 year olds (sons of the regular players) and notice a difference in imagination and engagement with the kids that read a lot.

    Reading aloud (a lot) does help with character voices, too.

  2. Hah! I've read it aloud twice; once to my first wife, right after we got together, and then ten years later to my daughter.

    I strongly recommend finding a copy of William Goldman's The Princess Bride.

  3. That's pretty damn cool. Lately my son and I have been listening to _Farmer Giles of Ham_ on audiobook. We tend to do picture-books when I'm reading to him aloud, but I'm totally willing to give something like _The Hobbit_ a shot.

  4. Over the summer I read aloud the Hobbit to my six year old daughter. My 3 year old son listened in at times and loved the Trolls. He still speaks of Tom and Bill (and Bert).
    My wife and I read Lord of the Rings aloud to each other before each movie was released having started while on holiday in New Zealand shortly before the Fellowship of the Ring was released.
    I haven't read The Princess Bride aloud, as suggested by Alexis but heartily recommend it - a rollicking and crazy read, more so than even the fine movie.

  5. Great post. Love how you developed different voices for each dwarf. Also great to see how much you got from it. Very cool.

    I tell ya, there's nothing like reading aloud, or hearing something being read. I'm a grown up and Tim still reads to me at night before bed. Sometimes fiction something non-fiction. Right now we're re-reading Stephen King's On Writing.

    Good stuff.

    Glad you enjoyed reading out loud. Great post. Thanks for sharing this with us. My coffee is done, time to get back to writing. Have a very Merry Wonder Woman Wednesday.

    Happy Reading.

  6. Excellent! Keep up the habit! My wife and I have shared many books aloud over the years. No Tolkien but quite a bit of E. R. Burroughs, R. A. Heinlein, and Poul Anderson.

  7. Nice work. I read The Hobbit aloud to my daughter about a year ago and she loved it. I'll admit I got a little choked up at this bit:

    “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

  8. I took an English Lit degree in university, and it included reading a lot of old english or shakespearean stuff. I found that it was a lot easier to understand if I read it out loud, so I would frequently be found wandering around my apartment with a book in my hand, declaiming loudly.

    These days, I mostly read picture books to my little girl, but stuff like the Hobbit in on the docket for when she's a bit older.

    I also read things out loud to my wife sometimes - she has problems with her eyes (glaucoma and cataracts), so if they are bothering her, I read to her. I love doing all the voices and really getting into reading out loud - but I used to be a tour guide and currently work as a trainer, so I'm used to talking all day. If you aren't, it takes a while to get the voice used to reading or talking for long periods.

  9. Awesome! I did the same thing with my girls when they were much younger. We did The Hobbit... and the full LotR trilogy. Alice in Wonderland, all the Narnia books, some of the Wizard of Oz books. Great memories.

    I also recommend the Winnie the Pooh stories. Great fun if you do the voices. Peter Dennis' readings of them are fantastic if you don't want to read those yourself.

  10. Haha! Most excellent! I recieved the illustrated edition of the Hobbit for Christmas and have been reading aloud to my son who is six. He is absolutely ENTHRALLED. I do my best to try and sing the songs like the Rankin and Bass movie, but alas, I'm a little out of tune. My son doesn't seem to mind.

    Keep reading to them! I've read to my son and daughter (who is three) even when they were in the womb. They have a great love of reading and excellent imaginations. And I have such great fun being able to read those stories to them. I think next up will be T.H. White's The Once and Future King.

  11. No age is too young to start. I read Damon Runyon to my daughter when she was two years old, as well as the RuneQuest stories done in the same style. I did not always get to read to her, but I did when I could and we still do when I see her - she is eighteen now!

    I recommend anything with a rhythm.

    In the meantime, I recently finished reading Agent ZigZag to my partner!

  12. I've been reading The Hobbit to my 5 and 3-year old boys. We just finished "Riddles in the Dark" and the boys are loving it. Funny, but I find them saying "Down Down To Goblin Town" as they prance around the house with their plastic swords. :)

    Professor Pope and I have been doing an adult public re-read of The Hobbit on our respective blogs. It had been a while since I read it and I'm now finding all sorts of interesting nuggets.

  13. My daughter (3) would much rather me tell her a story that read a big book to her. She still likes being read to, but only the books she picks. Yes, she's bossy.

    Congrats on the read-aloud!

  14. If not a podcast, consider contributing to LibriVox, the free audiobook website.

  15. Excellent! This is very good stuff. Although my kids are grown I cherished the bed time read of The Hobbit, Farmer Giles, Narnia, and some Redwall books. Looking forward to do some of this with my grand kids! I've never read the Princess Bride; I will have to check that out too.

  16. Treasure Island (Robert Stevenson) is another good one to read aloud. Being small Jack or Long John Silver is great fun, and plowing through some of the strange syntax is helpful.

    I've found that reading aloud is a skill I want to further develop. It brings back found memories of kindergarten for me.

  17. As part of my job I read books aloud. Sometimes it's very hard. While reading today's story - one that was so very touching - it was a challenge not to choke up. I think books take on an added depth and weight when read aloud.

  18. HP Lovecraft?!?! You're gonna raise a monster ;)

  19. I have to admit I'm blown away by how many of you read entire novels aloud to your family! My hat's off to you all! What an awesome bunch!

    Thanks everyone for the books recommendations, too. I'll definitely try to dig up a copy of Princess Bride.

  20. hee hee. I won't have any kids but I DID read the Hobbit aloud to my girlfriend on long car trips. She is not a fantasy buff so it was new to her and it really brought up a lot of emotions rereading it to her.

    My recomend: Tales of the Greek Heroes and Earthsea. Couldn't ask for better things to raise a little monster on.

  21. My three year old son loves the Hobbit and we will soon be starting on the Narnia Chronicles


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