New Episodes Weekly!
Oct. 6, 2021

Andy Serkis Audio book of The Lord of the Rings - Our Verdict

Andy Serkis Audio book of The Lord of the Rings - Our Verdict
Apple Podcasts podcast player badge
Amazon Music podcast player badge
Spotify podcast player badge
Google Podcasts podcast player badge
JioSaavn podcast player badge
Castro podcast player badge

Big news for Tolkien fans is Andy Serkis has just released with Harper Collins and on Audible an unabridged version of The Lord of the Rings. In this episode, Juia Golding reviews the recording, comparing it to the BBC dramatised version (1981) and the Robert Inglis reading (1990). Which has the best songs? Who dares to dip into the appendices? Is there a rival to Andy's Gollum? Julia concludes with recommendations as to which might suit you and your listening needs.

Visit for more information and resources.

Hello and welcome to the MythMakers podcast brought to you by the Oxford Centre for Fantasy. This is the podcast for everybody who loves fantasy, old and new. My name is Julia Golding. I'm a writer, but I'm also the director of the Oxford Centre for Fantasy, which in particular has a focus on JRR Tolkien and the Inklings, as well as other fantasy writers who have come out of Oxford. In today's episode I thought I would tackle the big thing that's recently happened for all of you who love Tolkien, which is the new recording, unabridged, by Andy Serkis, an entire reading of The Lord of the Rings. It's just come out and is the first time that an unabridged recording has been added to your choices since the Robert English version back in 1990. But I also wanted to add into the review of the comparison of the various options you have the much earlier 1981 BBC dramatised version, because for many people that is where they begin their listening journey. So, taking those various options in order in which they were produced, i'd like to give you a little guide as to what you might find if you choose to go with one of those. Now let's go back to 1981. I actually remember this being made. It was a huge part of my childhood that the fact the BBC had done this fantastic version. It was dramatised in 26 episodes And in those days of course it wasn't on demand You had to wait with your cassette tape recorder to record them if you wanted to listen again, and I have to admit to doing that. The cast was stellar. Some of the names many of you will recognise. So Ian Holm played Frodo in the BBC version And he returned as Bilbo in the Peter Jackson films. But Gandalf was played by a man who was like a very well known actor at the time, michael Horden. I actually knew him as a child because he was the voice of the Paddington cartoons, but he also was a very notable film actor, robert Stevens. He is perhaps also known for being once married to Maggie Smith. He played Aragon and Bill Nye played Sam, and there were lots of other very notable people. John LeMissurier played Bilbo, and those of you who have watched the British comedy programme Dad's Army, he was in that cast. So you can see they really were able to attract into the recording studio a really superior team of voice actors. Now, a really nice thing about the BBC version is that it was directed by two women, jane Morgan and Penny Lester, and they did a really excellent job in choosing their material, dividing it up. They brought along Stephen Oliver, whose music I think is definitely amongst the best versions of the songs, extremely singable, and they also had extras at the end of some of the episodes where you could have even more songs if you wanted. Like I remember there was an extra set from Treebeard at one point in the two towers. So they did a really, really excellent job in bringing the poetry of Tolkien into the dramatisation. I think that one thing to point out is they took some cuts, like Peter Jackson did. They didn't include Tom Bombadil. There was sort of you know, there is an argument that Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship of the Ring, takes a long time to get going and the Tom Bombadil material isn't really important later on in the plot. So it's an obvious cut if you want to slim down your offering. They also had really good simple special effects. So when you listen to it you do feel very if you lay in bed, in the car or wherever you are. You really feel in the world. With sort of wind, sounds and the idea of particularly the black riders. They have a very ghostly tone. There's a very good smiggle as well. I mean, we've all got so used to Andy Serkis, but actually the person who takes on smiggle in this version, that's Peter Woodthorpe. He, for me, until I saw the Peter Jackson films, he was the smiggle, the voice of, and he had previously voiced the same character in the Ralph Bakshi animated version. And I believe that the gentleman who played Boromir, michael Graham Cox, also had appeared in that version too as a voice actor. So there's some lovely crossings over between the various versions. So I would say that it was just such an excellent production, really very high class. For me, the voice that I didn't quite warm to and if perhaps is just a personal taste is I found