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The Lord of the Rings

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Widely regarded as a broadcasting classic, the 1981 BBC Radio dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings stars Ian Holm, Michael Hordern, Robert Stephens, John Le Mesurier and Peter Woodthorpe. This box set contains all three parts of the epic tale - The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King. Sauron, the Dark Lord, has gathered to him the Rings of Power - the means by which he will be able to rule the world. All he lacks in his plan for domination is the Ruling Ring, which has fallen into the hands of the hobbit, Frodo Baggins... Brian Sibley, one of the original dramatists, has written new opening and closing narration for the character of Frodo, played by Ian Holm. This collection also includes a bonus CD featuring Stephen Oliver's complete musical score, and a demo version of 'Bilbo's Last Song'.

13 CDs. 13 hrs 15 mins.

Audio CD

First published January 1, 1987

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About the author

Brian Sibley

99 books76 followers
Brian Sibley is an English author who has written over 100 hours of radio drama and has written and presented hundreds of radio documentaries, features and weekly programmes.

In 1981, he co-wrote BBC Radio 4's adaptation of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings with Michael Bakewell, and has also adapted C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia and Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast for Radio 4, for which he received a Sony Radio Award in 1985.

As a broadcaster, he was a contributor to and then regular presenter of the former BBC Radio 4 arts programme Kaleidoscope and the BBC World Service arts magazine, Meridian. He also presented the Radio 4 film programme, Talking Pictures and chaired the radio panel games Break A Leg and Screen Test, and presented several seasons of the BBC television programme, First Light.

The Daily Telegraph radio critic, Gillian Reynolds gave him the accolade "magician of the airwaves".

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 81 reviews
Profile Image for Ray.
Author 16 books282 followers
March 23, 2022
Absolutely delightful adaptation, a wonderful companion to the epic fantasy saga for audio fans
Profile Image for Neil R. Coulter.
1,055 reviews100 followers
July 23, 2017

Review of the BBC dramatized audio version:

While on a massive road trip this summer, our family listened to the BBC's dramatized audio edition of The Lord of the Rings. It was first produced in 1981, airing on BBC Radio 4 in 26 half-hour episodes. CD releases, including the 1999 reissue that we listened to, have remixed the content into 13 hour-long episodes. Though I've been a fan of Tolkien for most of my life life, and I've heard good things about this dramatized version, this was my first time listening to it--and I loved it. The two obvious questions are how it compares to the original books, and how it compares to Peter Jackson's film versions. Predictably, I'll say that it's not as good as reading the books, but it's a lot better than the movies. There's no substitute for immersing oneself in Tolkien's creation through savoring the words on the page. However, the audio drama did an excellent job of presenting the story, and even drawing out some aspects of it that I might not think about so much in my own personal readings. The dramatized version follows the book very closely--though still, sadly, leaving out Tom Bombadil, the barrow-wights, and various other details that I've grown fond of in the books.

The comparison to Jackson's movie trilogy: At the time the films were released in theaters (can it really be almost 14 years ago now?), I loved them. I saw each movie multiple times in the theater, and on DVD, and on extended edition DVD, and even once at an all-night marathon in a theater. I recently re-watched the trilogy with my two oldest sons, and I find it hard to remember how I liked the movies so much a decade ago. They haven't aged well, and the clunky expositional speeches and odd changes from the books are more annoying to me now than they were then. The BBC audio version tells the story much better in a number of ways. With 13 hours, there is time for the slower, introspective moments that are so important in the story. The words, mostly straight from Tolkien, convey the weight of Middle-Earth history in a way that I find more satisfying than the visual spectacle and attention to detail from the films.

What do the movies do better than the audio drama? The big battle scenes are of course much more exciting in the purely visual format of film; the audio drama minimizes the time spent on the battles, because just the sounds without the visuals don't really work so well. The other thing I continue to love about the movies is Howard Shore's score, which will always be the way I hear The Lord of the Rings musically. The music in the BBC production is fine, and some of the songs are very appropriate to the story, but overall the music is not one of the standouts of the production.

