Friday, January 4, 2013
The Hobbit read by Nicol Williamson 1974
I know that everybody has been trooping out to see the new Jackson movie, and I'm happy for anybody who can get some enjoyment out of it. I'm not going to launch into some rant about why it is that I'm avoiding the film like a disease vector. Let me just recommend, to those old-school Tolkien enthusiasts somewhat disenchanted with the Jacksonian take-over of Middle Earth, or to those of the newer school interested in seeking out and absorbing more Tolkienish approaches to Tolkien, this audio book.
When I was quite young my mother bought me a copy of this reading, recorded a year after my birth and Tolkien's death on an arcane piece of technology called the LP. For thirty years now I've known large passages of the novel by heart, and I attribute that to my obsessive playing and re-playing of that old LP set. I loved it that much.
Audiobooks can really be hit-or-miss, depending on the reader's grasp of and appreciation of what he is reading. Happily, Nicol Williamson was not only a fun actor, (some would say an over-actor, but I like him), he was also a studied and passionate devotee of Tolkien's work. Obviously intimately familiar with the spirit and with every detail of Tolkien's world, he plays both narrator and the entire cast of characters to perfection or nearly so. The snatches of mood music are quiet and delicate, played on one or two instruments, as music would be played and heard in Middle Earth, (no thundering orchestras) and they accent Williamson's dramatic and humorous performance splendidly.
The edition is unfortunately abridged, (An unabridged version was thought to have been impractical for the LP format). This isn't really a problem except around the Mirkwood chapters where a few important scenes are left out (The white deer, the river of sleep and the elven feasts), but that's the only gripe I have with it.
And because its all audio, with no brain-blasting visual effects or cheese-laden acting performances to distract you, you can sit and let your ears soak it all up while you paint little Dwarves and Orcs, which is what I'm going to be doing for the rest of the day.