Robert Stevens as Aragorn, as a. He felt older and I happened to sort of already know what Robert Stevens looked like because he'd appeared in some children's dramas at the time And he had played a bad guy in a version of I think it was the Box of Delights, the John Maysfield story, and I remember feeling he wasn't quite right. So for me that was one of the weaker sides of that production, but definitely highly recommended, particularly, as I mentioned earlier, for the quality of the songs which they do really really well. So, moving on, we're heading a bit more into the digital age, but not quite yet. In 1990, an actor called Robert Inglis sat down and recorded an unabridged version of The Lord of the Rings. It was directed by Claudia Howard and the music is a variety of either music sort of noted by Tolkien, something that Robert Inglis had I'm not sure if his name is Inglis or Ingles, i think I'll go with Ingles He made up himself and also Claudia Howard also added some music too In the production. I think they re-released it at around the same time as the films. It has some very nice musical interludes that signal the end of a book and the beginning of another. They use this same production note in the Martin Shaw version of Silmarillion and then, really well chosen, a sense of almost like the tide is leaving, and I think it really adds to that version. What do you get when you listen to Robert Ingalls? Well, you get a very professorial tone. I kind of tell myself. It's a bit like sitting listening to Tolkien read it to you, and that is a big plus point. He's very good. He doesn't push too far away from a reading voice. It's not a dramatized reading, but he does find a lot of different notes and you're never confused by who's speaking. He does an extremely good job And I think it's very listenable. He definitely has a quality about it which is very relaxing and the perfect audio book, in a sense that you can just let it wash through you and wash over you and you go with the story. I think that perhaps he's less good on how to put this, because it feels a bit like a period piece. I'm almost surprised to find it was recorded in 1990, because he feels like he could have recorded it in 1950. There is an element of it feeling slightly old fashioned. I think it might be the tone and the feeling of a gentleman of a certain age. So what you're getting, as I'm saying, is it does feel quite appropriate to imagining it being a bit like Tolkien reading to you. So let us move on now to the big new player in the field, and that is Andy Serkis's version. Now, i think it's really interesting finding Andy Serkis having dedicated what must have been a very large part of his life recently Maybe it was a lockdown project to recording this, and I think that what you get, of course, is it feels much more familiar to people who have come at Tolkien from the film. So the very first thing to say is, when he chooses a character voice, he very often is channeling what you see from the screen, thanks to Peter Jackson. So, for example, the choice to make Pip in Scottish, the char is a very small place and it's quite funny to think that within such a small area there are such wildly different accents, which is perfectly fine, and I can see that it distinguishes the hobbits from each other. But I'm also thinking of, of course, billy Boyd, as he does the voice. It's fine, but just warn you that there is that element of hearing film actors underneath what Andy Serkis is doing. The other thing that the other actor who is very clearly an inspiration for a voice is Boromir, totally Sean Bean. Very good, very good interpretation of Sean Bean. Again, the choice of an northern accent there, so that I think, will please lots of people because they will be clued in, they can imagine almost seeing a version of the film in their imagination happening. The other thing about Andy Serkis' approach is, unlike Robert Ingalls who, as I said, had more of a reading voice and doesn't push too far into the drama, there is more energy and more performance behind Andy Serkis' version. So in terms of listening experience, there is peaks and troughs. It's actually more dramatic And it is a performance as opposed to a reading, if I can draw that distinction. I have to have some caveats. There are a couple of things in it which for me are a problem And they come particularly at the beginning of the Fellowship of the Ring, which is he's not that great at singing the Hobbit songs. He does get better, i felt, as the Fellowship of the Rings went on, but there are some pretty ropey songs. Either he's not been given a great tune or he's decided they don't sing very well And that was a bit off-putting. And the section which I find really difficult and disappointing was Tom Bombadil. He's gone for a very bombastic tone and it has just really jarred for me. I disliked intensely. If I'm going to listen alongside, i would go and listen to that chapter done by Robert Ingalls in future, who doesn't send it up as much. It may be that because this character didn't appear in the films, there wasn't a sense of who he could be And he comes across as being. He doesn't seem