Ever since I listened to Harlan Ellison perform “Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World” at a LASFS banquet I’ve always imagined his stories spoken with his diction, tone and inflection.
Sometimes I perceive Connie Willis as the narrator of her humorous short stories, which use the same kind of “Didja get that?” verbal cues and nudges that she employs on stage.
Otherwise that’s not a regular thing with me. No matter how many times I’ve heard Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, David Gerrold and others speak at conventions I don’t “hear” their voices when I read their fiction.
If the material lends itself, I do tend to cast the characters with their movie parallels. For example, think how many cavalry pictures are based on stories by James Warner Bellah. When I read “Spanish Man’s Grave” in Pournelle’ s first There Will Be War collection it was easy to imagine Harry Carey Jr., Ben Johnson and other John Ford favorites in the appropriate roles.
But as I say, this is the exception. Although I’ve read all 17 Jack Reacher novels, to my inner ear there is no distinctive Reacher voice.
Yet once in a blue moon I will associate a character with a voice that has no obvious source. For example, Joe Pike. Robert Crais has written an enormous number of mysteries featuring Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Whereas Cole is a literary chameleon who sometimes seems a copy of Spenser, or Shane Scully, or Harry Bosch, and not consistent enough to have his own voice, Crais has turned his genius loose developing Joe Pike in four more recent novels and along the way I have come to imagine him as having a particular appearance and sound. It will seem absurd, but I am not kidding – I think of Joe Pike looking and sounding like Everybody Loves Raymond’s Brad Garrett – only a version of Garrett who never cracks a joke or even smiles. Which is quite unjustifiable because cracking jokes and mugging for the camera are the only things I’ve ever seen Garrett do on TV. I guess it’s an alternate-universe Brad Garrett.
Then, giving impetus to this post, yesterday I realized that I associate a voice with John Sanford’s Minneapolis cop Lucas Davenport. Again, my voice doesn’t make sense because I know what people from Minnesota are supposed to sound like. My father was born in Duluth. I had a boss from St. Paul. I’ve met plenty of fans from the Twin Cities. My imagined voice does not sound like any of them. It is a gravelly voice — though not a bass, nothing like William Conrad. I tried to place it. Froggy of The Little Rascals? Don’t be absurd. Popeye? Alarmingly similar, but still not right. Hours later my memory finally clicked. Lucas Davenport’s lines come to mind as the voice of Hopalong Cassidy, William Boyd. An actor who grew up in Oklahoma. I can’t tell you at the moment why that would be my choice.
I wonder how any of this resonates with your own reading experience?