BBC Dramatized Radio Broadcast of The Hobbit

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Several months ago I decided to reread The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It had been a few years since I last read The Hobbit, and maybe 8-10 since I read LOTR. My memory of the details was getting rusty, and since so many writing websites take their examples from books I haven’t read or movies I haven’t seen, regrounding myself in one of the few popular stories I have read seemed like a good idea.

Now, I don’t have much time to sit down and read, so even though I have all of the books in paperback, my first thought was “I’ll borrow the audiobooks from the library.”

This is where I made a mistake. Instead of looking them up on my library’s website, I looked them up in Overdrive. My library service had access to two versions of each title, a BBC dramatization, and an American dramatization. I placed holds the BBC versions, because Tolkien was English, and English accents are awesome.

So I waited. And waited. And waited. In the meantime, I came up with the idea to write book reviews for this blog. I read The Three Musketeers and The Silmarillion. I wrote their reviews.

When I finally got The Hobbit, it was awesome. It also wasn’t an audiobook. Instead, I had checked out a radio broadcast adaptation, which simply would not do. These are supposed to be book reviews, damn it! But in the end, I thought the broadcast was worth writing about too. So I finished the broadcast, took some notes, and then read my paperback.

One Does Not Simply Review the Adaptation First | Lydia Sanders #TwistyMustacheReviews

Today I’m going to discuss the storytelling efficacy of the adaptation and give my thoughts on the recording itself. This won’t cover the base plot, characters, etc.  because I’ve already covered that in my review of the book. This is all about the broadcast.


This broadcast originally aired on BBC Radio 4 in 1968. It was divided into eight weekly episodes, each not quite a half hour long. The version I listened to was a re-release done in 1997 with 9 1/4 minutes of bonus music on the end, making it 3:42:56.

The Story Adaptation


Because of the nonvisual, voice-based medium, there’s a lot more dialog. The dialog also has a lot more description and/or exposition than it tends to have in the book. This allows the program to have greater vocal variety and a more immersive experience, rather than having the narrator tell everything to the audience. Some of the dialog feels a little contrived, especially where descriptions are concerned, but to a certain degree, it’s just a limitation of the medium.

Narrator & Bilbo

Like the book, this story has a narrator, but Bilbo, who seems to be looking back on his life, periodically interrupts the narrator with his own embellishments and details. This adds a layer of conflict and makes the narration more interesting. It also fits with the parts of The Hobbit and LOTR that claim Bilbo wrote There and Back Again (A.K.A. The Hobbit).


This adaptation is much shorter than the unabridged audiobook versions, which are over 11  hours long. A lot of the story that’s cut out is either not that important, or conveyed more concisely in sound effects, etc.

But I think they cut too much out of the ending. They neglected some of Tolkien’s foreshadowing, which is important to avoid the deus ex machina feel. The ending seems rushed and not nearly as satisfying as the book—so basically the opposite problem of the third Hobbit film, which drags on forever.

It makes sense with the episodic nature of the story; the early chapters adapt more easily to a half-hour time slot because they are more like self-contained adventures. I just wish that they’d given more time to the ending.

The Recording

Audio Quality

The sound is mono, except for the extra songs. I’m sure stereo would be a better sound experience, but I didn’t notice anything wrong with it.

Overall the audio is great, especially considering when the program was produced and its crazy history of being destroyed and recovered.

Sound Effects

The sound effects make the story more immersive and less like a bunch of talking heads. They also help avoid the need for as much narration or scene-setting dialog. Sometimes the sound effects are a bit too loud or they're layered over the voices in such a way that it's a little harder to understand what's being said, but it's not a huge issue.


All of the trolls, goblins, elves, and eagles have electronically altered voices. This allowed the creators to get by with fewer voice actors. It also gives some consistency to those races of creatures. Most of these are fine, but sometimes the goblin voices are difficult to understand, and their song is just impossible.

Because I grew up with the movies, I had a definite idea of how I thought the characters should sound.  Heron Carvic did a great job bringing out Gandalf’s snark and mystery, but it always seemed strange to me because I’m so used to thinking of Ian McKellen in that role, and their voices are not similar. All of the actors did a fabulous job, but it's definitely different.


Names and words are also sometimes pronounced differently. Gandalf’s name is a major one.  Instead of GAN-dalff, it’s something like gand-ALvf. Gollum’s name is pronounced guh-LOOM.


The music in this production is interesting. Again, not the Howard Shore score I'm used to. Misty Mountains, for example, has a harsher sound, which I think fits Tolkien’s dwarves. The first time the song appears, however, it doesn’t sound too great. There’s some sort of instrument that accompanies the voices and makes it just sound…off. This song is repeated later in the story, but in acapella form as the dwarves’ travel song, and then it’s a lot easier to listen to.

There are, of course, other songs in the story. This is just the one that caught my attention.


Sometimes events and/or music from the end of the last segment are repeated at the beginning of the next, just to remind the listener of what happened at the end of the last episode. It may seem a bit repetitive if you’re listening to the program in larger chunks, but if you’re playing one episode for your kids each night before bed, it’s perfect.

Bottom Line

I thoroughly enjoyed this drama, and recommend it for both children and adults. It would be especially great for anyone who likes audio dramas or wants to try The Hobbit without listening to the full audiobook. I rate this production 5/7 twisty mustaches and look forward to the BBC audio dramas of The Lord of the Rings.

Have you listened to this? What did you think of it? What are your thoughts on audio dramas? Do you like them better than books? Better than audiobooks? Leave a comment below or my hairless ghost lemur will haunt your dreams.

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