A great script, such as adaptor Brian Sibley has crafted, requires really good voice acting, and this production is excellent. Ian Holm plays Frodo, which is initially jarring since he played Bilbo in the films; but I quickly got over that and thoroughly enjoyed his performance. The way he portrays Frodo's transformation as the ring takes over, especially as he nears Mount Doom, is astounding. I liked this take on Frodo much better than Elijah Wood's performance in the movies. Most of Holm's scenes also feature Bill Nighy as Sam, and Nighy--one of my favorite actors--is amazing as Sam. He really makes the story into the story of Sam's development, which is a wonderful way to understand The Lord of the Rings. When the story ends with Sam's return to the Shire, it makes perfect, poignant sense. The supporting cast is great. The listener feels that this is a cast that is putting their full creative energy into the performance--not simply reading the lines. (In fact, so many of the voices in this production are so similar to the way Jackson directed the films, it sometimes feels almost like Jackson was plagiarizing the BBC audio drama.) The last episode had me in tears (as the end of The Lord of the Rings always does), reaching into the depths of what Tolkien was writing about--beauty, sacrifice, sadness, duty, truth, .

In short: I loved the BBC audio drama of The Lord of the Rings, and will very likely listen to it regularly, in addition to my regular read-throughs of the books. I highly recommend it to Tolkien fans with the patience to spend some hours listening to Tolkien's world. A note for anyone considering listening to this in the car: the CDs are mixed rather softly, and sometimes unevenly. We had to turn the volume in the minivan up a bit louder than usual for other CDs, and there is a lot of up and down in the volume of the production, so that we sometimes had to adjust the volume in the middle of an episode (and were then sometimes startled by a very loud sound effect or voice!). Also, we felt that the hour length of episodes was a bit long (though some episodes went by very quickly). Half-hour segments, as originally broadcast, might have been a better way to break up the story.

Profile Image for Jess☺️.
459 reviews79 followers
February 18, 2023
This trilogy of audios is absolutely fantastic (But The Lord Of The Rings trilogy in any form is brilliant)
Definitely recommend it 📚
Profile Image for Douglas Wilson.
Author 246 books3,466 followers
June 14, 2009
This is a BBC dramatization, and was very well done. Nancy and I had a long drive to Montana last week, and then back, and then had to finish it off with a few shorter jaunts while back home. Tolkien was just a good business.
Profile Image for Adrianna.
85 reviews8 followers
February 9, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Jeremy.
Author 2 books217 followers
April 17, 2022
Great dramatization. I listened to this dramatized version on my way to work. Because it was an adaptation, I'm counting this as only one book, not three. I think it's the second time I've listened through these CDs. I was going to finish on my birthday (March 24), but I heard that Sauron was defeated on March 25, so I put it off until then.
Profile Image for Andrew.
503 reviews8 followers
February 7, 2017
This was fantastic, and so much fun listening to in the car while driving. There were a couple times that the acting seemed slightly over the top, but overall it was really amazing, and those moments didn't distract from the story at all.

Now all I want to do is reread the book and rewatch the films...
Profile Image for Phillip.
673 reviews49 followers
July 21, 2014
This 13 part BBC radio dramatization was great fun. I have no quarrel with it. It sounded to me like they used Tolkien's dialogue for the script. The tinkering they did with it was minor to my ear. Yet, the voice talent and sound effects were excellent.

Last weekend my mother-in-law gave the set to me along with The Hobbit and a disk of music using Tolkien's writings for lyrics while doing Spring-cleaning to her house. She knows how much I like Tolkien. I like it well enough that it got to the top of my to listen to list and I got all of the way through it in a week. That should say something about how good I think it is and how much pleasure I got from listening to it.

Oh, the two main things that were left out were Tom Bombadil (poor guy always seems to get cut) and the scene with the primitive man.
Profile Image for Hana.
447 reviews13 followers
October 28, 2021
Can you tell I'm in comfort-reading mode? (Also, yes, I will now be listening to the theme music of this on repeat for the next several months.)
Profile Image for Ma.
240 reviews18 followers
March 15, 2017
This BBC dramatization, in 13 chapters of 1hour each, was quite a nice way to get into that story once again. Great performances, including those of Ian Holm who plays Frodo and Bill Nighy as Sam Gamgee.
There's quite a bit of screaming at some point, and that can be a bit painful though! Particularly when it happens during the Sam/Frodo episodes, who tend to be told in a lower softer voice (so you would have cranked up the volume to hear better maybe, and then your ears starts bleeding from the screaming).

