Audiobooks – have your favourite books read to you

I have always enjoyed listening to audiobooks. My first purchases were Ray Dotrice’s magical reading of Watership Down and Douglas Adam’s fantastic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Since then I have continued to use audiobooks, in parallel with reading, to widen my reading and listening enjoyment.

Let’s just quickly explain what an audiobook is for those who have never come across them before. An audiobook is a book that is read out aloud by a narrator and was originally mainly available in the tape format but can now be purchased on CD and also downloaded in mp3 / mp4 format. Audiobooks are extremely useful because they can help children learn to read and are also invaluable to the blind.

The audiobook’s popularity has increased over the last five to ten years due to the many activities that can still be carried out still being able to listen to them. For example, you are able to listen to an audiobook whilst driving, doing the housework or even naughtily in bed after lights out.

We have put together a selection of the finest fantasy tales available in the audiobook format today.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr NorrellThis is an excellent unabridged telling of Susanna Clarke’s debut novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. At more than thirty two hours this is certainly brilliant value for money. The narrator Simon Prebble has an excellently descriptive voice that perfectly fits the story and captures the period setting of the novel. As already mentioned, this is over thirty two hours worth of audiobook and may take you a while to get through but the tale of the two competing magicians should keep you enthralled throughout.

The Hobbit

The Hobbit audiobook This is J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic tale of Bilbo Baggins and Smaug the Magnificent brought to life on audiobook. Rob Inglis narrates The Hobbit and this is an abridged version of the children’s and adults ,favourite. Due to this being in abridged form it is only 11 hours in length but that is more than long enough to get this wonderful story across to the reader. This audiobook is also available with the narration of Martin Shaw, who has already done such a good job on Tolkien’s collection of ancient tales, The Silmarillion.

The Lord of the Rings – Fellowship of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Audiobook Following on from The Hobbit, is of course, The Lord of the Rings. This audiobook is also narrated by Rob Inglis and The Fellowship of The Ring is the first installment of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s masterpiece. This is a beautiful unabridged reading and really brings The Lord of the Rings to life. I would still have to honestly say that reading the book is the best way to enjoy this classic but this audio version is also of an excellent standard. This could make a long journey considerably easier…

THUD!

Thud! Audiobook This audiobook is a recent addition and features Stephen Briggs as the narrator of Terry Pratchett‘s discworld book THUD! Ten hours worth of pure enjoyment!

These are just a few titles that can now be purchased in stores or online as audiobooks. There are many, many more, why not visit Aubible.co.uk to see what they have to offer?

The best fantasy characters

GandalfThe fantasy genre has always been very good at portraying characters that are good or evil. In recent times this distinction has become blurred due to the new breed of authors creating sympathetic villians and flawed heroes.

We have put together a collection of our favourite characters from the fantasy genre. We have focused mainly on the best known and loved characters. Please feel free to email us with your favourite characters and we will add them to our list.

We will begin with the Lord of The Rings. Where better to start? In the good corner we have Gandalf, a kindly, yet powerful wizard who is a friend to all Hobbits. Gandalf is possibly one of the most readily identifiable characters in fantasy, from his first appearance in The Hobbit through to his starring role in The Lord of the Rings, he became known within and outside fantasy circles.

Ged from The Wizard of EarthseaWe will stay with wizards for our next selection. Ged, or Sparrowhawk, the young boy who becomes a Wizard in Ursuala Le Guin‘s Earthsea series is an endearing character whom we follow for childhood through to old age. He is a character that we can all identify with in that although he always tries to do good, there is always a darker side to us that is fighting the other way. He is, in our opinion, the greatest wizard in fantasy after the great Gandalf. If you want to read more about The Earthsea books, we have a full review of The Earthsea Quartet on this site.

Let’s move on and look at an character that would be classified as evil…

We have gone for Lord Foul, “The Despiser” from Stephen Donaldson‘s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant to be our first evil character. In a style similar to Sauron, he never appears in the flesh in the books but his spoken word is pure venow. His aim is to break the Arch of Time and gain revenge upon his enemy “The Creator”. Lord Foul oozes unpleasentness and evil throughout the series and his harm is often more pyschological than physical in its manisfestation.

Bilbo BagginsBilbo Baggins, no further explanation is needed! Bilbo has been enchanting readers for over fifty years. A comfort-loving Hobbit and star of the The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo’s reluctant adventures in The Hobbit remain with anybody who has ever read and enjoyed the books. Perhaps it his unwillingness that makes him more appealing than most, a Hobbit who would be quite happy at home with the kettle boiling, he finds himself in conversations with a dragon, meeting trolls and fighting at the Battle of Five Armies. Bilbo has indeed taken his rightful place amongst the best-known literary characters.

Druss the LegendIf you prefer your heroic fantasy characters then David Gemmell‘s Druss the Legend should keep you going for years. He is an old-fashioned hero, a man not without flaws but a great man who lives by a code of decency. He can combat unsurmountable odds and even travel into the Netherworld to help friends. In Druss, Gemmell has given us a hero worth the name.

