Lord of the Rings: Shadow of the Past.

It is time, ladies and gentlemen, for a somewhat unexpected review:

Lord of the Rings Radio Drama Ep.01: Shadow of the Past

Company: BBC Radio
Based on: Book
Released: 1981

I'm sure this is a bit of an unexpected review choice. It is 30 years old, as if there isn't enough recent stuff to review, and it isn't even Japanese. BUT it is a drama CD. And that is all it needs to qualify. The reasons why I chose to listen to this are simple: I never knew it existed, I've been meaning to read the books again but I simply don't have the time, and the moment I discovered it I was immediately exited. And that was when I knew I just had to listen to it.

So a bit of an introduction first. There is obviously no need to introduce the story, I believe everyone has at least heard about it, whether you've actually read the books or seen the movies or not. But as for the radio drama itself, it was first aired in 1981 in 26 half hour episodes every week from March to August, and re-aired in 1982, but this time in 13 one hour episodes. I don't know exactly when, but it was eventually published as a 13 CD set and on tape (on tape!! it was actually published on cassette tape!! Excuse my nostalgia).

Apparently this wasn't the first time that the BBC adapted the Lord of the Rings into a radio drama, they made a condensed 12 episode version in 1955(!). Tolkien himself however apparently highly disliked that adaption. The radio drama from 1981 was later re-published in 2002 with new music cues and some other small edits when the movies were popular. (And yet, I never knew there was an audio drama. Then again, I wasn't into drama at that time). More info on wiki and here.

Anyway, this is the first 1hour episode, called 'the Shadow of the past'. You might expect that to get the entire story into a radio drama you would cram a lot into one episode, but that isn't the case. While not as elaborate on details as the books, the drama tells the entire story and is paced relatively calm. After this first episode, Frodo hasn't even left the Shire yet.

The drama starts with Gollum searching for the ring and being captured by the forces of Mordor, after which we shift to Bilbo and Frodo preparing for their birthday party. Bilbo uses his vanishing trick at the party and Frodo inherits Bags End and the ring, after which 17 peaceful years pass before Gandalf returns and informs Frodo that he, in fact, holds the One Ring. Sam eaves drops on their conversation and the result is that both of them will have to leave on a journey.

If I remember correctly, that follows the book pretty accurately. And unless my memory is deceiving me many lines are taken directly from the books (my copy of the book is at my parents so I can't check though). I liked the atmosphere was done with the music and faint background sounds. Knowing what is going to happen, hearing Sam working in the garden while Gandalf and Frodo were talking was a really nice touch (you can hear him get closer, and suddenly stop when he hears that Frodo will have to leave).

Gollum was done very good as well. Of course the image and sound of Gollum in the movies is very characteristic and it took a little while to get used to this 'new' voice, but the actor portraying him does a wonderful job and you instantly can see the nasty but pitiful creature in your mind.

In fact, my only problem with listening to this were the voice actors. Not that they aren't good, on the contrary, they are very good! But I have some trouble keeping the voices apart, though I expect that that is simply a matter of getting used to them. (And to listening a to drama in English!).

This was my first time listening to a drama in English, and despite the fact that it is a very old one, it was a great experience and a lot of fun. The fact that it follows the book so closely makes this drama really interesting I guess (although I miss the "Hobbit theme"). The BBC has made lots and lots of drama's, including every single Sherlock Holmes story, a lot of Doctor Who, and tons of famous books, so I might try and listen to one every once in a while.


  1. Hey, a topic I actually know something about! BBC Radio has produced a lot of awesome detective audio dramas. Their Poirot / Marple series are excellent and I've had loads of fun with their Sherlock Holmes dramas (the last series, with pastiches, is pretty good too).

    And then we have things like Batman and Spider-Man, which are a bit strange...

  2. Oh god, I knew it. With all the weird things that I review it is slightly awkward to meet you here xD

    But yeah, the moment I discovered that the BBC did so many radio drama's a whole new world opened up. The Sherlock Holmes drama's are currently on my ipod, while I am still contemplating whether I should read some of the stories first (because, coincidently, there is also a book full of Sherlock Holmes stories on my bookshelf). Actually, I think that might be a very good way to spend this Christmas...