on February 9, 2004
I'm a big LOTR fan. I hoped to find this a way to enjoy the books while walking, etc. And up to now it has been wonderful.
The production of this audiobook is great (five stars)--the care in putting it together physically is nil stars--so I've opted for three.
Inglis manages to bring Middle Earth and its inhabitants to life--and while some say he sounds bored at times, I think it may be that curious "story-telling" inflection, not boredom at all. It's like having someone tell you a rousing good story without being over dramatic and loud. No musical distractions No bombast, no sound effects. Just a warm, jolly voice telling me a great tale. Although I must say I was disappointed not to hear the prologue.
However, I am missing disk 16. I see someone else is missing disk 15. I wonder if the makers were in a rush to get some product out there after the success of the films, and were a bit lax in quality control.
I wish to make it clear that in NO way do I blame AMAZON for this problem. They have been more than fair...and I am quite happy with their service and wouldn't hesitate to deal with them again. I will also say that the package arrived almost a full month before I expected it! I will put it down to a freak of packaging.
Still...one anticipates, and I am disappointed.
on February 16, 2003
This full-cast abridgement of THE LORD OF THE RINGS is The Mind's Eye version produced for American radio in 1979, several years before the infinitely superior BBC version with Ian Holm. The eleven-hour-plus dramatization deserves recognition as a sincere, pioneering attempt to bring J. R. R. Tolkien's epic fantasy to imaginative life for an American audience in a way that the animated films of the period could not. The production was very well-received at the time and appreciated as a folk-culture event. Radio drama has been a rarity in the United States since the early 1950's whereas it has always thrived in the United Kingdom. (There had been an early British radio broadcast of LotR of which Tolkien, who disliked dramatic forms in general, disapproved.) While the subsequent 1981 BBC masterwork is a lavish, technically dazzling production sporting internationally acclaimed actors, the humble Mind's Eye version, utilizing a small cast of local-theatre players, is a low-budget, no-frills affair reputed to have been recorded in a bathroom in Pittsburgh with the microphone taped to a rubber duck. Most of the voices are wrong and pronunciation awkward, but everyone makes an enthusiastic effort, which is the main reason that the marathon show remains so endearing despite its uneven quality. Scriptwriter Bernard Mayes had his task cut out for him, considering that it no doubt was a labor of love which had to be done quickly for little or no money. According to the conventions of the radio drama format, the adaptation emphasizes dialogue over description, and while the merest sketch of the novel, Mayes' script is generally an effective condensation, highlighted by the inclusion of the beloved Tom Bombadil episode. Scripter Mayes also plays Gandalf quite splendidly and his fine, robust performance make this version worth a listen for all but the most cringing of purists. Gale Chugg (a notable cartoon voice) gives a spirited and straightforward account of the narration and doubles as a delightfully creepy Gollum. Other voices do not fare so well, but weaknesses among the supporting cast would mean little if the protagonists were not so drastically miscast. Samwise (Lou Bliss) is energetic and cheeky but sounds like a contemporary Noo Yawk street kid; while Frodo (James Arrington) starts out with an appropriate clear-speaking earnestness, only to become a monotonous, whining drone when crushed by the terrible burden of the evil One Ring. This means that THE RETURN OF THE KING, which places an inordinate burden of its own on these young actors, is rendered a painfully draggy conclusion to the epic narrative. The overall result would not seem such a travesty if so much better had not since come from Ian Holm, Martin Shaw, Rob Inglis and of course the Peter Jackson films. For all its gross imperfection, The Mind's Eye LORD OF THE RINGS maintains a nostalgic charm for listeners who can be forgiving of the primitive circumstances of the little production and focus on its historocity and ambitious, well-meaning intent.
on April 27, 2002
Everyone knows at least some of the plot, so I won't go into that.
I found Fellowship of the Ring to be rather dull, except for a few scenes.
I found Two Towers to be little better, and by the beginning of the Return of the King I was sick of the whole thing. The biggest problem had to be their change of speech.Did anyone else notice that in the beginning they talked just about the same as one might hear walking down the street, and that by the end of The Return of the King the characters sounded like they were quoting Shakespeare?
