Tolkien Recites a Poem–in Elvish

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth fantasies, only two of which were published during his lifetime (The Hobbit and the trilogy, The Lord of the Rings) were the product of long decades of focused imagination. He worked on them for most of his long life.

In the process of shaping his imaginary world, he created languages. The most fully-realized of these was Quenya, more popularly known as “Elvish.”  Remember, Tolkien was a scholar who had a gift for difficult foreign languages. While still in his teens, he taught himself to speak Welsh and Finnish. (Go ahead, try it yourself!) So, as created languages go, Tolkien’s Elvish is pretty much top-of-the-line.

A friend recently sent me this recording–made some years before Lord of the Rings was published–of Tolkien reciting his poem, “Namarie,” in Elvish. Listen:

One commenter sees in this nothing but “an elderly gentleman reciting gibberish.” Personally, I find it fascinating and compelling–offering the very faintest hope that maybe, just a little-bit maybe, Middle Earth might be real, after all. More than that, I find it soothing.

No one understood better than Tolkien the use of fantasy as escape. And there’s plenty we want to escape from! I mean, you could lose your mind trying to make sense of American foreign policy these days. To watch our nation governed by wicked fools is something we might well want to break away from, now and then.

As a Christian, Tolkien was instrumental in converting C.S. Lewis out of atheism. So I am sure he never intended “escape” to be a substitute for prayer, for Bible-reading, for communing with the living God who can, and often does, take us under the shelter of His wings. There is no substitute for that.

But we fantasy writers who consciously try to serve God, who try in our own small way and in our own peculiar field to advance the Kingdom of Christ… well, we appreciate a little Elvish now and then.

3 comments on “Tolkien Recites a Poem–in Elvish

    1. Actually, most of The Silmarillion existed as outlines and scattered clips of story, stored in dozens of large cardboard boxes (Tolkien worked on this all his life), arranged into a book by Tolkien’s son, Christopher. I mean, all the material you’ll find in the book was there, but Tolkien never got around to writing it up as a novel. So if it seems a bit sketchy in spots, it can’t be helped.

      They had to practically threaten him with a gun to get him to write up The Lord of the Rings. He wanted to do The Silmarillion first. I’m glad wiser counsels prevailed–or he never would have finished anything.

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