What’s New for the 4th of February: Mostly Tolkien – The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings books, films, and even some audio

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.” – Thorin Oakenshield, to Fili and Kili, The Hobbit, Chapter 4, “Over Hill and Under Hill”


Hello, you’re probably not expecting me. This is Gary, the GMR music editor. I’m filling in for Iain, who is … well, he seems to have gone walkabout. He was singing the praises of various malts in our last edition, which was followed shortly by this year’s Burns Night, when he seems to have sampled one that he particularly enjoyed. None of the staff is certain whether the dram in question originated in, well, the ‘real’ Scotland outside the gates of Kinrowan Estate, or the … other Scotland that’s across the invisible border that intersects with the Estate here and there. But the best guess is that we won’t see Iain again until he can bring back a bottle or better yet a barrel of the elixir for the Pub.

Be that as it may. This is the time of year — cold, wet, often stormy — when you’ll find staffers and whatever visitors have washed up on the Estate curled up beside one of our many fireplaces enjoying a dram, or a pint of something dark, as they read (or more likely re-read) their favorite work of J.R.R. Tolkien. As you might imagine, our Archives are replete with reviews of The Don’s works, and so I’ve asked a couple of The Annies to see what they could come up with. Unsurprisingly, they’ve rounded up enough for at least two editions. This time we’re focusing on the core works: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. Next time out the plan is to take a tour through the less well known works, the more recently published stuff, and perhaps some of the many books that’ve been written about Tolkien and his work … or maybe those will be left for yet a third. As I said, there’s a lot …


Not a fan of Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of The Hobbit, I liked a recent new edition of the book with illustrations by Jemima Catlin. ‘It’s a perfect size for reading aloud, its illustrations just right to be seen when held up by the reader or the book is sturdy enough to be passed around. Those illustrations, as befits this rather gentle adventure tale, are humorous or mildly scary as appropriate. As a bonus, you can read it in just about the same amount of time that it would take you to watch all three installments of the overblown and misguided movie adaptation.’

Iain gives us the rundown on The Annotated Hobbit, with Douglas A. Anderson’s annotations added to the classic tale. ‘All in all, an amazing amount of information gets added to an already finely detailed tale. I must stress that I would not have wanted this to be my first encounter with The Hobbit, as the annotations are distracting, but I will cherish this valuable addition to me library!’

In her in-depth review Liz acknowledges that Tolkien’s The Silmarillion is a difficult read. ‘So why read The Silmarillion if it is difficult? The obvious answer, “because it is the backstory to The Lord of the Rings,” doesn’t do the book justice. The Silmarillion is way more than just a prequel. It can stand on its own as a work of art.’

Naomi wrote a delightful review of the book that started it all. ‘The Hobbit is a delightful tale for old and young alike; it is a tale to be shared, and a kick-start to the imagination of us lowly humans. Dare to dream, for look what treasures you may find; a dragon’s gold, a night spent in the company of elves, a meeting with royalty — there is so much to be experienced here in this single novel. Don’t deprive yourself of an incredible experience. Read it!’

Naomi also wrote a loving review of The Lord of the Rings trilogy of books, just a bit before they became an even bigger sensation than they were with the release of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations. She speaks for us all when she says: ‘Tolkien created an unparalleled masterpiece, and left a strong and undying legacy behind him, as witness the continued popularity of The Lord of the Rings, which has now been translated into both animated and live-action films.’

Rachel didn’t much care for the readings by Christopher Tolkien on The J.R.R. Tolkien Audio Collection CDs. However, she says, ‘J.R.R. Tolkien’s readings are a different matter. Most especially, his lively and very funny rendition of The Hobbit‘s “Riddles in the Dark” is an enormous treat, from his hissing, spluttering Gollum to his deadpan professorial asides concerning the difficulty of thinking of riddles when you’re sitting next to a slimy creature who wants to eat you.’

She did, however, have unqualified praise for the huge set of The Lord of the Rings audio version, read by Rob Inglis. ‘Even if you’ve read the books many times yourself, hearing them aloud is different. You are forced to listen to passages you might have otherwise skipped or hurried over, and many of them yield up unexpected treasures, a turn of phrase or simile that you never noticed before. We can never again read them for the first time, but this is the next best thing.’


Grey took on the daunting project of reviewing all three of Peter Jackson’s LOTR films: The Fellowship of the Rings, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. This passage from the first of those reviews serves as her generl feeling about all: ‘As director and one of the writers of the screenplay, Peter Jackson worked very hard to remain faithful to Tolkien’s massive epic, while working within the restrictions of a limited number of screen hours. He has, over all, succeeded admirably. The movie flows smoothly, and the plot progression seems as inevitable as it does in Tolkien’s luminous prose. But, as closely watching fans will undoubtedly notice, Jackson did indeed make several changes to Tolkien’s story.’