Also, some times Tolkien had his characters say very strange things, for example:
Sam says "Ninnyhammer! Noodles! My beautiful rope!" something like that, but.. honestly, NINNYHAMMER??
And then, before that, when discussing the elven rope, Sam also says "the rope is as soft as milk" or the like.
Anyways, overall, a great book, Tolkien really started off the entire Fantasy genre, but just because he was the first, doesn't mean he's the best. I prefer Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series, but then again, several of Jordan's stuff came from The Lord of the Rings, so.. I just don't know..
By the way, I liked the movie better, which almost NEVER happens.
on February 7, 2002
I got this massive thing for christmas and I must say I was a bit daunted. I've read a lot of books in the 600 to 700 page realm but very few this long. So I figure it can't be to difficult, so I dove right in and what did I find?
What I found was a great concept delivered in a pretty dull fashion. The Lord of the Rings is a 1000 page epic adventure, which if you narrowed it down could have probably been a lot shorter, a lot more concise and a lot easier to read. I don't know about anyone else, but I found the endless pages of descriptions of then walking around and where the hills were in comparison to their location a bit tiresome. After a while I began to just skim over those parts and hope for some action to come.
And when the action came, it was horribly underwhelming. It was hard to realize when it should be exciting.
For example, in the climatic scene with Gollum, Frodo, and Sam in Mordor, when the climax finally happened(I don't want to go into the details and spoil it for anyone wanting to read it) I didn't really feel anything about it. Nothing at all. It sort of just went through me. Was I susposed to feel excited or something?
Anyway, I still think this book was worth reading, if not for the fact that it's one of those cultural standards that everyone has read. I give it three stars because the story is well thoughtout and Mr. Tolkien was definatly not lazy, hell he created a whole language and all those family trees. It was just more than a little dull for my liking.
By the way, i'm reading The Hobbit as we speak and finding it a much better read. Theirs no endless stream of names that I have no idea about, or endless descriptions of things I don't care about, and (gasp), I actually feel suspense in certain parts, eh gad.
on January 6, 2002
"The Two Towers" -- the second volume in Tolkien's model-train-set of a novel, "The Lord of the Rings" -- has fewer of the pleasures to be found in the first volume ("The Fellowship of the Ring"), while enlarging many of the first volume's faults. As everyone in the world must know by now, "The Lord of the Rings" basically tells how various good-hearted fantasy creatures strive to destroy a magic ring that, if acquired by the Enemy, would result in the end of decent society. Here the journey continues just as in the first volume, but Tolkien now moves much more slowly. He introduces us to fewer characters and "wonders" than in the first volume (most interesting, to me, were the Tree Shepherds, the revamped Gollum, and Boromir's brother), while filling many pages with tedious faux Arthurianism involving the Riders of Rohan, and with deadly landscape descriptions that are at once long-winded and vague. Nevertheless, the old excitement returns often enough -- particularly in the last few chapters -- and by the end my desire to find out what happens in the final volume was as fresh as ever.
on December 21, 2001
I somehow made it long past adolescence without reading THE LORD OF THE RINGS books. I read THE RETURN OF THE KING and the others (in order, of course) because I wanted to before the movies came out. Somehow I didn't get into these books as much as I felt I should. I found the battle scenes no less boring than the over-extended descriptions of journey. The smaller-scale conflict, especially the part of the story revolving around Frodo and Sam were more interesting, but requiring a greater suspension of disbelief. The climatic moment in the final book (more than 100 pages before the actual end of the book) was anti-climatic in the extreme, and while a friend of mine who is a devotee of these books found Sauron's lack of appearance to be "brilliant," I was disappointed. The evil faced by our heroes had a name, but no face, I guess (the move got around this by explaining that he is non-corporeal).
Still, the last 100 pages, essentially a post-script, brought the whole series together for me. The allegory was strongest, or at least most obvious, here. The hobbits are a race of Cincinatuses, only wanting to mind their own business. They are totally innocent and un-ambitious. That's why they were the only ones who could be trusted with the evil ring. At the same time, they were all too quick to accept authoritarian rule without question or resistance. Frodo lost his innocence to save the world, but a little loss of innocence was needed to save the hobbits from their own apathy. The message of the last part of the book is that evil must be engaged; those who hope to ignore evil will be suppressed like everyone else, and ultimately give in to its ways.
