Review: The Hobbit Dramatization re-released by BBC AudioBooks America (10.11.08 by Pieter Collier) - Comments

Exciting times it must be for BBC Audiobooks America. For the first time in the US they will release The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and the Tales from the Perilous Realm in audio format this year. All are being released on Audio CD and all have some very nice extras.

Have a look here to see all audio editions to be released in the US this year.

Now let us have a look at the BBC dramatization of The Hobbit, which has been released this year on July 29 by BBC Audiobooks America.

BBC The Hobbit Dramatization by BBC AudioBooks America
The newly released edition of the Hobbit Radio Dramatization includes 4 CD’s and a bonus CD featuring expanded versions of music composed by David Cain, specially commisioned for the dramatization and a rare interview with Tolkien; or in total 4 hours of dramatization, 12 minutes of extra music and 12 minutes of a Tolkien interview. It comes in a nice white cardboard box, with a relief print of a dragon (drawn by Tolkien) on the cover and holds a black CD map with the 5 CD's. All very well presented and of high quality.

Type: Audio CD
Publisher: BBC Audiobooks America

Edition: Dramatization edition
Release Date: July 29, 2008

Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602834547
ISBN-13: 978-1602834545

We are now all waiting for the adaptation of the Hobbit to the big screen, so I was very curious to see how the BBC dramatization was like. Might it proof a good guide for Guillermo Del Toro?

As you all know by now, I like to listen to audio books when I ride to my office. And when I drive, I prefer dramatizations to the dry reading of prose, and the BBC high quality dramatizations are almost on a par with reading the written word. It was a big disappointment to see that the CD’s of the Hobbit Dramatization did not work on my car radio, while The Lord of the Rings and Tales from the Perilous Realm did play, as they should. So I had to listen them on my Mac Book to be able to review them.

BBC The Hobbit Dramatization by BBC AudioBooks America
The first thing I need to say about this dramatization is that it is a fairly old production, recorded in the 1968, that was only released for the first time as a commercial recording twenty years later in 1988.

This new re-release of the BBC Radio Adaptation of The Hobbit, which pre-dates the very successful 1978 BBC Radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, was performed by a full cast of mostly Shakespearean actors and came with specially composed music and audio effects. This series was adapted by Michael Kilgariff, and produced by John Powell, in eight half-hour mono episodes for BBC Radio 4 (and not by Brian Sibley who did the Lord of the Rings and Tales from the Perilous Realm).

Originally it was broadcast in eight parts (four total hours) from September to November 1968. It starred Anthony Jackson as narrator, Paul Daneman as Bilbo Baggins, Wolfe Morris as Gollum, John Hustin as Thorin Oakenshield, John Pullen as Elrond, Peter Williams as Bard the Bownman and Heron Carvic as Gandalf. The series was first released on audio cassette in 1988 and on CD in 1997.

The radio series follows the plot of the original novel (of the revised 1951 version) very closely, except for the addition of the narrator whose account of the story is often interrupted and embellished by the protagonist Bilbo Baggins in the role of secondary narrator. This can be sometimes a bit confusing and  when you listen to the CD’s for the first time even a bit annoying.

This version of The Hobbit, a full-cast performance of the fantasy classic, is a dramatization that abridges the story while adding music and realistic sound effects for large crowds, bugles, and animals. Unfortunately, the accompanying sounds and music prove rather distracting, making the book confusing and the use of lost lines make it harder to follow the story.

In addition, the radio dramatization omits some important transitional events, furthering the confusion. I think someone not familiar with the book would have a very hard time following the story, but for Tolkien fans, it's harmless fun at least.

Still, the performers give a fine vision to each of the characters and once you get used to the ‘old style dramatization’ it is big fun to listen to. Bilbo grows from a small, quiet, nervous, worried Hobbit to a gallant, inventive, and courageous hero. The dwarves, although most of the time hard to differentiate, are solid and stubborn. Gandalf sounds like an effete, supercilious butler rather than a vigorous wizard whose whimsy conceals a lord of great reverence. Bard the Bownman is however very well done.

The producer John Powell, or maybe Michael Kilgarriff who dramatized the Hobbit, seems to have misunderstood Tolkien’s language because all the actors and the narrator mispronounce many of the proper names, putting the accent on the last syllable instead of the first: Thorin becomes Toréen, Gandalf is Gandálf and most horrible Gollum is Gollóom.

Unfortunately for this production, any dramatization of tolkien's works will inevitably be judged against the greatest of them all: The magnificent BBC radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, which was produced 10 years later and dramatized by Brian Sibley and Michael Bakewell.  That production was far superior to Peter Jackson's New Line film trilogy. Alas, listeners hoping for a version of The Hobbit that measures up to the BBC Lord of the Rings Radio Dramatization will be disappointed here.

Still, there is good news and a major reason why any Tolkien fans should buy this series. The 5th CD, while first giving 4 tracks of extra music has 5 tracks with a Tolkien interview. It is always great to hear the professor talking about dwarves, elves, the beginning of the Hobbit, the success of the Hobbit, the start of the Lord of the Rings, Gollum, Middle-earth, immortality, critics on The Lord of the Rings, Sex in Lord of the Rings,  …
For sure here are some pieces from the Gerrolt interview that we did not hear before, but I also suspect some other pieces are in here. Since sometimes Tolkien sounds louder and sometimes sits clearly in a room where we hear a clock ticking in the background. Sadly the questions by the interviewees have been cut out and a narrator stitches all pieces together. All I know Tolkien was interviewed in 1964 by Irene Slade for the programme 'Reluctant Olympians' in the British Broadcasting Corporation's radio series 'A World of Sound', and informally (with a midget tape recorderd) by Dennis Gerrolt for the BBC Sound Archives (now the National Sound Archives). I only heard the recordings one time before writing the interview, but I clearly heard pieces that came from the Tolkien documentary and from the Gerrolt interview. I’ll have to re-listen several times before I know where all pieces come from.

Listening to Tolkien speaking is something special and especially when you hear him discuss your favorite topics. While I felt disappointed about the Hobbit dramatization, the extra CD over excited me! It is a great extra and is a must have for all Tolkien fans.

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