19 Rare Recordings of Famous Authors
Twenty years ago, it was impossible for most of us to listen to JRR Tolkien read Elvish or see Zelda Fitzgerald grin at a camera or hear an inebriated Hemingway shout about pigeons. But today, these and other rare recordings of famous authors are just a mouse click away. Enjoy, you lucky ducks.
1. ERNEST HEMINGWAY
In this recording from 1950, Ernest Hemingway describes his novel Across the River and Into the Trees. He sounds drunk, which may explain the interesting vocal modulation and bursts of random yelling. Best part: “[she] enjoys herself very much, looking out of the upper windows and studying the action OF THE PIGEONS.”
2. JRR TOLKIEN
In this TV spot, watch Tolkien light a pipe, blow smoke rings, write and read Elvish, clap at fireworks, and answer questions about The Lord of the Rings in a thick, garbled accent. It’s not hard to see how this mind imagined worlds full of elves, wizards, and hobbits.
3. RAYMOND CHANDLER
In 1958, Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond series, interviewed crime writer Raymond Chandler for the BBC. This is the only recording of Chandler’s voice. Listening to their conversation is like eavesdropping on two master genre writers talk shop. [Part 2, 3, 4]
4. SYLVIA PLATH
While many stereotype Sylvia Plath as moribund and depressed, this interview reveals a sharp, enthusiastic person with an adroit ability to turn a phrase. “Poetry,” she says, “is a tyrannical discipline. You’ve got to go so far, so fast, in such a small space that you’ve just got to burn away all the peripherals.”
5. WALT WHITMAN
Here’s Walt Whitman reading his poem “America.” It was taken from a wax cylinder recording Thomas Edison made in 1889 or 1890—although the recording’s authenticity is somewhatdisputed. The last two lines of the poem are not read.
Read more at Mental Floss
Correction, Jan. 2, 2014: The caption for this story originally stated that Arwen and Aragorn are half-elf and half-human. Aragorn is three-fourths human and one-fourth elf. Arwen is 3/16 human, 25/32 elf, and 1/32 Maia. Thanks to reader Auros Harman for the genealogical analysis.
"To make a Secondary World inside which the green sun will be credible, commanding Secondary Belief, will probably require labour and thought, and will certainly demand a special skill, a kind of elvish craft. Few attempt such difficult tasks. But when they are attempted and in any degree accomplished then we have a rare achievement of Art: indeed, narrative art, story-making in its primary and most potent mode." J R R Tolkien
"It is still one of the finest jests of the modern muses that this fogged-in English don was going home nights to work on perhaps the most popular adventure story ever written, thereby inventing one of the most successful commercial formulas that publishing possesses, and establishing the foundation of the modern fantasy industry. Beginning with Terry Brooks’s mid-seventies “The Sword of Shannara”—which is almost a straight retelling, with the objects altered—fantasy fiction, of the sword-and-sorcery kind, has been an annex of Tolkien’s imagination. A vaguely medieval world populated by dwarfs, elves, trolls; an evil lord out to enslave the good creatures; and, almost always, a weird magic thing that will let him do it, if the hero doesn’t find or destroy it first—that is the Tolkien formula. Each element certainly has an earlier template and a source, but they enter the bookstore, and the best-seller list, through Tolkien’s peculiar treatment of them. Of all the unexpected things in contemporary literature, this is among the oddest: that kids have an inordinate appetite for very long, very tricky, very strange books about places that don’t exist, fights that never happened, all set against the sort of medieval background that Mark Twain thought he had discredited with “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.”"
“Words, English words, are full of echoes, memories, associations, naturally. They’ve been out and about—on people’s lips, in their houses, in the streets, in the fields—for so many centuries. And that is one of the chief difficulties in the writing of today. They’re stored with other meanings, with other memories.” - Virginia Woolf