At one point, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was my favourite book. That may no longer be true, but if so I’m unable to think of another book that would claim the throne in its place. In terms of its impact on the fantasy genre, its importance can’t possibly be overstated, and the fact that it has been voted more popular than the Bible in several surveys is a source of considerable amusement and satisfaction for me. (It’s a far better novel, too.)

This partial (yes, partial) selection of related books and other assorted odds and ends should indicate just how deeply my obsession ran at one point:

My obsession

As you can see, I don’t do obsessions by half. For me, it doesn’t really count unless there’s grounds for the state intervening and incarcerating me for my own protection.

I first discovered The Lord of the Rings when I was ten years old and was introduced to it by my primary school teacher at the time, after we had done a class project on its predecessor, the more children-friendly The Hobbit. By Christmas, I had finished the first of its three volumes (it was split into what has been inaccurately referred to a trilogy and published in three stages between 1954 and 1955, against its author’s wishes), and by the summer of the next year, the whole novel. I’ve read it so many times since then that I’ve lost count, although it’s been a while since I last cracked it open.

That’s going to change. I’ve decided to read The Lord of the Rings again, cover to cover, appendices included.

My reasons for this are many. First, I simply want to experience the story of the War of the Ring again - no great mystery there. Secondly, it has, as previously mentioned, been a long time since I last read it, and I want to see whether or not it still holds up. Certainly in the intervening years I’ve become more attuned to its flaws, real or perceived, thanks mainly to the plethora of online pundits who went gaga over the 2001-2003 film adaptations by Peter Jackson and then discovered that the source material wasn’t to their liking.

Thirdly and finally, and perhaps the real point of interest from your perspective, is that I plan to review the three adaptations that I have access to and want to have a clear picture of the original text in my mind before doing so. These are, in chronological order:

  • The 1978 animation/live action hybrid film directed by Ralph Bakshi, covering roughly half the book
  • The 1981 BBC radio dramatisation adapted by Brian Sibley and Michael Bakewell
  • The 2001-2003 live action film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson

I’m aware that there are other adaptations, including a 1979 American radio dramatisation; a 1980 animated TV movie of the third part, The Return of the King, by Rankin/Bass; and an unabridged reading of the text by Rob Inglis from 1990. I haven’t encountered the first two, and as the third of these omits nothing from the text, there’s not much to review beyond Inglis’ delivery of the material (which I may mention at some stage, but won’t be treating to a full-on review).

Of the three versions that I will be covering, my existing opinions of them (based on my most recent viewing or listening of them) is as follows: I think the BBC radio dramatisation is the definitive adaptation, with Ralph Bakshi’s interpretation serving as a fascinating but flawed curiosity piece that manages to be both superb and dreadful in equal measure, and Peter Jackson’s trilogy offering up a polished but by-the-numbers telling of the tale which takes some liberties so extreme as to completely bastardise aspects of the story’s very heart and soul.

This is going to be a lengthy project and one that I don’t expect to be posting any more about for some time. However, I’m alerting you to it now so I don’t have any excuse to chicken out midway through - my logic being that, if I’ve announced it, I’ll have a harder time backing out. I’ll be covering each “version” chronologically: Tolkien first, then Bakshi, then Sibley, then finally Jackson. By the way, as far as versions go, I’ll be watching the extended editions of the Jackson films and listening to the original thirteen-part versions of the radio adaptation (rather than the re-edited CD versions). For the book itself, I’ll probably be reading from my tatty old three-volume HarperCollins copies from 1991. These contain a smattering of misprints (mostly minor), but are considerably more portable than my copy of the more definitive 50th Anniversary Edition from 2005, and in any event are now so battered and dog-eared that I won’t need to worry too much about keeping them in good condition.

Wish me luck!