But overall it was nice. Very nice indeed.
Profile Image for Daniel Archer.
110 reviews4 followers
March 28, 2017
Solid adaptation but oscillates from wooden to overwrought. The musical score is a nice touch overall but some of the songs of the elves and Rohirrim are cover-your-ears awful / why people think they hate classical music.
Profile Image for Michael.
36 reviews
October 11, 2017
Terrific interpretation. I've listened numerous times. In some ways I enjoy more than the movies. Primarily, I think Ian Holm makes a great Frodo. Brian Sibley nailed it with this BBC radio adaptation!
Profile Image for Guinevere.
240 reviews
July 5, 2017
Some parts (especially towards the end) dragged on, but overall it was very delightful to listen to while I was driving or working
Profile Image for Muzzlehatch.
149 reviews10 followers
July 21, 2019
I must have first heard this when it was first broadcast on NPR in the US, apparently in 1982, going by Wiki - I still have the distinct memory of Tammy Grimes' intros, which were done specifically for NPR, and are not present on the CD box set that I finally obtained a few months ago, and listened to in April over about a week when I had to drive a couple of hours round-trip every day.

I'm not an audio book guy, and I normally listen to the news or music when driving - and driving is really the only part of my day where I listen to anything - so perhaps it isn't surprising that it took me decades before I cared enough to go back to this radio drama which had been a wonderful moment in my youth. It's not a substitute for the novel of course, and it wasn't when I first listened to it at 16-17, having read the book about 3 years earlier, and then as now I really regret the absence of Tom Bombadil, left out of every adaptation of the novel thus far I believe. And it's understandable why this segment doesn't "belong" as it's something of an aside from the main plot - but I think it's an important glimpse into Tolkien's concept of "faerie" and it contains some of the more evocative writing in the work, so I still miss it. Thankfully we do get "The Scouring of the Shire" and that alone makes this a more faithful rendition in it's way than Jackson's cinematic trilogy.

But enough of what's left out and specifics about plot - I don't have any desire to write a dozen paragraphs here and who's going to read it? This is overall a wonderful production with a first-rate voice cast of mostly British theater actors, the most familiar of whom to this cinema fan are Michael Hordern (Gandalf) and Ian Holm (Frodo). Holm later played Bilbo in Jackson's LOTR adaptation, and he and Hordern are just perfect, and have not yet been bettered. It took me a while to get used to Robert Stephens as Aragorn - he's got a rather rough and strong accent, but by the end of production he won me over, and his voice and accent seem to change a bit as well, as his station and prominence in the story change. Peter Woodthorpe's Gollum is another highlight, and Woodthorpe was also in the Ralph Bakshi animated version of the first half of the novel in 1978, though if pushed in this instance I might pick Andy Serkis in the Jackson films as equally definitive, or perhaps even edging out Woodthorpe slightly.

The music by Stephen Oliver is excellent as well, evoking much early 20th-century British classical music, particularly Vaughan Williams, and the whole thing is a nicely produced work in the 2002 CD box set. There was an earlier 1979 American radio dramatization from The Mind's Eye, which I have dim memories of hearing as well; I suspect it's not nearly as good, by reputation it's rather amateurish, but as someone still in lifelong-love with Tolkien, I'll probably give it a go at some point. In the meantime I would recommend this set most highly - if you still like physical media, the CD set is beautifully put together, but I'm sure it can be listened to in other ways as well.
Profile Image for Higgsbosom.
7 reviews
May 19, 2022
Nisssse ssssingerss and actorsesss, yes, yesss, preshhhiouss, exsssept when they goesss from whissssperss to ssscreamses in one sssingle ssecond.
1,552 reviews4 followers
July 23, 2010
This review is for the BBC audiobook version.

