An unexpected collection of Lord of the Rings adaptations

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In autumn, I always want to revisit Tolkien’s legend. Often that means rereading Lord of the Rings. But the Lord of the Rings adaptations also act as a thoughtful conversation between canon and artist interpretations.

Because there are so many adaptations, it can be hard to know where to start – and some adaptations may be overshadowed by the Peter Jackson movies. As for which adaptation is better, that’s a complex discussion. I can, however, offer everyone some pros and cons to keep in mind when deciding which adaptation to try or revisit.

Read on for a list of the most well-known LOTR adaptations, as well as a list of pros and cons for each entry. Audiobooks, radio dramas, television and film adaptations, musicals, and video games are all included.

I’ve also added a list of recommended LOTR discussion and analysis podcasts. While not all of them are strict Lord of the Rings adaptations, I would be remiss not to include them as they offer valuable insights and contributions for newcomers and long-time fans alike.

Lord of the Rings Audiobooks

Narrated by Rob Ingles (1990)

It’s the full audiobook narration that most people grew up with, and it evokes a sizable amount of nostalgia for many fans.

Advantages: It’s a classic, and it’s one of the bestselling audiobooks of all time.

The inconvenients: His storytelling style can be a bit monotonous at times.

Cover of The Fellowship of the Ring audiobook narrated by Andy Serkis

Narrated by Andy Serkis (2021)

This audiobook adaptation is narrated by the man who brought Gollum to life in the Peter Jackson films. Like the Rob Ingles audiobook, this one is also unabridged.

Advantages: Do I even have to tell you that it nails the voices of the characters? Of course he does.

The inconvenients: For those who grew up with Rob Ingles’ audiobooks, Andy Serkis’ more dramatized style of storytelling may seem like too much.

Radio

cover of the BBC Radio production of The Lord of the Rings

BBC radio dramatization (nineteen eighty one)

Notably, this adaptation stars Ian Holm as Frodo, some 20 years before he played Bilbo Baggins in the Peter Jackson trilogy.

Advantages: It’s immersive listening, and Ian Holm does a hell of a good Frodo.

The inconvenients: Thirteen hours of audio and still no time for Tom Bombadil? Cowards.

cover of the NPR adaptation of The Lord of the Rings

NPR radio dramatization (1979)

Another source of childhood nostalgia for many, this adaptation is one of the few besides audiobooks to keep Tom Bombadil in the story.

Advantages: They did it! His jacket is bright blue and his boots are yellow!

The inconvenients: The value of the production was lower than that of the BBC radio soap opera, which is on the whole more popular.

Television and film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings movie poster by Ralph Bakshi

The Lord of the Rings by Ralph Bakshi (1978)

For many kids growing up in the 70s and 80s, this adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring was their introduction to Tolkien’s legendarium.

Advantages: The animation style is intriguing, and it’s an overall faithful adaptation of Fellowship. Plus, this official poster is badass and one of my favorite LOTR pieces of art.

The inconvenients: A sequel was never made, leaving the story open to young viewers who had not yet read the books.

Rankin/Bass Return of the King movie poster

The Return of the King by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass (1980)

Despite its name, this adaptation incorporates plot points from Fellowship of the Ring and The two towers as well.

Advantages: It would be difficult for anyone to condense LOTR into a 90-minute film, and it’s clear that those involved have thought about it.

The inconvenients: While this is a solid attempt at a film adaptation, there are a lot of things left out.

poster for the Soviet adaptation LOTR

Khraniteli (1991)

Until 2021, this low-budget Soviet TV adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring was considered lost.

Advantages: That’s definitely something.

The inconvenients: Where to start ?

Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring movie poster

The Peter Jackson Trilogy (2001-2003)

When someone says “Lord of the Rings adaptation” it’s probably the first one that comes to mind.

Advantages: Regarded by many fans as the adaptation. Extended editions, even more.

