I felt like reading The Lord of the Rings again and so was very pleased to hear about Phil Dragash‘s recently completed project. He’s a Tolkien fan who has completed an excellent 48-hour unabridged reading and voicing of the complete text of The Lord of the Rings, and even the “Durin’s Folk” part of the Appendices. So listeners get the useful and beautiful ‘slow build-up’ chapters that are usually skipped in the rush-rush-rush to get out of the Shire, such as: the Crossing of the Shire; the Elven meeting; the Old Forest; the Barrow-downs; Bombadil and Goldberry. Nor is there any omission of Bill the Pony; Elrond’s Council speech; the Scouring of The Shire, etc etc. But it seems we don’t get most of the Appendices, such as “The Tale of Years” or “Of Hobbits”.
Phil has absorbed all the ‘pro guidance’ provided by the sound-design for the films and the excellent BBC adaptation, in terms of how to do the audio characterizations, sound effects and voice-work. On top of the result Phil has woven in Shore’s superb music for the film trilogy, to try to make an ‘ultimate’ The Lord of the Rings experience — all the ‘pro approaches’ to the work assimilated, plus the unabridged text of the book, plus the ultimate Cinemascope of Your Own Imagination.
Phil’s final-final version is “2013-2014 (192kbps)” for which he went back and touched up his early few hours of reading up to “A Shortcut to Mushrooms”, to get the characterizations more in line with what they became in the later readings. This version rocks in at around 4Gb in size. I’m told there’s also a much more highly compressed version knocking around, which somehow squeezes the same files into about 400Mb, and is probably a good option for playing from an older Kindle eReader or similar.
I’ve only heard the early parts so far but it’s obviously an amazing work and tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien. It should widen and deepen the fan-base, by bringing the more intelligent of the film’s fans into a reading of the full book in an accessible manner. Of course it’s an unofficial and non-commercial and free fan-project, but it is highly professional and very well-regarded by true fans. Phil is also an artist and he has made matte paintings to accompany the audio experience…
The official alternative is the excellent commercial unabridged reading by Rob Inglis. This is a straight reading, and includes the Appendices. The Appendices often drop some additional “what happened next” plot development snippets, taking the story beyond the end of the book. Inglis has also read The Hobbit in the same manner. His reading is very professional, but he’s too English. I keep catching all sorts of intonations in Inglis that, to a native English-speaker of long-standing, convey all sorts of unwanted and very subtle subtexts and social-class shadings. Dragash, being Croatian but an absolutely superb mimic, is much much better in that respect.
There are also several well-made BBC Audiobooks dramatized versions. These are abridged, I seem to remember, with no Bombadil or Barrow-downs, but they do have many of the songs put to to music and sung with the sort of rough zest with which most of them need to be sung (steer well clear of professional middle-class folk musicians in studios ‘doing Tolkien’ with twinkly harps, is my advice — they set my teeth on edge).
Lastly, beware of Amazon’s thoroughly confusing jumbling together of different The Lord of the Rings audio readings as if they were the same item. Judging by the reviews there some unsuspecting people have ordered a dire ‘American voices’ unabridged reading (NPR/The Mind’s Eye), hoping to get the BBC or Inglis audiobooks.
Update: I am finding the superb Dragash reading just very slightly sibilant, when using Windows Media Player and wide-response headphones (Phillips SHD9000/10, with 17-23,000Hz response. They’re now called the SHD9200/10 and boast 17-24,000Hz). I switched to the free open source Impulse Media Player, which has graphic equalizer controls. I felt that using the following slight tweak was good for increasing the in-a-cinema feeling of the reading, and taking the edge off the very slight sibilance…
The above slightly boosts bass while reducing treble. You could also try a tiny pitch shift of -1 in Impulse Media Player, in combination with the above.