Friday 14 May 2021

Review of the Audiobook - Unfinished Tales by JRR Tolkien (Edited by Christopher Tolkien, 1980) - read by Samuel West and Timothy West

Unfinished Tales is probably my very favourite among the many wonderful books collecting his unpublished father's works that Christopher Tolkien edited over a span of more than forty years. 

The audiobook version of Unfinished Tales was issued just last week; and I began listening on the day it was published! 

It was a sheer delight to hear it read by the Father-Son duo of Timothy and Samuel West; whose versions of Beren and Luthien and The fall of Gondolin gave me so much pleasure. 

Timothy W. takes the 'role' of Christopher Tolkien by reading the editorial material; while Samuel reads the main texts written by JRRT. 

Timothy W. adopts an avuncular and relaxed persona; while Samuel reads with sustained concentration, tremendous intensity, and a focus on detail that could not be surpassed. 

Consequently, although I have re-read Unfinished Tales many times, I became aware of many aspects - specific facts and general tone - that I had previously not noticed. This is one reason why I appreciate audiobooks so much - the other is my spontaneous enjoyment of hearing favourite words spoken aloud so well. 

If you love The Lord of the Rings but have never begun to explore Tolkien's writings unpublished in his lifetime; this is where I would recommend you start - perhaps by listening to the Audiobook first, and then getting a paper copy for future reference. 

You will hear On the coming of Tuor to Gondolin - the very best and noblest story of the elder days (according to Christopher Tolkien, endorsed by me!). 

You will hear of Aldarion and Erendis and discover much concerning the earthly paradise of Numenor (this was Tolkien's only 'love story', albeit a sad one). 

You will hear the 'back story' to The Hobbit as told by Gandalf; also much on the finding of the One Ring and the about the Nazgul. 

I was (literally!) entranced by the information about the elves in general, and Galadriel in particular - hearing this vividly re-awoke the elvish fascination I first felt in my middle teens. 

And there is much else concerning the five wizards - including the occasion when Gandalf first irritated, and then incensed, Saruman by smoking pipeweed, while Saruman tried to ply his rhetorical persuasion on The White Council... And of Saruman's subsequent guilty and secretive adoption of the pastime. 

In short - the Unfinished Tales audiobook is a treasure trove for the Tolkien-lover. This was just the first of what will surely be many listenings... 


Howard Ramsey Sutherland said...

I've not listened to the audio book, but one of my best 2020 Christmas presents was a hard-bound copy of Unfinished Tales, a gift from my wife. I devoured it in short order, and enjoyed it throughout. In particular, it was good to learn more about Numenor, which is relatively lightly sketched in The Lord of The Rings.
What would recommend as next stages in the Tolkien road? I've read The Notion Club Papers already (but probably should read again).

Bruce Charlton said...

@HRS - Of the History of Middle Earth volumes, my favourites are probably Return of the Shadow (probably the most interesting of the Lord of the Rings histories), Morgoth's Ring and The Peoples of Middle Earth - there is a lot of enjoyable material in the Lost Tales, especially impressive are some of Tolkien's early poems.

TonguelessYoungMan said...

Lord of The Rings is ruined on me, I cannot read it without thinking of Elijah Wood, Orlando Bloom etc. due to the movies being released when I was a child.

As such I like The Hobbit more.

Peter Jackson, while he probably did as good of a job as anyone could (i.e. it could have been a lot worse), he did a great damage to young boys in my generation. I cannot properly see the world of Middle Earth.

Bruce Charlton said...

@TYM - I agree this is a significant problem. The immersive/ passive medium of a movie has a tendency to overwrite and displace the active and participative experience of a book; and to block the reception of a book. TV has a similar power to movies, although quantitatively less potent.

Yet books are capable of a higher and more profound influence. I can appreciate why there are those who avoid movies and TV for this reason.