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In the autumn I always long to visit Tolkien’s Legendarium again. Often this means re-reading Lord of the Rings. But Lord of the Rings adaptations also function as thoughtful conversations between canon and artistic interpretations.
Because there are many adaptations, it can be difficult to know where to start – and some adaptations can be overshadowed by the Peter Jackson films. Which adaptation is best is a complex discussion. However, I can offer each a few pros and cons to keep in mind when deciding which customization to try or revisit.
Read on for a list of the most popular LOTR adjustments, along with a list of pros and cons for each entry. Audio books, radio plays, TV and film adaptations, musicals and video games are all included.
I’ve also added a recommended list of LOTR discussion and analysis podcasts. While not all are Lord of the Rings adaptations in the strict sense, I would refrain from including them as they offer valuable thoughts and input for both newbies and long-time fans alike.
Lord of the Rings Audiobooks
Rob Ingle’s Narrative (1990)
This is the unabridged audiobook narrative that most people grew up listening to, and it evokes a significant amount of nostalgia from many fans.
Pros: It’s a classic and one of the best-selling audiobooks of all time.
Cons: Its storytelling style can be a bit monotonous at times.
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Andy Serki’s Tale (2021)
This audio book adaptation is narrated by the man who brought Gollum to life in the Peter Jackson films. Like Rob Ingles’ audio book, this one is unabridged.
Pros: Do I even have to tell you that he nails the characters’ voices? Of course he does.
Cons: For those who grew up listening to Rob Ingles’ audiobooks, Andy Serkis’ more dramatic storytelling style may feel overpowering.
BBC Radio Dramatization (1981)
Remarkably, this adaptation stars Ian Holm as Frodo some 20 years before he would play Bilbo Baggins in the Peter Jackson trilogy.
Pros: It’s an immersive listen and Ian Holm makes one hell of a Frodo.
Cons: Thirteen hours of audio and still no time for Tom Bombadil? cowards.
NPR Radio Dramatization (1979)
Another source of childhood nostalgia for many, this adaptation is one of the few Tom Bombadil keeps in the story, alongside the audiobooks.
Pros: You did it! His jacket is light blue and his boots are yellow!
Cons: The production value was lower than the BBC radio play, which is more popular overall.
TV and film adaptations of Lord of the Rings
Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings (1978)
For many kids growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, this adaptation of The Fellowsip of the Ring was their introduction to Tolkien’s Legendarium.
Pros: The animation style is intriguing and overall a faithful adaptation of Fellowship. Also, this official poster is badass and one of my favorite pieces of LOTR art.
Cons: A sequel was never made, leaving the story open to young viewers who hadn’t read the books.
The Return of the King by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass (1980)
Despite the name, this adaptation also includes plot points from Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers.
Pros: It would be difficult for anyone to condense LOTR into a 90 minute film and it’s clear that those involved gave it some thought.
Cons: Despite being a solid attempt at a film adaptation, it leaves a lot out.
Until 2021, this low-budget Soviet TV adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring was presumed missing.
Pros: It’s certainly something.
Cons: Where do you start?
The Peter Jackson Trilogy (2001-2003)
When someone says Lord of the Rings adaptation, that’s probably the first thing that comes to mind.
Pros: Considered an adaptation by many fans. The extended editions even more so.
Cons: Not a perfect adaptation – there are bound to be some scenes that differ from the books – but whether this is a weakness or just a consequence of adapting a written work to a visual medium depends on who you’re talking to.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (2022-)
Although it is an adaptation of The Rise of Sauron in the Second Age, I am including it here because its main source material is The Lord of the Rings Appendices.
Pros: It’s daring to shoot a series during the Second Age, and it does a thoughtful job of condensing millennia into a TV-friendly story.
Cons: Because the production has no rights to The Silmarillion, which is where much of the Second Age lore resides, they are limited in what they can contain.
Lord of the Rings Games
Lord of the Rings Online (2007-)
Dubbed “LOTRO” by fans, this MMORPG is by far the longest-running and continuously updated Tolkien video game. It takes place in Middle-earth during the events of LOTR.
Pros: Perfect if you want an immersive Middle-earth experience, exploring the scenes and landscapes as they appeared in LOTR.
Cons: It’s so big and durable that it can be intimidating to approach as a new player.
War of the Ring (2011)
Illustrated by John Howe, whose Tolkien artworks are well known in fandom, this board game allows one player to take control of the Fellowship and the Free Men, while the other plays as Sauron and his Shadow Army to recreate (and possibly modify) them ). war of the ring.
Pros: Game mechanics are well thought out, not an easy feat for a board game that covers such a complicated setting and plot.
Cons: It’s slightly more expensive than your average video game at around $80.
Lego Lord of the Rings (2013)
Released shortly after the Hobbit trilogy films, this video game follows LOTR scenes as portrayed in the Peter Jackson films, but with a comedic twist.
Pros: It’s fun. You collect coins and build things. What’s not to like?
Cons: Not compatible with most platforms released after 2013, except for PC and Xbox for backwards compatibility. come on lego You would be my hero if you put it back on mobile.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014)
Set between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, this RPG follows a ranger named Talion.
Pros: Not just any game wins Game of the Year. From what I’ve heard (okay, yes, from my husband), it has a strong storyline and gameplay.
Cons: They take some liberties with the canon. Personally not thrilled that they gave Shelob the power to transform into a person. No thank you.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum (planned release late 2022)
Although it technically takes place between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings like Shadow of Mordor, I am including this game because it is the latest video game based on Tolkien’s work and its storyline is heavily connected to and influenced by LOTR.
Pros: Gollum is an intriguing character, and the game is designed to let players decide which side of his two personalities wins.
Cons: It’s not out yet, so hard to tell.
Lord of the Rings Podcast
Lifelong Tolkien fan Paul and newcomer Tori explore the Legendarium. Laughter sets in. While the first few episodes focused on The Silmarillion and The Hobbit, the pair are now reading and discussing The Lord of the Rings starting (when else?) September 22nd.
Now is the perfect time to start listening and participating as you read Fellowship of the Ring.
The Prancing Pony Podcast.
If you’re looking to dip your toes into the Tolkien Scholarships, you can’t find anything better than them. Chapter by chapter, this podcast offers an in-depth look at Tolkien’s entire legendarium. They have covered The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers and are currently discussing Book I of The Return of the King.
Mythgard’s exploration of The Lord of the Rings
While the PPP is more beginner-friendly with its chapter-by-chapter approach, this sentence-by-sentence podcast is perfect if you’re ready to dive deep into LOTR analysis. The host, Tolkien Professor Corey Olsen, has done over 200 episodes and is still not done discussing The Fellowship of the Ring.
For more podcast recommendations, check out this list of the best LOTR podcasts.
Still can’t get enough of LOTR? You may also be interested in the following articles: A Guide to Lord of the Rings Special Edition Sets and When Does Lord of the Rings Get Interesting?