The reading project that I am working on is a re-read of the Lord of the Rings. I’ve read the book/trilogy around a dozen times over the years but the two main differences this time are that I am reading it aloud and that I am consulting a couple of commentaries as I go. The references works I am using are The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion and the The Lord of the Rings Reread series by Kate Nepveu. The Companion is a fairly large book (860 pages) that follows the text page by page and gives explanations for words, characters and the history/development of the text. These can range from a simple definition to a couple of pages on a specific topic or character. The reread has a quick synopsis at the start of the article for each chapter and then some commentary by Kate followed by some comments from her readers (which I usually only quickly skim).
I started my read-aloud on February 15th 2015 and I am now ( April 7th ) just past the half-way point ( I completed The Fellowship of the Ring on March 27th) . My process is to read the text for 30-60 minutes ( I’m reading the three-book 1979 3rd edition paperback edition, which amusingly has various errors that the Reader’s Companion points out as I go) which gets me though 5-10 pages. I read aloud everything on the page including chapter titles, songs, non-English words and footnotes. A few times I have checked the correct pronunciation of words ( Eomer is one ) but otherwise I try not to get distracted. Once I finish for the session I open the Reader’s Companion and check the entries for the pages I have just read and at the end of each chapter ( chapters are usually around 20-30 pages) I have a look at Kate’s blog entry. I try an read most days and sometimes do extras on weekends.
One thing I really need to say is that I really am enjoying the whole thing. I love the book (like I said I’ve read it over a dozen times) and reading it aloud makes the experience even better. The main difference is that I do not skip over words/sentences/paragraphs which tends to happen when I read normally. So I don’t miss phrases like the description of Lake Hithoel:
The sun, already long fallen from the noon, was shining in a windy sky. The pent waters spread out into a long oval lake, pale Nen Hithoel, fenced by steep grey hills whose sides were clad with trees. At the far southern end rose three peaks. The midmost stood somewhat forward from the others and sundered from them, an island in the waters, about which the flowing River flung pale shimmering arms. Distant but deep there came up on the wind a roaring sound like the roll of thunder heard far away.
Nor do I skip the other little details that are easy to miss, like Grishnakh and his Mordor Orcs leaving the rest of the group for a couple of days on the plains of Rohan or the description of country leading up to the west gate of Moria. Although I do wish I’d seen the link to the map of Helm’s Deep halfway down this page before I’d read the chapter as it would have made things clearer. The Companion is also good at pointing out how things fit in the chronology, so when somebody gazes at the horizon and sees a cloud of smoke it will say what event elsewhere in the book (or other writing) that is from. You also get a great feel for Tolkien’s language and words and his vivid descriptions of scenes and landscape (often up to a page long) such the example above. Although I do find he uses “suddenly” an awful lot when he has new events/people break into the narrative.
The readers companion is a great resource, written by two serious Tolkien scholars but intended for general readers rather than academics. Kate Nepveu’s articles are also very useful in giving a more opinionated and subjective commentary. I would definitely recommend the experience to others who are fans of the Lord of the Rings. I’m not sure how well it would work with other books but certainly it enhances a work I already know well and love.
At the current rate I am expecting to finish some time in June or July. The next project I’m planning is Shakespeare’s plays. I am planning on reading each one (multiple times including possibly at least once aloud) and watching the BBC Television Shakespeare and other adaptations and commentaries. My plan is that I’ll cover the majority of them but I’ll see how I go, However I’d like to at least get though the major ones.