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The BBC Radio Series Review
by Rosie Lass

With the new film coming out there have been a lot of reviews knocking around about the cartoon version. I would like to balance this up by submitting a review of the BBC radio production of the book. This is by no means an impartial review as I will tell you right now as a sad little Tolkien obsessive I think the series is great. Anyone who hasn't heard it yet, shame on you, get down to your local library or wherever and get hold of a copy. The radio series is thirteen hours long and about as faithful to the book as one could reasonably expect. It is voiced by some very fine British actors including our own Ian Holm (Frodo), Michael Hordon (Gandalf) and Robert Steven all of whom are or were (Robert Stevens is dead now I think) no strangers to the Royal Shakespeare Company. The nice thing about having classically trained actors in the production is that they give The Lord of the Rings the kind of gravitas it deserves and really brings out Tolkien’s lovely use of language. The book is treated as a classic piece of literature not just some children's story

I think that most of the voices used are pretty spot on. Holm is great as Frodo (I can't wait to see him as Bilbo) he brings a real depth and range of emotion to the character. Don't be put off if the actor playing Sam, William Nye (apologies if this is spelt wrong I only have a recorded version from the radio to go on) sounds a bit posh as first he soon settles in to the character. I like the fact that they give the different races distinctive sounding voices. The hobbits all have light voices, Elves are elegantly spoken and Gimli sounds suitably gruff. Perhaps the best performance is from Peter Woodthorpe as Gollum (he also played the part in the cartoon). He just is Gollum, hissing, whining, sounding in turns repulsive and pathetic. It's hard to imagine anyone else doing as good a job. Good luck Andy Serkis! The only voice which I really don't like is Arwen, she sounds about ninety! Still she's only in it for about five seconds (no "expanded role" here) so it's not too much of a problem.

The story is pretty much faithful to the book although once again Bombadil is left out I imagine for the usual reasons, to save time and because he doesn't advance the story. Other than that it has minor tweakings mostly to save time and the Frodo and Sam story-line intercuts with the rest. Only the most rabid purist could really be upset. A narrator is used, usually bits of the story when there is not much going on except traveling, a sort of verbal way to get from A to B. Because obviously there are no visuals sometimes the characters have to do a bit of "Oh look at that thing over there" description which can come across as a little awkward in places. It's hard to say objectively if someone who had never read the book might sometimes be confused about what was going on but generally I think they did a really good job.

Music is used to really good affect in this production. A lot of the songs from the book are used (Ian Holm I'm afraid can't sing to save his life) but the background music is great as well. The battle at Helm’s Deep is handled really well with a dramatic chorus of voices intercut with short pieces of dialogue. The battle of Pelennor Fields doesn't in my opinion work quite so well as they try and turn it into one long ballad and all the singing does grate a bit towards the end of the series. However there are some great uses of sound effects. There is always a high pitched noise when someone puts on the Ring or when it exerts its influence and all the background sounds are completely convincing.

For my money the radio series is the definitive interpretation of The Lord of the Rings and unless the film is truly amazing it will continue to be so. The great thing is that the story is brought to life without your personal vision of the books being compromised. O.K. it is a bit on the long side but no Tolkien fan can possibly have a limited attention span and it’s a great thing to take on long journeys, etc. Of course it's no substitute for the book and if you only listen to the radio play or watch the film you will be missing out on all the little gems which no interpretation could have room for.

–Rosie Lass

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