I have a slight prejudice against audio books because, like movies, they can be used as a replacement to the book. It is in some ways unavoidable given the convenience of the audio book, both because it frees you up to do other things as well as allowing “shallow” listening.
And so, I approached The Hobbit audio book with some trepidation. I did not want to replace the experience of reading the book, or encourage myself to be a passive listener. Even with these misgivings, I decided to take the plunge.
And I must say, it was a great decision!
I whole-heartedly recommend listening to The Hobbit! This was an experience I will never forget and look forward to repeating. The reason why is simple. The Hobbit began on the back of an examination booklet Tolkien was grading, we all know that. But ultimately, the birth of the tale was oral in nature: bedtime stories Tolkein told his children. This accounts for the childlike tone of the story…but also accounts, I believe, for the nature of the prose.
Listening to The Hobbit felt like experiencing the book as it is meant to be. Reading the book, it is almost impossible to grasp the oral and conversational quality of the prose. Being that The Hobbit is Bilbo’s own diary, this mode makes sense. All the asides, all the conversational exposition fit like a glove, once told aloud. It is almost like listening to Bilbo himself, and I could begin to see how he may color events and interpret things in different ways, not always actually true.
I think listening to The Hobbit allows you to approach it from a different angle, and see things you wouldn’t in words on paper. However, after this experience, I look forward to reading the book again, in hopes that this time, primed with this knowledge, I will see Bilbo shine through. I have never truly been able to approach The Hobbit as a diary, I know it is supposed to be, but it never quite clicked. But presented orally, it is as if Bilbo has invited you over for tea for a long yarn.