Robert was ambivalent about the film adaptations Jackson did of The Hobbit, at least the first two installments that he reviewed: An Unexpected Journey, and The Desolation of Smaug. ‘I have to confess, I was not one of those wildly enthusiastic about Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Quite aside from the liberties he took with the story (which, if you’re trying to compress three lengthy novels into three films, are understandable in large part), I had reservations about some of the characterizations, the lack of support for some scenes, and the pacing. Those faults are not so much in evidence in The Hobbit, but they haven’t vanished, either.’

Going back a bit further, Sarah reviewed the animated Rankin-Bass production of The Hobbit when it came out on DVD. She didn’t like what she saw … or rather, heard. ‘The most disappointing thing about Rankin-Bass’ The Hobbit is that it didn’t have to be disappointing. The animation is fluid and lively, the character designs are expressive, and the backgrounds are a joy. The movie even holds true to the book in its shoreline. The only elements that don’t work at all are the soundtrack and script, but they manage to sink the entire thing.’

She liked Ralph Bakshi’s animated version of The Lord of the Rings better, especially the smaller moments. ‘Bilbo’s moment of Gollum-like ring fixation, Boromir’s low-key feuds with Aragorn, Galadriel’s self-mocking laugh when Frodo offers her the Ring; these added more character to the story than any number of spectacular fight scenes. Character development fan that I am, I’m willing to accept a badly-costumed Balrog in exchange for Sam’s frantic terror when he looks into the Mirror.’


Cat dug into The Road Goes Ever On — A Song Cycle, in which composer Donald Swann put some of Tolkien’s poems to music, with Tolkien’s approval. ‘Now before you run out as a Tolkien fan and purchase the 2002 edition which was released only in Britain by Harper Collins (with a CD of the songs to boot!) be advised that this is mostly sheet music, something that even most of the regular members of the Neverending Session would find boring. Really boring. But if you’re interested in a relatively practical look at how some of Tolkien’s poetry is as song, this is the book for you.’

Kelly wrote a deep and deeply enlightening review of the full set of The Lord of the Rings film soundtrack recordings, in which he says, ‘ …these three scores reward repeated listening more than any other scores I have encountered in quite a few years. There’s a constant sense of discovery as one studies what Howard Shore has wrought, as one discovers more and more connecting tissue between all of those separate and distinct motifs.’

In new reviews, I enjoyed Tutupatu’s IV. ‘The debut album from Madrid-based Tutupatu is a blend of psychedelic krautrock, ambient synthesizer music, free jazz, and experimental noise. I’ve never really listened to krautrock before, and I’m still not sure it’s my thing, but the three out of this album’s five tracks that are more ambient than krautrock are beautiful and mesmerizing.’

I also review Ville Blomster (wild flowers) the debut studio album from Norway’s Liv Andrea Hauge Trio. ‘The trio’s members come by their obvious tight connections by dint of hard work. Only together a couple of years, they’ve spent most of the time playing together in live settings since they recorded their debut Live from St. Hanshaugen in Hauge’s living room only a couple of weeks after they got together.

Tatiana makes some good points about a new recording from a world music ensemble called Hysterrae. ‘This debut self-titled album by Hysterrae is a captivating and innovative exploration of world music, blending the traditional with the contemporary. The collaborative effort of four acclaimed Italian and Iranian world music artists from different ethnic and musical backgrounds, along with the electronic music producer Emanuele Flandoli, results in a unique and mesmerizing listening experience.’


The Russian World Music Chart for 2023 was recently released. This new effort was created just three years ago to publicize the excellent but overlooked contemporary and traditional folk music that’s currently being recorded throughout the vast lands of Russia and Siberia. To explain a little more about the topic, we also have a Q&A with Daryana Antipova and Tatiana Naryshkina, two members of the organization who are also GMR’s latest contributing reviewers.


We don’t normally link to YouTube in our Coda, but I’m making an exception this time to present audio of Tolkien reading the chapter “Riddles in the Dark” from The Hobbit. It originally appeared on an LP and now is available on The J.R.R. Tolkien Audio Collection, which you’ll find reviewed above. So take whatever device you’re using and a cup of tea over by the fireplace and prepare to be enchanted: “Riddles in the Dark.”

Gary Whitehouse

A fifth-generation Oregonian, Gary is a retired journalist and government communicator. Since the 1990s he has been covering music, books, food & drink and occasionally films, blogs and podcasts for Green Man Review. His main literary interests for GMR are science fiction, music lore, and food & cooking. A lifelong lover of music, his interests are wide ranging and include folk, folk rock, jazz, Americana, classic country, and roots based music from all over the world. He also enjoys dogs, birding, cooking, craft beer, and coffee.

More Posts

About Gary Whitehouse

A fifth-generation Oregonian, Gary is a retired journalist and government communicator. Since the 1990s he has been covering music, books, food & drink and occasionally films, blogs and podcasts for Green Man Review. His main literary interests for GMR are science fiction, music lore, and food & cooking. A lifelong lover of music, his interests are wide ranging and include folk, folk rock, jazz, Americana, classic country, and roots based music from all over the world. He also enjoys dogs, birding, cooking, craft beer, and coffee.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.