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Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Hobbit (BBC Radio Presents) (audiobook) by J.R.R. Tolkien

A Disappointing Adaptation

Published in 1988 by Bantam Audio Publishing 
Performed by a full cast
Duration: 3 hours, 42 minutes
Abridged and edited for the radio drama format.

Way back in 1968, the BBC created a radio play version of The Hobbit to air in eight 30 minute segments with a full cast, original music and special effects. Due to a dispute between the Tolkien estate and the BBC the original tapes were to have been destroyed. But, the issues were resolved, copies resurfaced and since the late 1980s the BBC has re-issued this version of The Hobbit in various formats. I listened to a 1988 audio cassette version.

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973)
Now, I truly love the story The Hobbit - it is a true classic and I listened to this version to give myself a little reminder of the story before the movie comes out at the end of this year.

However, this audio version has some serious troubles.

First, the positives. The narrator (a character created for this abridgment of the story) is quite good and I rather enjoyed the interaction between the narrator and Bilbo. It reminded me of someone telling a story around a campfire and another person coming in and clarifying a point from time to time as the story was being told.

But, there are problems. The dwarves tended to blend together and sounded like a rowdy, whiny frat party most of the time with a lot of hooting, grunting and complaining. But, with 13 dwarves it would have been very difficult to do much with them anyway, except to cut down on the extra noise of having all or most of them speak at the same time in scene after scene. On top of that, the names are pronounced differently in this version than I have ever heard them. Gandalf is pronounced with the emphasis on the last syllable and sometimes sounds like gand-ELF. Gollum is pronounced Gul-loom.

But, that would have all been understandable and forgivable if that were the worst of the problems. The special effects are horrid. Sometimes they are too loud so that they dominate the scene (as in when they are carried by the giant eagles) and other times they are pathetic. For instance, in the scene with the wargs there is no attempt made to make the wargs sound wolf-like. Instead, the actors are all baying, "Woooo-ooooo-ooo!" at the microphone. Throw in the horrid voices of the thrush and the eagles and scenes that are meant to be a treat becomes something that must be endured. This adaptation was made on the cheap and it shows, especially when compared to the high quality work done by companies like GraphicAudio nowadays.

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Hobbit.

Reviewed on September 22, 2012.


  1. Of course it's an old radio series so the effects were simple and low budget. But the acting is good and the music, played by David Munrow and the early music consort, is brilliant, creating a sense of the other worldly which the epic strings and horn of the soundtrack to LoTR doesn't seem to do. The pronunciations are quite possibly what Tolkein intended anyway.

    1. JMC -

      Thanks for your comment. I have to disagree on two things and agree on a third:

      #1) The special effects. Old-time radio shows, the ones from the 1920s and 1930s had better effects than this one from 1968. I think they should've rounded up a couple of guys from the old days to show them how to do it properly.

      #2) Tolkein left tremendously detailed pronunciation guides for all of the names and places in his books. These are just pronounced incorrectly. The names were not a deal-breaker for me, though. It was just difficult to listen to any scenes with talking animals.

      #3) I liked the music as well.

  2. I read the hobbit too, loved it as a child and when I listened to this I really loved it. The sound may not have been top notch like today's stuff, or a show with a high budget, but that isn't a reason to hate it really- the sound is only a minor part of an adaptation of a story. So they had a low budget; who cares? I certainly liked it and would give it a 4/5 because nothing's perfect :)