Adapted for BBC Radio 4 by Brian Sibley and Michael Bakewell
“So many pages left blank! Almost as though Bilbo knew that the story which he began would one day have to be finished by someone else. ‘I’ve left them for you Frodo my lad.’ He used to say! But I never really supposed that the task would fall to me. Yes a great many pages but barely enough to tell the tale in full. Its’ dramas, terrors and sadnesses. Nevertheless it must be told. Shall be told! However long the telling may take. And always supposing that I am permitted the time to tell it. But where to begin? Where did it all really begin? Not with my journey. No long before. With Bilbo’s adventures? There And Back Again? No not even there. It began with a tale told before our time. Before Hobbits had any part to play in it. A tale told by other voices. Recorded by other hands. A tale that began long years ago…”
This adaptation of Lord of the Rings is one very close to me personally.This is the version of Lord Of The Rings in my mind. I see the actors from Peter Jackson’s famous film version but I hear Ian Holm as Frodo instead of Elijah Wood or Michael Horden as Gandalf instead of Ian Mckellen as marvellous as they may be.
Quite literally I can remember using this and Stephen Fry’s audio version of the earlier Harry Potter to help me sleep as a youngster to prevent insomnia. I mean that in the best way possible. This version made me fall in love with the story. Even now I could sing The Road Goes Ever On and On or The Ballad of Gil-Galad to the tunes from this radio version. This is so close to me that I don’t think I can do it justice. But I have to try.
Brian Sibley and company are masters of the craft. They know exactly how to take Tolkien’s epic and all the language idiosyncrasies that come with his elaborate and incredibly specific word choice and make the dialogues sound natural. You can often see yourself lost in the flow of it. The mayhem at The Prancing Pony and The Council of Elrond seem especially noteworthy as believable moments. You can see yourself reacting exactly the same as those patrons of the Pony or feeling just as lost as the Council if you were asked what to do.
Of course that’s not even taking battles like Moria into account. I feel that they do a good job of displaying the panic of being caught in the crush of battle. After all what is a group of nine, several of whom’s members are a lot shorter than your average man and possibly not even carrying weapons going to do against orcs or Uruk-Hai!?
I must congratulate the cast. As I mentioned Ian Holm as Frodo and Michael Horden as Gandalf are personal favourites of mine alongside Robert Stevens as Aragorn, Marian Diamond as Galadriel and Douglas Livingstone as Gimli. They all perfectly allow the listener to understand their thoughts and feelings both spoken and unsaid without it feeling forced. You get caught up in the story thanks to them and hoping they’ll make it through even when you know how the story ends! In fact I’m not the only one congratulating them! Peter Jackson has admitted previously in many interviews over the years that this version had the most influence over his films out of any other adaptation. He wouldn’t have gotten Ian Holm to be his older Bilbo in Lord Of The Rings or The Hobbit trilogy otherwise. Every cast member clearly throws themselves into it with both feet and it shows.
But don’t forget Stephen Oliver’s musical compositions or the contributions from the Radiophonic Workshop in the person of Elizabeth Parker – as a side note the Radiophonic Workshop had a long history of doing both music and sound effects for classic Doctor Who all the way from 1963 to 1989. Both Oliver and Parker are at their best here. There’s a reason I remember this version and a good chunk of it is to do with the music. These tunes have been buried and burned into my brain since I was a child. When I heard The Ballad of Gil-Galad again listening to this for the review, I sang the entire thing along with Sam.
In conclusion I genuinely consider all three parts of this a masterpiece of radio and a magnum opus worthy of the source material. I implore all my readers to find either a physical CD copy or digital download as per your preference of all three parts and lose yourself in the magic of it as I do. The Orkney Library certainly used to have physical copies of all three parts although I can’t say if they still do. It’s been many years since I took out their copies.
“Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to Rule Them All, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.”
(Editor’s note: I did check and Orkney Library does have a copy of this audiobook. It is very difficult to find one for sale)