As for the battles and daring escapes, they didn't do it for me. Battle participants are often built up as Davids and Goliaths, with Goliath always losing because of David's will, luck, outside help, or reasons unexplained. Seldom do our heroes' wits or cleverness get them out of trouble, more often they are saved by eagles dropping out of the sky. Still I will miss these characters and enjoyed the movies. I'm actually thinking of re-reading THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. Maybe someday I'll re-read this one, too.
on December 7, 2001
There is so much to be said against The Lord Of The Rings that it shouldn't be worth the effort. A book that, judged by conventional standards, contains so many appalling lapses of taste and so much coarse vulgarity really ought, by now, to have faded from sight.
From many points of view, it has dated badly, and its aesthetics and politics are now so odd that you might be forgiven for thinking, as Peter Jackson's new trilogy of movies rapidly approaches, that its appeal, after all, is one of a delicious period piece.
But all judgements have always been confounded by this extraordinary book. It ought to be too long, and too pointlessly abstruse, to command wide popularity; it is not a book for children, and yet not a book for adults either; its style is too elevated for popular literature, but too coarse for "high" literature. There is no reason on earth for anyone to like it, and there are plenty of readers who still think that the judgement of JRR Tolkien's first publisher - who was surprised when it started to look as if the book might make as much as £1,000 - was much sounder than the people who, in the past 50 years, have bought more than 100 million copies of the book.
However, by now, The Lord Of The Rings is unarguably a part of English literature. Contrary to popular belief, 100 million readers can perfectly well be wrong; but the continuing life of the book cannot just be ignored. It is just there, massively.
But, in many ways, it is just awful. It is amazingly humourless, and Tolkien knows it - over and over again, he writes " 'Come, master Pippin!' Gandalf laughed" - a very bad sign, all those laughing wizards. You don't have to be politically correct to be mildly alarmed by some aspects of it. Apart from Eowyn, the women in it are not madly significant, or allowed to do anything much. There is Galadriel, who stays at home being Wise; there are Goldberry or Rose, who stay at home being Patient Helpmeets; there are Lobelia Sackville Baggins and Shelob, who stay at home being completely ghastly.
It is an appallingly naïve fantasy of good and evil races; mostly, the good people are tall and blond and speak Nordic or Celtic languages, and the bad ones are dark and hairy and talk a sort of Persian - those guttural dwarves are allowed a sort of virtue, but it is rather grudging in tone. Sam Gamgee is a loyal retainer of the most frightful variety, still "Mr Frodo-ing" away and knowing his place 1,000 pages in; basically, he is Dickens's Sam Weller, and Tolkien couldn't even be bothered to change his name.
Tolkien probably knew as much about language as anyone, but it would be fair to say that his interest stopped at grammatical inflection. The Lord of the Rings, by ordinary standards, is just badly written. Great swathes of it are in a sort of Ben-Hur biblical: "And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them... until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords..."
There are endless mock subtleties of the "It seemed to Sam that he saw..." variety. And there is, too, that infallible sign of a really bad writer, the overuse of the word "suddenly". Everything in The Lord of the Rings happens suddenly, dozens of times a chapter. And yet it is one of those very rare books that confounds all objections, all standards, and which in the end may make its own standards. Nobody, I think, has ever produced anything with the imaginative density and intricacy of the book. The reviewer's cliché is, for once, apt here; he really created a world.
The power and resonance of the book come in part from an ethical debate that is much more adult than one remembers - it is haunted by the cruelty of its age, and is not, in fact, just about the alternative of Good and Evil, the elves and the orcs, but largely about the possibility of becoming evil through the best intentions. It is really about slow corruption, and is at its finest in the portraits of Saruman and Denethor, characters who it is not difficult to parallel in 20th-century history.
