A few weeks ago, I bought a copy of the 1981 BBC Radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings on 13 audio cassettes. A couple of weeks later, I bought a machine that could actually play audio cassettes. Last night, I finally sat down and listed to the first episode, The Shadows of the Past.
The episodes opens with a quick bit of narrative about Sauron and the rings of power, and then, to my great surprise, begins the story proper with the capture and torture of Gollum in Mordor! The scene is well performed, and as such, makes slightly uncomfortable listening. The tone of this opening is a far cry from Tolkien’s own opening, which focuses on Hobbits and birthday parties!
As an interesting side note, the agent of Mordor who captures and interrogates Gollum is never identified in the narrative, but is named as the Mouth of Sauron in the end credits.
After this opening sequence, the story becomes more familiar. We hear the Gaffer talking with Ted Sandyman about the Baggins, Bilbo and Frodo discussing the coming party, and, soon enough, the arrival of Gandalf.
By this point, the audio had fully sucked me in. The quality of the acting is excellent. Gandalf especially, played by the famous Shakespearean actor Michael Horden, really delivers. In fact, I am left wondering if Ian McKellen studied this performance before taking on the role himself, as his own delivery is remarkably similar (although McKellen perhaps plays him a bit more quick tempered). Ian Holm, as Frodo, sounds so young that he is nearly unrecognizable as the actor who played Bilbo in the movies. If you listen carefully though, you can definitely recognize the young Bill Nighy who plays Sam.
I was glad to hear that the audio stuck to the chronology of the book, and after Bilbo leaves the Shire, seventeen years pass before the story really picks up again. Gandalf returns, identifies the ring, and immediately sets off again. The Gaffer informs us that Frodo and Sam have moved to Crickhollow, with help from his friends Merry and Pippin.
Then, another slight surprise. We return to Gandalf and his encounter with Radagast the Brown. Wisely, the audio decides to follow the movements of Gandalf at this point instead of having them revealed after the fact, as in the book. It was nice to hear Radagast, and not have him sound like a bumbling fool.
The episodes comes to a close with Gandalf’s trip to Orthanc and his betrayal by Saruman the White. It’s a great cliff hanger of an ending, but also provided my only real disappointment of the episode. Saruman has one truly defining characteristic in the books – his voice. It is said to be his most potent weapon. While Peter Howell turns in a fine performance as Saruman in the episode, he just doesn’t have a voice that reaches out and grabs you. Certainly, he doesn’t have Christopher Lee’s memorable voice.
All-and-all, thoroughly enjoyable, and I’m definitely looking forward to episode 2!
As I mentioned before, I am using the listening of this series as a chance and an excuse to paint some of my backlog of The Lord of the Rings figures. For the first episode, I selected the original Radagast figure (before I knew he would appear in the episode!). I love this figure. Thankfully, it was sculpted long before The Hobbit movies, and thus we get a noble and heroic-looking wizard. I decided to paint him more or less, ‘by the book’, which is to say, I used the same basic colour scheme on him that the painters at Games Workshop did. I think it was a good decision; he’s suitably ‘brown’, but there is enough contrast to make it visually interesting.
Since it normally takes me about 2 hours to paint an miniature, and the audio episodes are only about an hour long, I had to continue on for a while after the tape stopped, but I was having fun, so I didn’t mind.
I also decided that with each figure I paint, I’m also going to paint one orc. You can’t have too many orcs, but they aren’t that much fun to paint, at least not in the quick and dirty style I use (which is all they really deserve). This guy is constructed from a Wargames Factory body and head, but arms from the Frostgrave Gnoll kit.