I grew up on Golden Age Radio, I love to learn about a great many things, and I enjoy a wide variety of genres. Me, bored? Never!
The Canterbury Tales has withstood the test of time because within them, Chaucer paints character portraits of the kinds of people he met in his time. I have read both modern translations and translations that are closer to Chaucer's original, keeping in mind that English was a foreign language back then compared to anything we understand now. It's the kind of thing that makes Shakespeare far easier to understand. In fact, I had the same problem with Shakespeare and Chaucer both back in school in that I felt like I was missing a vital ingredient in truly being able to understand and appreciate them.
While it took some time to get through this because I was constantly comparing the audio with the printed versions I have, I found that the extra time was well spent. I have a love for the printed word, but I tend to learn and retain information better through audio. As much as I hate to admit it, reading something like this is more akin to literary scholarship than it is reading an anthology of short stories as it might have been in Chaucer's day. I found this audio version to be of immense value in that I could hear the stories perhaps as Chaucer himself might have told them to other people that he met along the way. The character studies become people, even if they are perhaps exaggerated here and there, and that sort of thing helps to bring both this work - and the history of the time in which it was written - to vibrant life. And now that my appreciation has grown enough to catch up to my curiosity, I can truly say that I understand now that it's not simply the age of the work that makes The Canterbury Tales the classics they are. It's the character studies and the stories that make them the classics they are.
As with any translation, there is the risk of potentially losing something. Advanced scholars might be more inclined to try the original versions after hearing this. As it is, maybe it's the style, but it seemed to me pretty close. Most of what I didn't translate well for me was more a case of not understanding some of the vocabulary of the age, which is why I kept comparing the printed texts; I had to keep looking things up as some things that were common in Chaucer's time simply do not exist in ours. Again, well worth it, I think, though I understand most won't take that kind of time or effort. Audio will probably help considerably. There's something about hearing things in context that help a reader to fill in the gaps. If you love old literature, or if you have a fascination with the Middle Ages as I do, this is positively a must-read, for through the arts we better understand our histories.
One of the separation points I have when reading classical poetry is that it's just not the same when reading to yourself. Poetry of this caliber demands a performance. From Homer to Shakespeare and beyond, epic poetry requires the performance from a master with a strong voice to get the drama across on a higher level. Charlton Griffin delivers that punch, catapulting the listener through some of the best epic poetry ever offered in this planet's history.
For those who only think they know the story, and especially for those who seem to think of Paradise Lost as merely "Biblical fanfic," I would invite those people to spend some time in the mind of the literary genius of Milton through this work. And as a bonus, you get the sequel for free, as well as a 2-hour bio of Milton so as to place these works in the historical and spiritual contexts in which they were written - a time of ecclesiastical upheaval. Getting the proper perspective makes all the difference when understanding and appreciating a work like this.
One of the biggest issues I've ever had with literature comes when the scholastic/learned pin down the world's greatest books and open them up like a cadaver, turning them into something lifeless and soulless. Most literary types I've ever encountered take the same approaches to the great works as do music critics or movie reviewers, but they spend much of their time trying to prove to you that they're not doing that by using whatever tricks they think they've mastered that make them seem literary.
In recent years, however, I've learned to separate out the true scholars who seek to elevate your appreciation of the great works from those who lean on those works to prove their own sense of smug superiority. We all know how to tell the difference because these other types always make you feel the life get sucked out of the work, out of the room, and out of you. That means that when you find one of the learned whose career is built on love and appreciation of the works they teach, you immediately feel like they engage you in the experience. They help you to engage with the work at deeper levels than you might expect possible. And they open up that world in a way that invites you to travel in it as far as you're willing to go. The world needs more educators like this.
Corey Olsen is one of these quality educators. Known as the "Tolkien Professor," his own career path has followed that of Tolkien himself, into the world of medieval literature. Applying this store of knowledge the way Tolkien did in creating the world of Middle Earth, Olsen is able to translate the scholarly to those who might otherwise think of The Hobbit only as a good story. For the Tolkien enthusiast at any level, including those who have only seen Peter Jackson's movies and are reading the book for the first time, this book is a welcome foothold into the deeper understanding of Middle Earth. Not only is it enlightening, it's fun.
One of the most interesting points of comparison in this book is the infamous "Riddles in the Dark" chapter that introduces Gollum. I had always heard that Gollum had changed over the years, but without actually having found a first edition printing of The Hobbit, I was unable to know the extent of the evolution myself. With the writing of The Lord of the Rings, Gollum went from a good guy to an evil guy to the version we know so well today across the revisions. Olsen navigates us through these revisions with an understanding of how Middle Earth evolved in Tolkien's mind. This is but one of the many things about this book that makes it so interesting. Olsen goes through the entirety of The Hobbit chapter by chapter, presenting it all to us in a way that seems both new and familiar at the same time. If that sort of experience is what you seek, this is the book for you. Hopefully in the near future we'll get more books in this series dealing with The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and maybe even the other collected volumes of Middle Earth tales. I feel like I'm immersed in these works fairly well as it is as I've been a Tolkien fan all my life. But there are always new levels to explore. I think Olsen proves with this book that those new levels are accessible to anyone, regardless of experience.