Monday, November 19, 2012

Listening to THE HOBBIT

So, a question came up last week on the MythSoc list about various audio-recordings of THE HOBBIT, and which was the best. I started to answer, then realized it's been a long time since I've listened to some of these. And, come to think of it, pulling them out and listening to them again is a good way to get myself psyched up for the forthcoming (indeed, I think I can now say 'imminent') movie. So below are my impressions of the various audio versions before listening to them again; I'll update this with a second post once I've finished re-listening to them all.

Here are the ones I came up with; if anyone knows of more, let me know and I'll add them to the list.

1. Tolkien's own recording of the scene with Gollum. Wonderful. If only we had a recording of him reading the entire book. But this is v. much a case of counting our blessings, and marvelling over our good luck that he made such a recording, and that it has survived, and been made available to us (orig. on Caedmon Records, since re-released in various compilations and formats).

2. The Mind's Eye radio play.  By far the best adaptation of THE HOBBIT ever, into any medium.  The same cast later did a LotR that is unfortunately not nearly as good, but their HOBBIT is the Gold Standard. Thorin's abilities as a leader throughout the long journey particularly come across in this version.

3. Nicole Williamson, for Argo Records.  Wonderful, but unfortunately abridged. As I understand it, N.W. recorded the entire thing but the record company decided to cut it down to a four-album set. I've always hoped that the deleted bits survived and might be restored someday, but if so there's no hint of it. And Williamson himself having since died, there's no chance he might make a new recording of the whole. Alas.

4. Martin Shaw, for Durkin-Hayes.  Well done, but unfortunately abridged. The abridgment is skillfully done: if you don't know THE HOBBIT well you'll never notice it, but the better you know the story the more you miss the little bits of dialogue and observations by the narrator that were trimmed.  On the plus side, Shaw does a good job with the reading, and it's interesting to hear THE HOBBIT with a non-posh accent

5. Rob Inglis, for Recorded Books.  Uninspired (I find Inglis's voice too monotone for a long story), but has the virtue of being the sole complete recording; all the rest are abridged or adapted. Maybe we'll be lucky enough that the films will be so popular as to cause a new recording to be made by the likes of Holm, McKellen, or Freeman. We can dream, can't we?

6. The BBC radio play. Not to be confused with the BBC radio LotR, which is an impressive piece of work. The BBC HOBBIT is much earlier, more obviously geared to children, and features sound effects that haven't aged well. Not bad, simply not as impressive as their other Tolkien work (which set the bar rather high).

7. Not sure if this really counts or not, but the soundtrack that was released in conjunction with the Rankin-Bass HOBBIT as a two-record set is in fact an abbreviated version of the whole story, with narrative between the songs (and this version was notable for including most of the poems, sung with gusto to Tolkien's original lyrics).

8. Finally, there's the 'text-to-audio' feature on the Kindle. Aesthetically it's dire, but it has the virtue of giving you the entire text just as Tolkien wrote it.

. . . Or at least that's how I remember them. Now to find out how well my memory matches up to the reality, or how much my response may have changed since I last listened to them.

current reading: Lemony Snicket (ALL THE WRONG QUESTIONS), Margaret Atwood (TRUE STORIES)


Trotter said...

There are some more examples of Tolkien reading from The Hobbit,

Tolkien recites Chip the glasses and crack the plates!
Tolkien recites Far over the Misty Mountains cold
Tolkien reads Roast Mutton

The only location that I am aware of to hear these is the enhanced ego ok of The Hobbit, I have the Kindle version. Very much recommended though.

Trotter said...

That should have said ebook.

Rebecita said...

I have only listened to the Inglis recording and personally adore it. Thanks for posting this helpful guide to the other recordings available!

AllanO said...

Just a note on the Williamson version its clear from the liner notes with the records that they condensed down the book at least in half before they even started to record. The notes say they ended up with 6 LPs worth of audio which they had to cut to fit the final 4 LPs. Also, on his blog a post mentions that he was opposed to an unabridged recording because some of the elements are redundant in an audio performance and break flow.

So while a 50% longer, less abridged version of Williamson might have once been possible (and might still be if someone kept the raw recordings but I suspect not) an unabridged version from Williamson was never in the cards

Personally Williamson's version is the definitive one to me.

Anyway its interesting to see a comparison of various audiobooks, thanks.