But its claim on real greatness comes from the sense of huge, half-glimpsed vistas of history and language, the illusion (which may not be an illusion) that its author knew exactly the languages each of its characters would have spoken and understood the events of ancient history that lead all of them to act as they do.
In a realistic novelist, writing about a real war, this would be a remarkable feat of intelligence; when you consider that Tolkien invented absolutely everything - the backstory, the languages, the geography - it quickly becomes almost incredible. At some point, the critics and the literati have to admit that they were just wrong, and, by now, it is probably time to start considering his extraordinary flight of imagination as one of the key works of modern literature.
on November 16, 2001
Fellowship of the Ring was an audacious, sweeping fairy tale with fascinating (and sometimes silly) characters, a narrative surge that survived tedious pages of description, and a mythic quality that overrode some of the pretension. The Two Towers was a fan's book, filled with boring Nordic warriors and a lot of pseudo-legendary claptrap, but redeemed by the hobbits and some stunning scenes.
Return of the King, the third volume of Lord of the Rings, is downright weird. Tolkien seems to have lost it. For much of the first two hundred pages, he is trying to write Beowulf (possibly forgetting that it's been written already and that this is not the year 1050). He even writes passages in perfect Anglo-Saxon poetic style, replete with proper rhythm and alliteration. Much of this is brutal to get through, with its fawning adoration of warriors and its recitations of family histories. Tolkien is so enamored of these Vikings that he downplays the fascinating and scary episode wherein Aragorn leads the armies of the dead against the forces of Mordor. This imaginative incident is offhandedly retold by Aragorn in the midst of all the stupefying knightly courtesies. Even the hobbits, Merry and Pippin, take on the bombastic cadences of the warriors, becoming sycophantic boobies as they bow and scrape to two different (and nearly indistinguishable) kings. The best sections of this Anglo-babble involve King Denethor of Gondor going bonkers and trying to burn his son alive.
When Tolkien finally gets to the Big Battle, the writing energizes, especially when Merry and Eowen-the beautiful princess disguised as a warrior--take on the Head Nazgul. But weirdness returns as Aragorn, who apparently is the Chosen One, begins healing the mortally wounded! This is a bit much, especially when Tolkien's prose turns Biblical (lots of "ands").
We finally get back to Frodo and Sam, who walk to Mount Doom over many, many, many pages (the slightly homoerotic relationship between these two becomes uncomfortably overt in this volume). Meanwhile Aragorn and all the warriors confront the REAL Head Nazgul in Mordor to distract Sauron, and plotting sense takes a holiday. Sauron--this omnipotent creature of darkness, who can see all--turns out to be as easily duped as a freshman buying a phony elevator pass from a senior. He totally misses Frodo and Sam traipsing up Mount Doom. And the only reason the two hobbits get there is because the orcs conveniently quarrel and slaughter each other.
And then comes the Huge Climax, the moment the whole epic has been building toward--and it's over in one paragraph! Frodo wants to keep the Ring, Gollum bites Frodo's finger off and falls into Mount Doom. End of Sauron. Eighty gazillion warriors, two kings, elves, dwarves, and a mighty wizard couldn't touch this Prince of Evil, but he's done in by a bit of slapstick! You look back on a thousand pages and say "What was THAT about?"
Then, after pages of pageantry, there's a whole new story! Saruman, the once mighty and evil wizard, has set up shop in the Shire as a kind of Tony Soprano, and the four hobbit warriors rout him and his thugs. Where did this extra tale come from? If you know that Tolkien was a Luddite, you can understand the stuff about cutting down trees and building smoke-belching mills. But after defeating Nazguls, Balrogs, and Sauron, routing a pack of comical toughs isn't exactly a challenge for Frodo and company. Amazingly, Tolkien's prose transforms here, becoming plain and spare. I suppose you could admire Tolkien for the tour de force of transforming his prose to fit his characters, but I find it disconcerting. There is a bittersweet loveliness to the ending, where Frodo, mortally wounded in his soul, sails off to the Gray Havens with Gandalf and Bilbo.
