I was really excited when I discovered this BBC audio dramatization of Tolkien's classic Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was highly recommended by a staff member at the Ventura County Library in Ventura, California. Even though sections from the original books had been cut and altered for the dramatization, she said that it was an experience that any Tolkien fan would enjoy.
The box and the CDs are beautiful! They have images, maps, and other useful information about the trilogy and author on each case. On the back of the box it reads:
This stunning dramatized BBC production of Tolkien's classic is presented in thirteen hours on thirteen compact discs. Starring Ian Holm and featuring a cast of 25 performers, specially composed music and sound effects, this beautifully packaged boxed set is a perfect gift for every Tolkien fan.
This introduction and every colorful display on the CD cases kept my excitement high as I listened through the entire series with my husband during our long car rides. It didn't take long to breeze through the discs.
One aspect that made the experience less enjoyable was the fact that the library copy contained badly scratched CDs. Often, the car player wouldn't recognize that there was a CD in it, and we would spend countless minutes cleaning them until they could be played. Ventura library should invest in a DVD doctor or a similar device. Since this collection is so popular, they need to maintain the quality of the discs.
I enjoyed the dramatic presentation more than my husband, who kept comparing it to Peter Jackson's films. In all honesty, this audio book cannot compare to the films. Thus, it's really important not to expect a similar Hollywood/movie experience. Otherwise, you will not enjoy the dramatization. I kept thinking about radio dramas and radio shows. That constant reminder made it easier to get wrapped up in an auditory experience where my imagination roamed free.
All the actors in the production were amazing! I especially liked Frodo, played by Ian Holm, and Sam, played by William Nighy. My least favorite actor was Peter Woodthorpe, who played Gollum. The problem wasn't the actor, per say, but the way that Gollum was presented to the listener. The character mumbles a lot, screams, and makes other random noises that make it difficult to determine what is happening in the audio drama. Too much sound can be a detriment, and that was the case with Gollum. We paused the production numerous times to ask each other questions about what was going on with Gollum. These moments happened at important points in the story too, which was unfortunate. For example, at the end of the book, the characters are on Mt. Doom. Gollum's actions during this section was very confusing! Luckily, we knew what was going to happen because of the films. Gollum's actions and speech were equally unclear. In order to understand what Gollum was saying, we had to go back to previous tracks and put the volume up really loud to understand his mumbling.
The sound effects were spectacular! I really felt drawn into the story, as if I was on the journey with Frodo. The music, however, was hit or miss. Most of the songs weren't as good as we had hoped, especially compared to the epic score from Jackson's films. We both agreed that Sam's singing was the best; he also had the best lyrics for his songs. There was one song that was sung by a single young boy that was really moving. The music at the end was decent too. My favorite score was the one they played when introducing and ending each disc, which is probably why they reused it so often.
As I haven't read the original books in a long time, I can't comment on how authentic the dramatization was in comparison nor indicate where the sections were altered and cut. My husband did complain that there wasn't enough narration and that there was too much character dialog. From what I know about radio dramas, this is often the case. The listener wants to hear the voices of the characters rather than being read a story. However, more narration would have made it easier to understand what the characters were doing. Unfortunately, they mainly used the narrative sections as an opportunity to transition segments of the story and to show the progression of time rather than as a tool for telling the story.
The breakdown of the CDs compared to the original books is as follows:
CDs 1-6: The Fellowship of the Ring
CDs 7-9: The Two Towers
CDs 10-13: The Return of the King
The division was perfect, and our favorite section was the fist book, CDs 1-6. The end felt drawn out, but this is also how I felt when I read the books. So, I wasn't as surprised as my husband.
When it comes down to it, there are a lot of reasons to listen to this audio book. First, from what I have read, it is the best radio drama on Tolkien's infamous trilogy. The drama provides another way to experience the books; this one was produced in 1999. Peter Jackson's first film wouldn't be made until 2001. Second, the actors did a stupendous job! Ian Holm is the star, as he received top billing, but every voice actor provided a new, dynamic element to the dramatization. Third, the music. Even though it's hit or miss, some of the songs were moving (absolutely loved Sam's song about The Shire). Finally, how can you not want another production of Tolkien's trilogy, especially with one as artfully created as this was? The production received numerous awards, such as the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award (2009) and The Big Read, BBC (2003). These awards were not given to a sub-par production!
Even with all this praise, there are still some cons to consider before you listen to the audio dramatization. First, make sure you have high quality CDs! Our low quality discs really soured our listening experience. Plus, it was just plain frustrating having to stop the CDs so often in order to clean them. Second, be forewarned that some of the actors might be difficult to understand. For us, it was Gollum. However, there are other characters that might be difficult to hear or understand with all the dramatic special effects and music. Third, it's not an unabridged version. If you are a stickler for unabridged reading experiences, you will not enjoy this rendition. Lastly, if you are not a fan of Tolkien or fantasy novels, I recommend viewing Jackson's films over listening to this audio book. There are places where the history of Middle Earth will cause the drama to lull. A lot of these moments are not included in Hollywood's rendition.
Overall, I am happy that I took the time to listen to this book, and I would listen to it again if I owned a copy of it. In fact, I wonder how better my experience would be if I had an undamaged set (Perhaps some of the audio sections would be easier to understand too). I would love to own this as part of my literary collection. Unfortunately, I don't think my husband was as thrilled or that he would listen to it again with me. It's definitely not for everyone.
What did you think of this review?