Caedmon Records Audiobooks, 1967 – 1984

Exhibit / November 7, 2017

Object Name: Caedmon science fiction, fantasy and horror recordings
Maker and Year: Caedmon Records, 1967-1984
Object Type: Spoken word LPs
Description: (Richard McKenna)

Founded in 1952 by young friends Barbara Holdridge and Marianne Roney, Caedmon records took its name from Caedmon, the 7th century Anglo-Saxon who is the first-known English poet (and who was a monk at what is now called Whitby Abbey in Yorkshire, famous as the fictional site of Dracula’s arrival in Great Britain). Caedmon immediately gained a reputation for itself with its first release—a recording of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas reading several shorter poems and, as a last-minute addition to fill up the B-side, A Child’s Christmas in Wales. The LP would go on to sell almost half a million copies, guaranteeing the immortality of the poem and paving the way for the company’s subsequent success. Exploiting improvements in recording technology and serving a growing audience for literature, which had been boosted by the GI Bill and the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Caedmon’s stated aim was not to supplant reading but to “deepen experience rather than originating it.

Caedmon’s vast catalogue of abridged texts—read by acclaimed actors or by the authors themselves—was hugely eclectic, ranging from Pakistani actor Zia Mohiuddin reading selections from the Bhagavad-Gita and Colette reading passages from her Gigi and Cheri to Rainer Maria Rilke reading his poetry in the original German, Boris Karloff reading Three Little Pigs, and Eartha Kitt reading a selection of African folk tales. From the mid-’60s on, the company also began to include many works of science fiction, horror, and fantasy. Actors including Vincent Price, Leonard Nimoy, and Donald Pleasence were among those who recorded the stories, and even reticent author J.R.R. Tolkien was cajoled into recording songs from his invented world.

The company, whose slogan was “A Third Dimension for the Printed Page,” was credited with having popularized spoken word recordings among the general public and begetting the vast market of “audiobooks” that became a popular support for, and for some an alternative to, written texts. In 1971, the label was bought by a subdivision of US defense contractor Raytheon, the world’s largest producer of guided missiles.

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