The Children of Hurin (Audiobook)
by J. R. R. Tolkien (Author), Christopher Tolkien (Editor, Narrator), Christopher Lee (Narrator)
Published by (UK) HarperCollins Publishers Ltd; Distributed by Trafalgar Square Publishing (US)
RRP: (UK): £29.99; (US): $49.95
Unabridged edition (UK: 1 Jan 2007, US: April 2008)
8 CDís. Review by Mark Yon / Hobbit
From the start I must admit that, although I like them, Iím not one for too many audio-books. Being old and stubborn, and given the choice, I like the physicality of paper books, and even Ďproperí CDís rather than downloads, (though I do happily use both.)
But that is of course not to say that they have their advantages. I am a big fan of old radio shows. And there are some excellent audiobooks about: the Jim Butcher Dresdens, read by James Marsters, the Harry Potters read by Stephen Fry, and the M.R. James ghost stories read by Derek Jacobi, for example. Indeed it must be said that there are some books that deserve reading aloud, and some voices that suit reading, creating a magical ambience that can enhance a book.
To this list I will now add someone who should need little introduction: Christopher Lee. In fact it was Christopherís voice that made me want to listen to this audio version of Tolkienís most recent publication.
If the penny hasnít dropped as to who Christopher Lee is yet, let me add Count Dooku from Episodes 1 Ė 3 of Star Wars, Saruman from the Lord of the Rings movies, and countless Hammer horror movies (including the character Christopher has tried most hard to get away from, his interpretation of Count Dracula.)
That should work. Christopherís deep, dark yet resonant voice is (at least to me) immediately recognisable. So the thought of hearing it read Tolkien, dealing with all of Tolkienís at times tonsil-strangling vocabulary but also enhancing Tolkienís love of language and mythology, was an incentive.
As for the tale, well, Wayne Thomas Batson reviewed the book magnificently for us at SFFWorld on its release, though I must admit I was less enthusiastic. I thought it was OK, but very dark and rather bleak, and although I enjoyed reading some Ďnewí Tolkien, from an older age, in the end it did not reach my 'favourite books' list of 2007.
Taking that into consideration, I accepted the challenge of the audiobook with the hope that I would find something new in its presentation here. And so it was.
Those who have read the book will know that the actual story text in the novel is not that long. There is a lengthy introduction about how this book came about, written by JRRís youngest son, Christopher. This is also on the first CD of the audiobook, read by Christopher, and it works very well as an introduction to the main part of the production. The tone is as scholarly and respectful as you might expect.
However, it is the main section that this review must focus upon: the part read by Mr Lee. This begins on Disc 2, with The Childhood of Turin. Seven CDís later, it was done. A tale of tragic heroes and heroines, elves and dragons, whose melancholy and dark nature was somehow emphasised through the tenor of Mr. Lee.
The value of hearing, rather than reading, actually left me concentrating less on the pronunciation of Tolkienís names and places, and more on the actual story. Such as it should be, perhaps. The tone is steady and measured, and as deep and resonant as I expected. The story is unedited from the book. It is divided into roughly three to five-minute sections, making pausing and following easy. This was very useful, as the story grabbed me from working at the computer to listening before bed and even into the car. Time turned and the tale unfolded, in Wagnerian majesty.
In addition, the 8 CDís include a booklet which has the Alan Lee drawings from the book and a map of the area should you wish to follow it. Not essential but nice to have, though the drawings are a little small to be as appreciated as they are in the book version.
Nevertheless, in summary, hearing the story is a great way to follow this dark sad tale from the Tolkien canon. It takes concentration, but it is worth it. The choice of narrator is inspired and makes the story a treasure to be followed. This is worthy of your consideration.
Mark Yon / Hobbit, April 2008.
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