For the past 4 months I have been listening to the audiobook version of Lord of the Rings, read by Rob Inglis: 44 hours of pure delight (that is the main text; and in addition there is the Prologue and Appendix A).
I would rate it 8 out of 10.
A good reading out loud is at least the equal of silent reading to oneself, as witnessed by C.S. Lewis (also one of the greatest readers of his era) - the Inklings was, to a significant extent, a product of Lewis's love of being-read-to.
At any rate, I found it wonderful to hear Lord of the Rings read to me; and better than me reading it to someone else (which I have done).
The performance by Rob Inglis is exceptional. Inglis is not a well known actor in the UK, so I presume he was selected because he was so good.
He is apparently Scottish - by his baseline narrative accent (and because Inglis is usually a Scottish name - Inglis was indeed the word used for the Lowland Scottish dialect of Middle English, the language of Dunbar, Henryson etc., to distinguish it form the 'Irish' Gaelic of the Highlands).
I suppose - strictly - a Scottish accent is sub-optimal for LotR, but Inglis has the measured clarity of diction retained by educated Scots - and also provides a basis of English class and regional neutrality from which to distinguish the different grades of people.
His voice has an occasional crack or break in it, which is a fault; and there are some points when (through inadequate preparation or slip of attention from actor or director) the wrong emphasis is given.
But there is a sense of complete commitment to this performance, which carries all before it.
The songs are a difficulty in performing the Lord of the Rings, and I have not yet encountered a satisfying solution.
Here, the model is for Rob Inglis to perform the songs unaccompanied, in a trained baritone voice and using a variety of weights and tones of vocalisation.
That is good - and much preferable to the usual method (e.g. the BBC dramatisation) of the sudden arrival into the text of a professional singer, choir and full orchestra; but the actual tunes or melodies are usually not appealing nor convincing to me - at any rate, they are on a much lower level than the words.
The hobbit songs were not folky enough (a tendency to end each verse on the dominant chord seemed odd) and the elvish and bardic chants were not spiritual enough, and too complex.
But at any rate, they are performed with complete conviction, and with no sense of hurrying over them - and despite my reservations this makes them effective.
Indeed the whole thing is effective, very effective: very beautiful, moving and memorable.
Note added 1 Nov 2013
I have just found the following interview with Rob Inglis - which answers some previously unanswered questions such as "Who wrote the songs?". It is from
but I have copied it here because I had been unable to find the interview previously, and worry that it may be deleted at some point.
AUDIOFILE: Before we talk about your narration of the books, let's get a technical question or two out of the way. What was the recording schedule like for THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS titles? Where did the recordings take place?
INGLIS: We recorded all three books in the trilogy over a six-week period, so it was quite intense. We actually went back and recorded THE HOBBIT about a year after the trilogy. All the recording sessions took place at the Recorded Books studios in New York in 1990.
AUDIOFILE: Did you do a lot of preparation for all the different voices you employed in the stories, or just dive right in and figure out the characterizations as you went along?
INGLIS: (laughs) Oh, my--I couldn't just dive right in! The various dramatic societies I belong to had all sorts of people breathing down my neck to make sure I got it right! So, yes, there was much preparation. Actually, I was already a bit prepared, I think, because of my one-man stage production of THE HOBBIT. It was my one-man show that actually brought me to the attention of Recorded Books. They heard a recording of one of my shows and asked me to do the full readings of all the books.
AUDIOFILE: Listeners are treated to some wonderful singing performances throughout THE HOBBIT and the three volumes of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Who set the various songs to music?
INGLIS: Tolkien himself had already set a few of the songs to music, but most of the songs one saw on the printed page were without music. So, I had to come up with music for some of the songs, and Claudia Howard of Recorded Books wrote the rest of the music. She also essentially acted as my director and manager during the course of the recording sessions.
AUDIOFILE: Scores of characters appear throughout THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Was it wearying to breathe life into so many characters, and to give every character his own idiosyncrasies and other bits of uniqueness?
INGLIS: It was certainly challenging, but I enjoyed it. It's what I do, interpret and dramatize. And, of course, I didn't do it alone. There is much in the original writing that suggests how a character should be brought to life. It's quite strange. At times it felt like Tolkien himself was talking to me through his prose, telling me how things should be.
--Joseph P. Menta
December 2001/January 2002
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