Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Hobbit (audiobook)

by J.R.R. Tolkien


This version of The Hobbit comes from the 1968 radio dramatisation broadcast by the BBC. It tells the story of Bilbo Baggins, a reluctant adventurer who allows the wizard Gandalf to recruit him on an adventure. A group of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield want to retake their homeland, which has been captured and ravaged by the dragon Smaug.

Bilbo isn't sure about going on an adventure, something that's considered in very poor taste amongst hobbits, and he's even less happy about being given the role of a burglar. But against his better judgement he decides to go on this escapade. It's a journey over mountains and through dark forests. They encounter goblins, wargs, and all manner of dangers and strange creatures, before they reach their destination. Bilbo doesn't have much at stake when it comes to the dwarves' battle to retake their home, but on the way he makes friends so that their welfare becomes his concern. He also comes across a certain magic ring that has the power to render its wearer invisible, and he meets the foul, suspicious Gollum who was the previous owner.

The Hobbit has some quite farcical parts, such as the incident with the three trolls, and Bilbo is also an amusing character in his own right. So there's a fairly light tone to the story, and it's suitable for most older children. However there is also a fair bit of fighting, even though Bilbo is more of the running-away kind of adventurer.

One of the things that stood out for me was how few women's voices there are in the cast. There are one or two very minor characters such as people in the town of Esgaroth, but on the whole Tolkien didn't write enough women in to this story, and this adaptation reflects that imbalance. On a practical level that means there are too many similar voices, so I sometimes found myself confused about who was speaking. Gandalf and Bilbo in particular sound too alike.

Another thing that's a little odd is the way the wargs and eagles speak. I didn't expect these creatures to speak at all, being animals, but when they do the effects for their voices sound pretty much the same. In this respect the recording hasn't aged well, thanks to the limitations of technology when it was made. However the main thing that pulled me out of the story had nothing to do with technology or casting, but was more about the underlying script. Bilbo and his companions settle into a routine of fighting, running, meeting new adversaries or allies, and repeating that sequence. By the fifth episode (of nine) I found the plot was getting predictable, and I was starting to wonder what the point of it all was. It's not long-winded, but character development tends to take a back seat whilst action and adventure is always in the foreground. This means there are lots of battles, and on audio that makes for a lot of yelling, clashing of swords and shields, and general chaos, while listeners only have a vague idea of what is going on.

What I liked best was the humour in Bilbo's character, and the way he tries to bring some sense to the gold-hungry dwarves. It's a charming tale about how even the smallest person has a part to play in any great adventure. It's very colourful, with a great variety of fantastic creatures from smooth elves to cackling goblins to dumb trolls and much more. The music on this is Tolkien's own composition, so it's a bit hit and miss but it has an authentic medieval sound and some of it is pleasantly atmospheric. Overall this adaptation isn't perfect, but it did spark my imagination and raise a smile.

3rd December 2012

Book Details

Decade: 1960s

Categories: Books

  Kids     Fantasy
    Male Protagonist  

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3 star rating

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