Thanks to Peter Jackson's film series, just about everyone knows Tolkien's great trilogy, though not everyone has read them. The BBC did a radio drama version once, and has released it as an audiobook. It is good, though not great. The bad thing about a film version is it will undoubtedly cast a certain actor as a certain character when you read a novel version, no matter what the author did. Case in point, Stephen King does not describe Jack Torrence's wife as looking anything remotely like actress Shelly Duval in his novel The Shining, yet anyone who knew Stanley Kubrick's movie first would be hardpressed to remember that. Such is also the case here though it is made odder since different unseen actors are playing the characters. That said, a handful really stand out, such as Ian Holm (Jackson's Bilbo) as a tough-minded Frodo Baggins, Bill Nighy playing a fantastic, working class, humble Samwise (who, probably, has the best storyarc of Tolkien's original work), and Michael Horden as a wise yet world-weary Gandalf. I would give props also to Peter Woodthorpe's Gollum being distinctive, though Gollum's unique diction tends to help a lot there. The work isn't as epic as Jackson's, probably owing in part to budget, but its also a lot more accurate to the source material.

There's not much more to say that hasn't already been said about JRR Tolkien's work, so I will simply say this audiobook would be a good one for fans of Tolkien and audiobooks/radio plays in general.
Profile Image for K.
379 reviews
October 23, 2018
This is an audio"book" - a recording of a BBC radio series that predates the movies by several decades, I believe. One of the more interesting aspects is the producer's editing choices (i.e., what to cut from the book plot) compared to Peter Jackson's cuts. Battle scenes are probably the most obvious cuts, but other scenes are included that didn't make the movie cut, and these were a nice reminder for someone like me that hasn't read the books in about ten years.
Profile Image for gail ♛.
253 reviews30 followers
July 23, 2019
I finally did it, I've completed the Lord of the Rings series. It's taken me a little over a month, but I'm so glad I finally did it. These audio books do not follow the books exactly, they skip over a lot of the description bits that take away from the story a little more. I'm so glad I listened to them on audio, otherwise I don't think I would have been able to make it through the trilogy. I think I prefer the movies over the books, but everyone should read them at least once in their life.
Profile Image for Melenia.
2,178 reviews6 followers
January 30, 2018
I really enjoyed this audio for the most part. I did skim through a lot of Frodo’s parts towards the ending, but I kinda do that in the movie as well so it’s not really the audio’s fault. It was pretty well done; although, not a reading of the book as I originally thought. It was a drama that did not entirely follow the original storyline, but it worked for the most part.
Profile Image for Sangeetha Sankaran.
114 reviews6 followers
July 16, 2022
Long time fan of the movies, had never read the books. This teleplay was made in the 80s, so the films didn't exist yet, and hell, this probably informed Peter Jackson. The production, voice acting, and musical scoring were all phenomenal. Though I knew the story shape going in, I found every minute just as gripping and beguiling.
Profile Image for Christine.
6,550 reviews473 followers
November 6, 2009
This is a wonderful adaption of TLOR. The script writer was Brian Silby, who did some of the tie in books for Peter Jackson's movies. Ian Holm, who played Biblo in the films, voices Frodo here. The radio script follows the book very closely.
Profile Image for Thomas.
180 reviews1 follower
January 12, 2020
General Overview
This is already in my Top 5 Books of 2020, if not the decade to come and the two ones I have lived past. Such a wonderful retelling, of what is THE father of fantasy fiction. Any fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's books must give this a listen.

This radio series, now nearly 40 years old, is well known to many fans of the Lord of the Rings. It was re-released on BBC Radio to coincide with Peter Jacksons films of the early 00s. Besides these, and the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings animated films, it is one of the best in style for a retelling, and should be held up with the books and films for its quality and power.

As a radio play, it clearly misses out on some of the detail of the books and films. Its voice acting is spot on however, as are the use of songs and music throughout. These two aspects are reason enough in of themselves to give this 13 episode series a listen. With a length of roughly 13 hours, the story of all three books is covered fully, and I do not feel any part of it is was missed to aid with the play.

The sound effects are spot on, and really bring the whole piece to life.

If you have read this far, you know the story. The legend of the Lord of the Ring, and the Return of the King, as told by the small folk. I am not certain how enjoyable this series would be to listen as your first engagement with the story. I believe it works best if you have read the books already, and wish to enjoy them again in a different way. I am happy to be proven wrong, and would love to hear from someone who first heard this epic story through this radio play.