I think that David Gemmell was the foremost writer of heroic fantasy. Druss will appeal to readers of all ages and in Sieben, his loyal friend we have a great partnership that brings humour into a world full of violence, hurt and sadness. If you have never read any eroic fantasy before, give this a try, you will not be sorry. Read our review for Druss in The Legend of Deathwalker here.

There have been a couple of excellent suggestions since this page was first published in 2008 (the date today is July 4, 2011). They were for Tyrion Lannister from the ever popular G. R. R. Martin series, A Song of Ice and Fire, and Bartimaeus, the irascible djinni for Jonathan Stroud’s wonderful trilogy for older children and young-adults. So, without any further ado, here is a little information on both. If you have any other suggestions, please feel leave to leave them in a comment below.

Tyrion Lannister
Tyrion Lannister, a character in G. R. R. Martin’s fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, is a misshapen dwarf nicknamed The Imp and The Halfman. He is capable of cruelty to his enemies but capable of great sympathy for fellow outcasts.

Bartimaeus
Bartimaeus, the titular character of The Bartimaeus Trilogy is a sarcastic and cheeky djinni of the fourth level and 5,000 years old at the beginning of the first book. His many masters have included Gilgamesh, Solomon, Ptolemy, Tycho Brahe, Faust, Zarbustibal, and, most recently, the British boy magician Nathaniel (known as John Mandrake to his peers), who is his master for the duration of the trilogy. His trademark cheekiness and wry, often hilarious side comments annotate the novels. Enjoying insulting his master for appearance, emotions, and stupidity, the chapters that he narrates often contain humorous footnotes that add information on the nature of spirits and his history. Although he is only a middle-class djinni, his quick wits often save him in difficult situations. He has a fairly large ego, due to his many accomplishments over the ages and often becomes indignant when forced to work with jobs he considers “unworthy of his talents”. He is fairly powerful for a Djinn, but has often been forced to retreat against stronger foes such as Jabor. He continually boasts of his many exploits.

Is there any point in continuing with the Runelords series?

Cover image of David Farland's Sons of the Oak.I have read the first four books of the Runelords series and was blown away by the first, The Sum of All Men. However, the books became weaker and weaker and after The Lair of Bones I decided to give up on the series altogether.

Just to make sure that I was not making a mistake and in the hope that Farland pulls something out of the bag with the latest additions to the series I went onto amazon.co.uk and had a look at some of the customer reviews for Worldbinder and Sons of the Oak …

… I think this following readers review gave me the answer I was looking for – “it seems clear that Farland’s become even more bored of this series than we have, and has stopped even pretending to try.”

It’s such a shame but I will definitely not be spending any money or time on completing the Runelords series.

Update: March 09 2013
Although I still have not bought or read another Runelords book since posting this over 5 years ago I have to admit to always thinking about the series and the temptation to submerge myself back within it is growing. Review of Sons of the Oak coming soon? Maybe, quite possibly.

If anybody has read their way through the entire Runelords series, let me know, by commenting below, what you made of it.

Led Zeppelin and the Lord of the Rings

Update: This post was updated in March 2013

The recent Led Zeppelin re-union (back in 2009) took me back to thinking about my younger years when I first read The Lord of the Rings. It was a time when I was also a huge Led Zeppelin fan and was steadily buying all the albums, from Led Zeppelin 1 up to Coda and In Through The Out Door.

Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.

The books and the music seemed to go hand in hand perfectly and this was in no small part due to the lead singer of Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant being a huge Tolkien fan (did you know he named his dog Strider?).

From memory, the songs that are direct references to The Lord of the Rings are:

  • Misty Mountain Hop – the misty mountains appear in both The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings.
  • Battle Of Evermore – “The Ringwraiths ride in black tonight” is the lyric that is influenced by Plant’s love of the book.
  • Ramble On – “‘T’was in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair, but Gollum, the evil one crept up and slipped away with her”.

I’m sure that there are far more references in their songs, with many believing Stairway to Heaven to be connected to the book, but this is something that the band has always denied. I think that it is Ramble On which perfectly captures Frodo’s quest, and in particular the initial stages when they leave the Shire, as well as their stay in Lothlorien which the song’s opening matches perfectly: “Leaves are falling all around, its time I was on my way. But still I’m much obliged, such a pleasant stay.”

Lothlorien in the Lord of the Rings.

Led Zeppelin were not the only band to be influenced by the Professor’s tales of Middle Earth. The United Kingdom’s other great band of the time, Black Sabbath, placed a song called “The Wizard” on their first album. Geezer Butler was reading The Lord of the Rings when he wrote the lyrics, and he based the character of the wizard off of Gandalf.

Drummer-lyricist Neil Peart, of Rush, named 1975’s “Rivendell” after the Elven city where Elrond dwelt.

Megadeth’s Tolkien-inspired “This Day We Fight!” takes its title from a line in Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King film adaptation that appeared nowhere in the books.

I’m sure that there are more instances of the influence of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in songs. If you know of any, why not let us know by leaving a comment below?