Previously on An Adventure in Tolkien: No one should be surprised that I’ve got several bones to pick with the way Ilúvatar treats his kids.
Wow, it has been a Minute since I last posted a Tolkien review. My reading has completely fallen by the wayside this year, and I look back on where I was in January of last year, thinking I was going to read the entire History of Middle-earth this year, and I just–who even was that person? I read one of them? And I don’t really envision jumping back on that goal this year. I’m still really interested in HoME, and I want to read them all eventually, but it’s been a difficult year, and I’m only just now starting to come back to the plethora of Tolkien books that I have to read.
And we’re kicking things off with exactly what I need to dive back into this world–a reread! I’ll be upfront right away, audiobooks are not my thing. I really struggle with listening to people just read short paragraphs out loud, so twenty-two hours for a single book? Oh boy. I can’t even listen to podcasts! Sleeping at Last is one of my favorite musicians ever, and I love his podcast so much, but I literally only listen to it when I have to drive to Maine because I just can’t, y’all. For one, I have zero time. I work a full-time and part-time job that means I have three twelve-hour days a week, and my weekends are usually overflowing with chores and catching up on things. The only time I regularly am not doing anything enough that I can listen to something is when I’m meal-prepping, which is 100% when I’m mostly going to be listening to this. I usually watch a show, but it has to be a show I don’t mind kind of not watching because I walk away from it so often or just flat-out don’t look at the screen while I’m cooking, so an audiobook will be perfect for that. But this is all just to say that I have the attention span of a squirrel, and I don’t have a lot of time, so this is going to be a challenge, and I would not do it if it was not Andy Serkis.
This is going to be amazing, I can’t wait.
I am just astounded by the amount of voices that Andy does for this. If you watch the video above, you’ll see that he curated a list of the characters that he did voices for, and it came out to about 122. I also love knowing that he positioned himself differently for each character so that it was easier to get in the right mindset when moving through dialogue. This review is for the entire trilogy, but I’m going to come back to this section throughout listening so I can remark on my favorite renditions of these characters:
- Gandalf the Grey: Andy has such a lovely voice, but when he started doing Gandalf, I just had this moment of absolute delight because it sounds so much like how I expect he’ll sound at that age.
- Samwise Gamgee: I truly had a moment where I had to pause the book because I was convinced that Sean Astin had unexpectedly reprised his role.
- Pippin Took: I am shook with some of these characters! When Pippin’s first line had a Scottish brogue, I missed the next line because I was cheering. Andy really went above & beyond for these characters.
- Faramir: I love, love, LOVE how Andy changed Faramir’s movie voice to inflect some of Sean Bean’s Boromir voice so that they sounded more alike. There was even a slight inflection in Denethor’s voice, and it was just so well done.
- Treebeard: Don’t even get me started. The Ents in general were just incredible, but the way that Andy somehow went even lower in his register and just thundered through these sections were next level.
Overall, I just had a truly wonderful time listening to this audiobook. I’ve read this story so many times now, and I know it so well that it should have just been a pleasant experience going about my day, but I honestly found myself laughing out loud in the middle of the grocery store or getting weepy toward the end of ROTK. I’m so enthralled by the way that Andy is telling the story that I often found myself just sitting down in the middle of chores to listen to it. There were many instances when I was building desks for work that I just stopped building and sat beneath the desk for a few minutes.
One of the scenes that really stuck out to me in the beginning was when Frodo was finally leaving Bag End, and Andy starts slowing down big time, really putting weight on each sentence and pausing in between them. Frodo is so distraught to be leaving home, and it shows in the way that Andy reads. Realistically, all of Frodo’s scenes stick out to me now, when I’m thinking back on it, but if I had to really pinpoint one scene to write home about with this audiobook, it would be when the Ents finally march on Isengard. Just Treebeard in general was fantastic, but the way that Andy made all these thunderous, drum-like sounds was way more than I was expecting, and not only did it make me cackle, but I had to run over to my dad to have him listen to how good it was.
I mentioned it a little above, but one of the things I really enjoyed was the pacing. When scenes are meant to be read languidly, Andy really takes his time. When Frodo & Sam are wandering through the wilderness, trying to find their way into Mordor, there’s nothing fast about the pace at which Andy is reading. He makes it really feel like you’re on the journey with them, like you’ve also been sleepless with aching feet and hungry while not really wanting to eat anything.
One of my friends infamously skips through the Frodo & Sam scenes after Fellowship because she gets so annoyed by the long, dragging scenes of travel, and I can’t even imagine what she’d do with the audiobook version of these scenes. That said, though, Andy does definitely speed things up when they need to be. The battle at Helm’s Deep becomes exciting not because it’s a battle, but because there’s a mounting fervor and speed in Andy’s voice, because he gets louder and louder with each fell stroke of the sword, and he starts to race through sentences in a way that feel like running. It’s big, and it’s loud, and it honestly made my heart race a few times. The battles in ROTK had me shouting because Andy was working me into such a passion while listening, and I was so glad to be outside with the recycling when I was listening to the big moments on the Pelennor Fields.
And that, really, is why I loved this audiobook so much. I won’t lie and say that I’ve been converted. I’m definitely not going to suddenly start listening to audiobooks. I had to really work to pay attention for the entire 72+ hours that this required, and while I loved it, I only loved it because of Andy. Will I snag an audiobook for while I’m on a three-hour train ride across Portugal in March? Maybe! But I’ll never do it again recreationally, although I am curious about The Hobbit, and I will definitely listen to the audiobook again for LOTR.
The love that Andy has for Tolkien’s works is so clear, though, and it makes it such a joy to listen to him expressing that love while he reads. I can’t imagine the amount of preparation and work that this took to create such a phenomenal audiobook, but he mentions in one of the videos about it that it was akin to preparing for a live action film. And it really shows! Not only does he loves these books, but he loves the characters, the heart beating inside the stories, and the act of performing them. Because this is a performance! If every audiobook was this involved, I might be able to get into them, but this is such another level from anything else I’ve ever heard that nothing will ever live up to it.
There is a lot to love about this audiobook. For someone who really doesn’t like listening to books, this was such an enjoyable experience. And for people who feel intimidated by the books, I think this is the perfect avenue to go. I’ve recommended this to several people already who either didn’t want to read the books because they were too dense, or had heard too much about Tolkien’s endless descriptions and just didn’t vibe with it. If you love the movies and you want more, but you’re turned off by the books, this is it. This is 100% the way to go. And while it breaks my heart that some people won’t read the books, this is such a good way to get all of that incredible Tolkien language while also being entertained. Because Tolkien is not often entertaining. I mean, he is, I love him, I’ve devoted whole months on the blog to him, and I will continue to read everything he’s ever written. But he’s a tough writer to get into if you’re not already deep in the fantasy world, and Andy’s narration of The Lord of the Rings is such a wonderful introduction to that language.
Now, I’ll just be over here patiently waiting for him to eventually record The Silmarillion, even though that would be chaotic af as an audiobook. I have absolutely no idea if it’ll ever happen, and a quick Google search turns up no results, but my goodness, wouldn’t that be a treat. To get to hear Feanor’s bullshit and Morgoth’s melodrama in Andy’s voice just has me high vibing. I want it so much, and I would love to reread it as an audiobook. Until then, though, I’ll definitely be listening to The Hobbit soon, relistening to LOTR eventually, and probably a whole lot in between.
If you’re not an audiobook person, I still highly recommend this, and if you are, this is going to be an one of a kind experience.
Previously: The Book of Lost Tales, Volume One | Next: Tolkien & the Great War