This retelling really feels more then ever like the tale of Samwise the Brave. This I love. The adventures once the Fellowship is split are all well told and cover, but Samwise seems to be the lead of it all, or so it seems to me.

The ending had me in tears as it always does. Maybe because of its age, and the way it tells of the mystical middle earth whilst not giving away to many of its secrets. I felt a deeper understand of why J.R.R. Tolkien wrote his books, and what they meant to him from listening to this wonderful retelling.

Final Thoughts
I have waxed as lyrically as I can about this series. Go find it, go listen to it, and I am certain you will enjoy it.
Profile Image for Jake.
675 reviews3 followers
November 20, 2020
Long considered one of the best adaptations of the Lord of the Rings, this audio drama deserves all the praise it receives.

The voice acting is excellent, with Ian Holm as Frodo, and the actor as Gollum standing out in particular.

This series manages to pull together the various components of Lord of the Rings, while skipping over some of the extraneous details (sorry Tom Bombadil :( ).

The series excels at making engaging and riveting dialogue choices; however, it struggles some during the various fights and combats in the story. The lack of a major narrator presence means most fights are the various characters yelling, some clangs, and orc yells and squeaks, and after the fact the characters summing things up "Oh that was a close call with that orc spear Mr. Frodo." While this works, it doesn't quite allow a listener to picture what action is taking place. I could see this as particularly challenging if someone isn't already familiar with the scenes.

Some of the sound effect choices are not great, while others are amazing. The Ringwraith's scream for instance is funny, rather then horrifying, but the jingle of horse reigns for Shadowfax, as well as the accompanying music, works quite well.

A final note, the songs of Lord of the Rings are things that I think any adaptation will struggle with. the BBC Radio Collection is no different. Some of them are very well done, while others, particularly the song once the King returns, are piercing and nearly un-listenable.

Overall, well worth a listen for any Tolkien fan, though I may not suggest it as a first introduction to the series.
Profile Image for Angela.
313 reviews
March 6, 2020
Still my second favourite fantasy series 20 years on. The breath of Tolkien's imagination is just awe-inspiring. This BBC adaptation has made it even more endearing. I honestly prefer Ian Holmes' Frodo to Elijah Wood's more insipid version. The songs that I basically skipped in the book were much more palatable when actually sung.

However, full disclosure here, I first read the series in 2000. Then when the movies came out, I was totally hooked. It's one of the few instances where the movies are just as good as the books. My only quibble was that they had changed the ending. In my head, for some reason, I thought I had read that Aragorn married Eowyn. It seemed so neat, merging Gondor and Rohan. I thought Peter Jackson just made the "Hollywood" version. Then I listened to this adaptation and it had the same ending! So then of course I had to go back to my hardcopy version and search through it. So the movie and BBC adaptation changed Eowyn's fate but Aragorn did indeed end up with Arwen! This proves 1) I perhaps speed read a bit too much, glossing over not just the songs 2) classics are always worth revisiting.
Profile Image for Brent Forkner.
418 reviews3 followers
September 14, 2022
When I first checked this out, many years ago now, I was bitterly disappointed. At the time I was --and I still am!-- searching for an audiobook reading the actual books, word for word, as Tolkien wrote them. However, now that I have watched the movies by Peter Jackson many times, I am ready to appreciate an alternate dramatic adaptation. The BBC has cloven closer to the plot, the poetry, the spirit and characters of Tolkien's masterpiece than the Kiwi director and his talented sidekicks. I believe I will enjoy this BBC production--I must say that the sound effects do remind me of the silliness of the Goon Show! But other than that, this production highlights the many small delights of Hobbits, Woody End, and the wizards that the spectacular and spectacle-addicted medium of film have scorned. I am delighted.
Profile Image for Robin.
800 reviews7 followers
November 25, 2016
During a recent vacation, I beguiled parts of my drive to South Dakota, northern Minnesota, and back to Missouri by listening to the 1981 BBC Radio full-cast dramatization of The Lord of the Rings - the trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien that I have read several times in book form (and reviewed here), and once in a 1979 full-cast recording produced by U.S. National Public Radio (reviewed here), besides viewing not one but two film adaptations. The story needs no more reviewing, but I just wanted to comment on the BBC Radio version a bit, for the record.

