The Underrated Narrator of ASOIAF
Many fans of A Song of Ice and Fire Audiobooks would be familiar with the name “John Lee”, though most would sooner forget his singular role as a one-time narrator for the series. During the release of A Feast for Crows, the fourth book in the series, the popular ASOIAF narrator Roy Dotrice could not commit to the project due to time constraints. Random House Audio contracted Lee, much to the ire of the fans who clamored for Dotrice’s return to the extent of creating an online petition.
But who, exactly, is John Lee and why did his reading of one of George R. R. Martin’s bestselling novels result in such negative backlash?
Much like Dotrice, John Lee’s accomplishments are far and wide within the entertainment industry. He is a renowned actor, director, writer, and Audiobook narrator. He has read over eighty books and has covered all genres from classics to science fiction operas to juvenile fiction. He also reads non-fiction books that do not fall under the typical genre group such as Don’t Know Much About Mythology by Kenneth C. Davis and McMafia by Misha Glenny. A little known fact about Lee is that he is comfortable sight-reading non-fiction, but has to pre-read or at least skim novels before the actual narration. Lee has read the works of bestselling authors, including Daniel Silva, James Clavell, and Orhan Pamuk, among many others. He has even dabbled in animated series such as Aeon Flux, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, and Spawn. Videogame fans may also recognize him for his role as Cid in Final Fantasy XII.
Lee is particularly known for taking on extremely long Audiobooks such as Ken Folliet’s Fall of Giants and James Joyce’s Ulysses, a feat that he attributes to “stamina”. He claims that his stamina comes from being a part of a family of carpenters, bricklayers, blacksmiths, and pipefitters. Whatever his secret is, it seems to work, as he has garnered Earphone Awards for his narrations of Dumas’ The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, to which Lee had this to say: “Ha! Those were long ones. That’s what narrators say to each other, you know. ‘Whoo, that was a long one!’ They very rarely go, ‘That was fantastic.’”
Yet Lee is proving to be quite fantastic in his craft. He was praise for the uniqueness of his voice no matter what his role was – he playing a swashbuckling adventurer, building up the scene for suspense, or dealing with technical passages for non-fiction books. He easily takes on a variety of accents and is eager to learn new ones. He can handle England’s many intonations, French, Four Irish accents, as well as Eastern European, Indian, and Pakistani voices. He has won several Audie Awards (or Audies) and got named a Golden Voice by AudioFile in 2009.
What went wrong with A Feast for Crows Audiobook?
While there were a few reviews that praised his reading as being smooth and skilled, and even those that say he did a better job than Dotrice, most listeners were disappointed with his performance. Pronunciation, voicing, and intonations were the key complaint. Given that most of those who provided positive feedback had also indicated that they did not listen to the first three books, it is quite likely that Lee’s talent and skill were simply not enough to overcome the fans’ familiarity with the pronunciation and intonations of Dotrice. After handling the first three novels, Dotrice’s performance would have been akin to setting the language for the fantasy world of Westeros. It could have gone differently for Lee had Dotrice been an average reader, but this award-winning British actor and narrator is anything but!
Still, the unfavorable response to reading what is the least popular of the ASOIAF books would be little more than a small dent (if even that) in the illustrious career of John Lee. There’s no denying that Lee has carved a niche for himself in many other genres and famous books. If you have the chance, a book narrated by John Lee comes highly recommended – so long as its title is not A Feast for Crows.