So this book is kind of a mess. And yet--with all this, somehow the three-volume epic keeps you engaged, and you care about the hobbits. I'm reminded of Moby Dick--not a similar story, but also a book that is a stylistic and structural disaster and yet somehow works. I read all the way through Lord of the Rings and will probably read it again, infuriating and labored as much of it remains. I suppose Tolkien's fierce belief in his own world lends this flawed saga a touching enchantment.
on November 4, 2001
Despite its staggering length and dreary descriptions of every leaf, Fellowship of the Ring has a certain fairy-tale sheen and epic sweep that make it readable for all. The Two Towers, though, is mostly for diehard Tolkein fans.
The first 200 pages or so climax with a huge battle for Helm's Deep, but for most of that time we have to endure the stupefying company of the warriors of Rohan. These beefy blonde Nordic guys have NO sense of humor, and drone on endlessly about their ancestry (who CARES?) when they're not indulging in soporfific courtesies. I always feel uneasy around these hulks--I expect to see swastikas appear on their shields at any moment. Tolkein was channeling the Viking types immortalized in coma-inducing epics like Beowulf and Lord are these fellows boring!
However, hobbits to the rescue! At one point we switch to Merry and Pippin, and once they appear, the story moves again and we can enjoy characters with human foibles. These two doughty halflings endure capture and torment by orcs (goblins, who are much more entertaining than the ski-instructor types) and then wander into the world of the ents. If you thought tree-hugger Tom Bombadil was weird, these creatures will get you howling with laughter. They are tree-shepherds (I'm not making this up) and they more or less look like trees, but they go around saying things like "Hm. Hroom" and drinking lots of water. Later on, they turn out to be pretty tough, bringing down a whole walled city in minutes. Treebeard is their leader and he's right out of some Saturday morning cartoon show.
The second half of the book brings us back to Frodo and Sam, and their journey to Mordor. They team up with Gollum, who was much creepier in The Hobbit. Here, he's a whiny reptilian nuisance and we must conclude that Frodo is an idiot for trusting him since anyone can tell he's up to no good. When he sells out his companions to a gigantic spider, we're not surprised. Tolkien manages some wonderful descriptions in this part, of the suffocating, foggy, wet, evil weather in Mordor (sounds like Long Island in the summer). The spider Shelob is a hoot, a creature who needed to wait for computer generated graphics.
Again, most of the text is filled with dreary step by step schlepping from place to place, with tedious descriptions of EVERYTHING. There are superb moments (the orcs boiling out of their hiding places like swarms of ants, the disgusting marshes) and as anyone with half a brain knew, Gandalf returns (and he is the BEST character of all). The scene where Gandalf humiliates the evil wizard Saruman is worth the price of admission. And the slinking, cowardly Wormtongue is a great creation--if Tolkein hadn't written this in the 1940's, I'd swear he was based on Henry Kissinger.
So enter at your own risk. Some exciting scenes, lots of sludge, basically a bridge from Fellowship of the Ring to The Return of the King. Not for anyone with arachnophobia.
on October 30, 2001
THE TWO TOWERS was more enjoyable than I remember THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING being. There's more action and intrigue, and the thickening of the plot was enough to want me to read THE RETURN OF THE KING as soon as I was finished. There's much good to say about this book, but its two flaws are more interesting.
The first flaw is endemic to Tolkien. Its what I think of as the "eagles drop out of the sky" problem. Too often, Tolkien paints his characters into seemingly inescapable situations, only to be rescued by some new, external force. I was most annoyed by this by rescuing eagles in THE HOBBIT, but the problem re-occurs, albeit to a lesser extent, in THE TWO TOWERS. The problem here is that the characters rely on un-foreshadowed luck rather than their wits, or some element introduced earlier in the book (or series). This problem is especially acute near the end of the book, where a hobbit humbles a giant spider that apparently has been so formidable for years than even armies of orcs had been at its mercy.
But the ending has other problems as well, not the least of which being the missed chance for Tolkien to fool the reader into thinking that Frodo, one of the main characters, is dead (until the next book). We think that for a few pages, but the book ends, serial-like, with Frodo's friend Sam realizing that he's alive. Not only do we miss the suspense generated by Gandalf's apparent death at the end of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, but the ending seems too unresolved, even for a middle book.