Saturday, August 20, 2011

Elvish VoiceOver

In spite of our usual trouble finding a babysitter, Hubby and I have decided to take an enrichment course downtown on Tolkien's The Silmarillion. Like many Tolkien fans, I started this book several times, but like many Tolkien fans, I found it largely inaccessible. After the first class, in which we read the wonderful essay, "On Fairy Stories" (again), I feel like I have a much better framework with which to dive into reading The Silmarillion. We discussed Tolkien's approach to the "Perilous Realm" of Faërie; perilous, I believe, because the demons you confront there are not the dragons and monsters of bed-time story legends, but far more sinister: the parts of ourselves that we try hardest to hide. Once we enter the Perilous Realm, we become transparent in our naked humanity, and those things that we wish most to keep secret become exposed.

This, however, was not the subject of my blog post. I meant to stay much more in the practical and safe arena of the reading itself.

This year, as I have transitioned to reading accessible material, I've been pleasantly surprised at the ease at which I have been able to access the printed word. After a lifetime of eye strain, headaches and discomfort when reading, the effects of which cause me to skim and miss a lot of the text in order to finish faster, I now can read comfortably with a high level of detail using VoiceOver on my iPod Touch.

For this book, it took almost no time at all to go into my favorite reading app, iBooks, search around their store and buy an e-copy of The Silmarillion for the very reasonable price of $10, and set VoiceOver to reading it aloud to me. Some people dislike the somewhat monotone robotic voice that synthesized screen readers use to read. On the other hand, I find it quite easy to listen to. When you read a book with no illustrations, but only plain black-and-white text, you necessarily use your imagination to fill in the details. To me, computer speech seems similar to that. I take in the plainest of words, but in my imagination, colorful worlds and beautiful music emerge. In a way, it's almost better than having a human reader, who may tend to add an interpretation I disagree with, or who might emphasize certain words. In the same way, a badly done illustration can mar my enjoyment of a print book. The best book readers, in my opinion, read quickly and accurately with no personal interpretation of the story. Of course an interesting accent never hurts, such as Caroline Lee's gorgeous renditions of Kate Morton's lovely historical mysteries.

Sometimes, even despite the skill of the best human reader, I prefer using the computer to read to me. For one thing, I can set it to read much faster than the recordings done by readers. I like to read at a pretty brisk pace, take in the information, and then ponder it later throughout the day.

I've discovered an interesting feature of The Silmarillion as it pertains to VoiceOver. The text is packed full of Elvish words and names. I have to chuckle at times as the computer does its best to pronounce the long Elvish words, often full of umlauts, accents, and other oddities that Tolkien loved.

Many people have never heard a screen reader, so I've recorded a sample of the beginning of The Silmarillion, read by VoiceOver, exactly as I have been reading it this week. (If you have never read this, it's Tolkien's Creation account, where the Father, Ilúvatar, causes the world to come into being through song.)

Listen here.

The Music of the Ainur

There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad. But for a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest hearkened; for each comprehended only that part of the mind of Ilúvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony.

And it came to pass that Ilúvatar called together all the Ainur and declared to them a mighty theme, unfolding to them things greater and more wonderful than he had yet revealed; and the glory of its beginning and the splendour of its end amazed the Ainur, so that they bowed before Ilúvatar and were silent.

Then Ilúvatar said to them, ”Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music. And since i have kindled you with the Flame Imperishable, ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices, if he will. But I will sit and hearken, and be glad that through you great beauty has been wakened into song.”

Then the voices of the Ainur, like unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and viols and organs, and like unto countless choirs singing with words, began to fashion the theme of Ilúvatar to a great music; and a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passes beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of the dwelling of Ilúvatar were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void. Never since the Ainur made any music like to this music, though it has been said that a greater still shall be made before Ilúvatar by the choirs of the Ainur and the Children of Ilúvatar after the end of days. Then the themes of Ilúvatar shall be played aright, and take Being in the moment of their utterance, for all shall then understand fully his intent in their part, and each shall know the comprehension of each, and Ilúvatar shall give to their thoughts the secret fire, being well pleased.

1 comment:

  1. That is so very cool Erin. I am actually looking at getting a kindle or a nook and was considering the possibility of using it's read aloud function for Rachel (and for myself when the sjogren's kicks in-- some days I can't read because of it and I am tired of the audiobooks available at the library.)