Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Episode 2: The Black Riders

My adventure in Middle-earth continues, with the second episode of the 1981 BBC Radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. You can read about Episode One here.

The second episode opens up with Gwaihir the Windlord arriving at Orthanc and rescuing Gandalf. I must admit, I found it a bit strange to hear one of the great eagles speak. Although Gwaihir certainly speaks to Gandalf in the book, I  assumed that Gandalf could speak the language of the eagles, not that Gwaihir could speak in the tongues of men. The story continues to follow Gandalf for a bit as he’s dropped off in Rohan, meets Theoden and Grima Wormtongue and eventually rides off on Shadowfax.

The story then cuts to the Black Riders arriving at Orthanac, and getting more or less dismissed by Saruman. However, soon thereafter, they intercept Grima on his way to Orthanc, and it is from Grima that they learn the approximate location of the Shire. The inclusion of this scene is really interesting, because it was written by Tolkien, but does not appear in the The Lord of the Rings. Instead, it can be found in the Unfinished Tales in a section about the Black Riders’ hunt for the ring. It probably shouldn’t be taken as cannon as Tolkien wrote several versions of the journey of the Black Riders (including one where they wipe out a village of the ‘river folk’). I can only assume it was included to give the Nazgul a little more ‘screen time’.

Next we join Frodo, Sam, and Pippin on their way to Crickhollow. As one of my commenters mentioned after the last post, it is a bit hard to get used to Pippin with his rather ‘posh’ accent. Still, it makes him easy to identify in the group of hobbits, which might have been the point. In fact, we stay with the Hobbits for the rest of the episode as they meet with farmer Maggot, arrive at Crickhollow, and push on for Bree and the Prancing Pony.

Although it’s all enjoyable stuff, purists will be saddened by the loss of Fatty Bolger, Gildor Inglorion, and Tom Bombadil, none of whom appear. This last omission is by far the greatest as it is such a wonderful part of the story. Also, without Tom, you don’t get the Barrow-downs, which really is one of the scariest parts of the entire book! It could have made a great episode all by itself. Still, I suppose there were time limitations and something had to go.

One thing we do get, however, is several of the hobbit walking songs, and while none of the principle hobbit actors are great singers, I think this is part of the charm.

At Bree we meet Strider. I have to say, I was a little disappointed when I first heard Strider speak. Played by the well-respected actor Robert Stephens…I don’t know, it just wasn’t quite working for me. However, at this point, I think Strider is putting on a bit of a ‘tough face’, definitely the ranger not the king. I’ll be interested to see if and how the performance changes throughout the series.

High praise does go to James Grout as Butterbur. He just really nails this minor character.

All-and-all, another enjoyable episodes with a few surprises. My tape for this one wasn’t quite as good as the first, and poor famer Maggot went a bit wobbly at one point, but nothing major.

While listening to this episode, I painted up an armoured Haldir figure. Well, I painted him more as a generic high-elf warrior. I struggled with this figure. For my ability and eye-sight, the figure is almost too finely detailed, and initially, with a black undercoat (which I always use), it was hard to figure out what was what.

I knuckled down though, and eventually got the figure to a place I was happy with. I think the decision to go with dark hair was definitely the right one as it helps contrast with all of the gold armour.

Because this figure took me longer than normal to get right, I didn’t manage to finish up an orc to go with him. That’s fine, I’ve still got eleven episodes left. Plenty of time for orcs!


  1. Throughout the dramatization there are adaptions of Tolkien's songs and poetry, which is a very nice touch. A couple to look out for will be Gimli's song of Moria, and Bill Nighy's excellent 'In Western Lands'.

    I like the Elf, the hair both provides a good contrast, and gives him a Noldorin look.

  2. I remember this series when it was on the radio , very good indeed .

  3. When it went out on the radio, membership of the Tolkien Society spiked. I tried to listen at the time, but usually fell asleep.

  4. Sure enough I'm listening to this all over again. Its available on Sound Cloud which is convenient if you lack a cassette player! I had forgotten just how good it is. While I lament the loss of Bombadil and the Barrow Wights, I am really enjoying the plot changes. Someone has really thought hard about how the story is best portrayed in this medium, the excellent Brian Sibley I assume. The feel of the production and the musical element combine to give a much better and in my mind more accurate interpretation than the film's, it just seems more Tolkienish to me.

    1. Yes, from what I've heard so far, Brian Sibley does deserve some real credit. The transition to the medium has been very well handled!