BBC Radio's production features Ian Holm, who played hobbit Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson's film trilogy of The Lord of the Rings, as Frodo Baggins. The character actor who played Bilbo in the BBC version was John Le Mesurier, whose voice sounded remarkably like the one Holm gave Bilbo in the films. My local public library furnished me with the "U.K. version," with Gerard Murphy as the narrator. Also in the cast was Bill Nighy, who played Rufus Scrimgeour in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I, in a spot-on performance as Sam Gamgee. A beautiful musical score was provided by film and opera composer Stephen Oliver, the late uncle of comedian John Oliver, and an entire disk of the set I borrowed was devoted to his music.

Of course, it was a condensed version of the trilogy, with many details left out and some of them changed to fit the format. But of all the adaptations I have seen and heard (after Tolkien's original), I strongly feel this was by far the best. It kept the most beautiful lines of dialogue and passages of description; it conveyed the dramatic power of the whole book; it included favorite things that no other adaptation has ever bothered with, such as the Houses of Healing scenes, and the palantir factor in Denethor's motives. It was definitely better, by a long road, than the NPR version, which (unlike this one) preserved the Tom Bombadil passage, but did so badly. And it devotes more time than any of the other versions to the part of the story that happens after Frodo and his companions return to the Shire.

In spite of cheesy sound effects and battle scenes that didn't quite gel, I recommend the BBC Radio version of LOTR before all other adaptations - including, I'm sorry to say, Peter Jackson's film trilogy. It's surprising at times to hear certain words put back into the mouths that originally spoke them, according to Tolkien's canonical text - like Glorfindel the elf, whose part was usurped by Arwen in Jackson's recension of The Fellowship of the Ring, and Treebeard the ent, who actually said the words Jackson has Galadriel say in the opening narration of the trilogy. The fact that the story allows you to forget who Arwen is until she shows up to wed Aragorn is another typical Tolkien touch, for better or worse. It delivers the delicious "Voice of Saruman" scene that was the reason Christopher Lee agreed to be in the films, though it ended up being deleted from the script.

The BBC Radio dramatization, produced and co-directed by Jane Morgan, structures the break between The Two Towers and The Return of the King so that Sam's realization that Frodo is still alive comes closer to being, as it should be, the cliff-hanger ending of the middle volume. And it features Peter Woodthorpe as Gollum, recreating his role from the 1978 animated movie by Ralph Bakshi, which is one of the few but significant counts on which Bakshi's film adaptation was better than Jackson's. Woodthorpe's Gollum is feral, crafty, and psychologically tormented all at the same time, to a degree that leaves Andy Serkis' latter-day portrayal far behind. The Bakshi and BBC Radio versions also share the casting of Michael Graham Cox as Boromir.

Though the actors are not the same, I appreciate both the Bakshi and BBC Radio versions' casting of Aragorn (because he sounded more mature, and could be more credibly described as one who "looks foul but feels fair" than the altogether beautiful Viggo Mortensen in Jackson's trilogy). I might also note that somehow or other, Michael Hordern's voice portrayal of Gandalf for BBC Radio could almost be dubbed over Ian McKellen's latter-day film portrayal without many people noticing. I thought Bernard Mayes was OK in the role in the NPR version, though his Tom Bombadil stank to high heaven (I might add, James Arrington was awful as Frodo in that version, which really killed it for me).

So, once again, BBC set the bar considerably higher than NPR's roughly contemporary radio play. As a complete adaptation of the trilogy, it achieves what Bakshi's blend of live action and animation could not (in case you missed it, Bakshi's film ends at the climax of the Battle for Helm's Deep in a cliff-hanger that was never followed up by the expected conclusion); and its cheap sound effects are easier for a present-day audience to forgive than Bakshi's primitive visual effects. As for Jackson's film trilogy, I maintain this audiobook version compares favorably, on the simple grounds that it does less violence to the source material, and is less patronizing to the audience. And finally, dammit, it had Ian Holm as Frodo. Born too soon to play him in Jackson's film, though not too late to channel Le Mesurier's portrayal of Bilbo (and though it might be argued Elijah Wood was born too late), Holm would have been perfect for the part in any format - as he proved in this production.
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