to have the gravity or the depth and this earth. He's the oldest creature ever alive. And the Andy Serkis version makes him feel really annoying, so I don't recommend those chapters. But everything else I've thoroughly enjoyed and massive, massive plus point which is why you might go for this version over the others if you're a Tolkien nerd is that when it's said to be an unabridged version, it is an unabridged version He does. The Prefetry Material, the Tolkien introduction, is absolutely fascinating as a scene setter for what you go on to hear, and the Appendices. Now that is a really bold choice by the people who produced this audio book. But hooray. So now you can actually hear the Appendices read as well, which is great. That's new material and I think is worth definitely buying. Return of the King If you've already got, say, the Robert Ingalls version, you might want to say pick that one, because you've got a whole load of new material at the end, and of course he gets to be Gollum again. So that's pretty good, isn't it? I find the strongest voices for me in what he's done, the sweeter voices he's done. I really like Frodo and Sam. I think they're really good, and also his Aragorn is great. It's a sort of slightly deeper Andy Serker's voice, very attractive. It doesn't have the problem I found with the Robert Stevens of being too plummy. It's not a takeoff of Viggo Mortison at all If you're looking for a voice actor whom it's a bit like it sounds a bit like Clive Lewis. It's got a very nice tone And you can think, yeah, this is one of the heroes. So thank you very much, audible, for giving us yet more hours of talking to enjoy. If I was going to finish with sort of like my star review, i think for performance as in drama, you would have to struggle to beat the BBC version. That's definitely five stars. Robert Ingalls, on performance in drama, is more of a, you know, a three. And Andy Serkis is another five star for a single voice actor. In terms of listenability, they all score really highly. They're all five stars. But if I was going to give you a sort of which one do I buy, i'd say if you've got a family listening, go for the BBC version. If you are personally listening on your own, the choice between the Andy Serkis and the Robert Ingalls version is do you want to be read to or do you want to be performed at? And that's where I would, you know, decide which one I'm going for And, of course, if you, if you like it, get get all of them, which is what I've done, and depending how I feel, i choose the one I want to. So thank you very much for listening And that's my view on the audio versions. But before we leave, i always in every podcast try and choose where in the world is the best place to go, and for this episode I thought we'd choose where in the fantasy world is the best place to be ill, because listening to the Lord of the Rings again reminded me just how often particularly Frodo gets ill or gets wounded and how important healing and medicine is. Now, obviously, you might say the best place to go in Tolkien's world for healing would be the houses of healing in Minas Tirith Or or, of course, rivendell, where you've got Elrond as the sort of master healer. But I was also thinking outside of Tolkien's world. I'm very fond of a fantasy series that starts with a book called War Prize by Elizabeth Vaughn, and what I like about that series is that the character arc of the main character is that she brings it's not about magic or anything like that, she brings conventional medicine to the invaders who come to her country. She's handed over as a war prize and her role is to teach these people the importance of healing And I really enjoy that. That's the dilemma. It's an unusual dilemma to have in a fantasy book that her job is to persuade them that you know you don't just kill somebody when they get injured. They give them the mercy stroke because you know a broken leg meant they're never be able to be a warrior again. She is turning around their traditions and their understandings about strength, weakness and what is really strong isn't necessarily muscles, it's intelligence and caring and all those kind of things. So in a sense I would say the best place for healing might be in Elizabeth Vaughan's War Prize, just to ring the changes, not always choosing Tolkien, you see. So of course I'm going to see S Lewis. It's very useful to have Lucy's Cordial on hand because that seems a very quick pick-me-up, pretty much almost bringing you back from the dead. So not quite, but almost. So that's also a little. You know, if you're gonna travel, have Lucy's Cordial with you, that would help. So that's the answer to where in the world? I hope that you've also had a chance to listen to our podcast that we did with the live stream about the forthcoming Amazon Prime series set in Tolkien's second age, where I was joined by Paula Calamaris, writer, and Ty Trusdale, filmmaker. If you haven't caught up with that yet, it's available on YouTube, facebook and also as a podcast, so please do check that out and let us know what you think. So until next time, thank you very much for joining us here at Mythmakers. Goodbye.