Voices In My Head

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?

9 thoughts on “Voices In My Head

  1. I can’t read anything by Nalo Hopkinson without hearing her voice (and, more importantly, her accent).
    I’ve heard Greer Gilman read her own work, whenever I can, and I have her voice in my head sometimes when I’m reading it, but not consistently.
    And although I love hearing Ellen Kushner read, I never hear her voice unless she’s actually speaking.

  2. I always pictured Joe Pike’s voice as Sam Elliot, and Elvis Cole as a young Bogart.

    I didn’t know you were reading mysteries these days. You should start a mystery zine – the field is lacking since DAPA-EM, the mystery APA, ceased publication two years ago.

  3. Read some Edgar Allen Poe recently. I kept hearing Vincent Price.

    This way of inner hearing works with reafing Robert Benchley. I recollect the voice he used in his Paramont shorts, and it works just fine.

    For this quest, I should seek out a search for any surviving recordings of Mark Twain’s voice…

  4. Rarely do I hear an author’s voice (when known to me) in my head when reading their fiction. I find that phenomenon much more common with nonfiction.
    If I am reading the author’s work aloud, I may adopt some of their verbal mannerisms, but not so strongly, I find, that it’s noticeable to the listener.
    I do, however, enjoy hearing many authors read their work aloud, often with greater enjoyment than I do reading it silently.

  5. I hear Zelazny’s voice when reading Zelazny stories. (This may be because I was fortunate enough to be in attendance at both the Bubonicon where he gave his “The Chicken Effect” speech and the Milehicon where he told one of the funniest stories ever about Philip K. Dick. In an alternate universe, Zelazny could have had a career as a standup comic.)

  6. I have the same voices for the Heinlein age-representative viewpoint characters.

    Jubal Harshaw sounds like Lazarus Long sounds like Ira Johnson sounds like Heinlein himself in Tramp Royale.

    Bill Lermer sounds like John Lyle sounds like Kip Russell.

    Elderly Hazel Stone sounds like elderly Maureen Johnson sounds like Hilda Corners.

    What surprises me is that Maureen Johnson’s voice changes in my head as she ages in To Sail Beyond the Sunset.

    I seem to have set voices in my head for supporting characters, too.

    There are lots of examples for each “voice”, but I think you get the idea. The thing is, I have no trouble telling the characters apart when remembering passages. I think all of this is part of his skill as a writer. Either that, or the intensity with which I read his work does it. Maybe both.

  7. And Richard Lynch sounds like Henry Fonda. Alan Winston and I once had him say “GAF ViewMaster” over and over. The resemblance was uncanny to us, but Rich couldn’t hear it in his own head at all.

  8. I made the mistake of rereading “The Pi Man” just after hearing Bester read it at MidAmericon. I almost blew the audition I was waiting for because his very distinctive reading turned into an earworm. AFAICT, nobody recorded him reading his work, which is a pity; he was a brilliant reader.

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