The Hobbit or There and Back Again and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
by J.R.R. Tolkien
Published by Recorded Books, Inc.
Narrated by Rob Inglis
I haven’t done much with this site beyond announce my latest novels, so for a change I thought it might be fun to write a few reviews. Well… I think there are enough ill-informed, arrogant reviewers of books and movies already and while I am sure someone is already doing this, I decided to review audio books. I could talk about the stories and also the people who read them and critique both at once.
I have been listening to audio books for years now since I started writing my own novels because, once I started writing, I did not really have much time to read anything by other authors. However, I can either listen to the radio while driving or to an audio book. Consequently, I have absorbed quite a few recent books through the ears rather than the eyes, but I have also listened to books I loved to read back when reading was the only way I could enjoy them. I have not entirely stopped reading, of course and I still buy books, both for my Kindle and in the delightfully old-fashioned “Dead-Tree Format,” which, to me, is still the best way to read a book. But listening is an entirely different experience. In some ways it is limiting as the reader may not pronounce words and names the same way you do, but the spoken word also adds dimensions to the story experience because you can’t skim past blocks of text like you might while reading. Okay you can skip ahead on audio too, but, remember I was driving – keeping my eyes on the road and my hands on the wheel. I didn’t have the time to safely skip ahead even if I had wanted to.
So here goes…
I could stretch this out and do all four of the above books one at a time, but the quality of performance is very even through the set and I would be repeating myself a lot. For those who have not read the stories (really?) The Hobbit is a very different sort of story from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King). The Hobbit reads like a very long fairy tale in the classic, non-Disney sense, and I think that was exactly what Tolkien had in mind. It is a children’s story and a classic one at that. The Lord of the Rings is far more serious fare, written for an older audience, but still maintains the most memorable features from the earlier story. Tolkien reportedly revised The Hobbit for its second edition as he worked on The Lord of the Rings, and there are only a few minor continuity errors from one to the other. For example in The Hobbit our heroes run afoul of a tribe of goblins. Most readers understand that the goblins are the creatures later referred to as orcs, but in listening I came across a passage that mentioned orcs and goblins as related but different. It is easy to justify, however. In the Lord of the Rings while they are all called orcs it is made clear that there are quite a few different tribes of orcs and there are physiological and probably sociological differences among them.
I am not going to dis either story, however. Are there flaws? Well, sure. We are, none of us, perfect, but The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings stand as classic works of the Fantasy genre. They won awards and deservedly so and even made a great set of movies. I’ve read the books at least ten times that I can recall and watched the movies through several times. Great stuff and if you are one of those who have not yet read or watched, you should do so.
Oh… okay, one flaw, just as an example: Given the amount of time the dwarves spent in the barrels, which were water and substantially airtight, they should not have survived the trip to the town on the lake. In reality, all the barrels should have opened up to reveal thirteen dead dwarves. “Oh my goodness!” said Bilbo. “I fear dinner will be exceedingly late now.”
The audio edition:
I think Rob Inglis did a remarkable job of reading the stories. His vocal pacing was superb and each character had a distinctive voice and/or accent even if a few of those voices were annoying and each fit the characters well. One thing I did find jarring; the songs. Sorry, Tolkien fans, but I discovered it is one thing to read the verses in the books and another thing to have to listen to them. Delightful verses I could skim through in the books got fairly boring when there were so many of them. There were a fair number of songs in The Hobbit and I started to chafe listening to them by the time Bilbo and crowd reached Rivendell. Honestly, I was ready to throttle the hobbits before they got out of the Shire in the trilogy. And by the time the elves started singing I would have gladly joined Sauron’s team … until I realized the orcs couldn’t stop singing any more than elves and hobbits could.
Props to the goblins/orcs, by the way; they are a remarkably musical people. Their songs may not be pleasant, but at least twice in The Hobbit they made up and sang songs on the fly as a group. That’s pretty impressive. You might expect that from the Elves, and, yes, they do it too, but goblins? It’s not uncommon to find someone who can improv a song on stage, but to be able to do so as a chorus? Not bad at all! Well, maybe orcs have a hive mind sort of mentality? Do elves?
I should mention that Mister Inglis did a fine job singing those songs, each one with a different and apt melody, but the songs often got in the way of the story, although not always. Some were complete non sequiturs, but others gave us important back story elements. However, by the time we got beyond the Hobbit folk tunes to the stuff with meat on it, I had been overwhelmed with the music and just wanted to push on with the main story. This is not how I felt while reading, just while listening. Like I said above, listening to a story is different than reading it.
I managed to get past the songs by remembering my favorite passages from Bored of the Rings (“…but pity stayed his hand. It’s a pity I’ve run out of bullets!” and songs like “Tim Tim Benzadrine, Hash! Boo! Valvoline!”) as well as commentary from the guys at Rifftrax.
All in all? A good set of recordings. If you’re a Tolkien fan, this is worth listening to and adding to your collection.