The inconvenients: Not a perfect adaptation — there are inevitably scenes that differ from the books — but whether that’s a weakness or just a consequence of adapting a written work to a visual medium depends on who you talk to.

The Rings of Power TV series poster

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (2022-)

Although this is an adaptation of Sauron’s rise in the Second Age, I include it here because its main source is the Lord of the Rings appendices.

Advantages: Defining a series in the Second Age is bold, and it does a thoughtful job of condensing millennia into a story suitable for television.

The inconvenients: Because the production has no right to The Silmarillionwhere much of the Second Age lore is, they are limited in what they can include.

lord of the rings games

Lord of the Rings Online video game cover

The Lord of the Rings online (2007-)

Dubbed “LOTRO” by fans, this MMORPG is by far the oldest and continuously updated Tolkien video game. It takes place on Middle-earth during the events of LOTR.

Advantages: Perfect if you want an immersive Middle-earth experience, exploring the scenes and landscape as they appeared in LOTR.

The inconvenients: It’s so big and long that approaching it as a new player can be daunting.

an image from the board game War of the Ring

War of the Ring (2011)

Illustrated by John Howe, whose Tolkien illustrations are well known within the fandom, this board game allows one player to take control of the Fellowship and the Free Peoples, the other to embody Sauron and his Army of ‘Shadow to reenact (and potentially change) the War of the Ring.

Advantages: Its game mechanics are well thought out, which is not easy for a board game that covers such a complex setting and story.

The inconvenients: It’s a bit more expensive than your average video game at around $80.

Lego Lord of the Rings video game cover

Lego The Lord of the Rings (2013)

Released shortly after The Hobbit trilogy films, this video game follows LOTR scenes as depicted in the Peter Jackson films but with a comedic bent.

Advantages: It’s funny. You collect coins and build things. What’s not to like?

The inconvenients: Not compatible with most platforms released after 2013 except PC and Xbox due to backward compatibility. Come on, Lego. You’d be my hero if you put it back on mobile.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor video game cover

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014)

Located between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, this RPG follows a ranger named Talion.

Advantages: Not just any game wins Game of the Year. From what I’ve heard (okay, yeah, from my husband), the storyline and gameplay are solid.

The inconvenients: They take some liberties with the barrel. Personally not thrilled that they gave Shelob the power to shapeshift into a person. No thanks.

Cover of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum video game

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum (Version planned for the end of 2022)

While technically taking place between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as Shadow of Mordor, I’m including this game because it’s the last video game based on Tolkien’s work and its plot is heavily tied to and influenced by LOTR.

Advantages: Gollum is a fascinating character, and the game is said to let players decide which side of his two personalities wins.

The inconvenients: It’s not out yet, so hard to say.

Lord of the Rings Podcasts

Sillymarillion cover

The Sillymarillion

Longtime Tolkien fan Paul and newcomer Tori explore the legendary. Hilarity ensues. While the first episodes focused on The Silmarillion and The Hobbitthe two are now reading and discussing Lord of the Rings from (when else?) September 22.

This is the perfect time to start listening and following along as they read Fellowship of the Ring.

Prancing Pony podcast cover

The prancing pony podcast

If you’re looking to dip your toes into Tolkien’s scholarship, you can’t find better than them. This podcast provides a chapter-by-chapter deep dive into all of Tolkien’s legend. They covered The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ringand The two towers and are currently discussing Book I of The king’s return.

Cover Exploring The Lord of the Rings by Mythgard

Mythgard explores Lord of the Rings

While PPP is more beginner-friendly with its chapter-by-chapter approach, this sentence-by-sentence podcast is perfect when you’re ready to dive deep into LOTR analysis. Host Professor Tolkien Corey Olsen has directed over 200 episodes and still isn’t 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 LOTR? You may also be interested in A Guide to The Lord of the Rings Special Edition Sets and When does Lord of the Rings get interesting?

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