The WitchesBy Roald Dahl; Read by Miranda Richardson
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: September 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 4 hours, 28 minutes
Themes: / children’s fantasy / witches /
This is not a fairy tale. This is about real witches. Grandmamma loves to tell about witches. Real witches are the most dangerous of all living creatures on earth. There’s nothing they hate so much as children, and they work all kinds of terrifying spells to get rid of them. Her grandson listens closely to Grandmamma’s stories – but nothing can prepare him for the day he comes face-to-face with The Grand High Witch herself!
In The Witches, a seven-year-old boy and his grandmother must use their cleverness to stop an evil witch conspiracy. It’s a lovely, funny and nightmarish tale. In the prologue, there is a direct warning to the children reading: witches are all around us but are disguised as kind and normal ladies… and they hate children and want to squelch them.
“For all you know, a witch might be living next door to you right now. … She might even – and this will make you jump – she might even be your lovely school teacher who is reading these words to you at this very moment. Look carefully at that teacher. Perhaps she is smiling at the absurdity of such a suggestion. Don’t let that put you off. It could be part of your cleverness.”
It might seem a little mean to scare children like that, but then again it’s no lie that some very cruel people disguise themselves as regular kind people, so maybe this is a theme that should appear in more children’s books.
The whole story is told from the little boy’s perspective, after he is orphaned during a trip to visit his grandmother. The family car skids off the road and crashes into a rocky ravine, killing both of his parents, and next day as they mourn, his grandmother distracts him from the tragedy by telling him all about witches: they’re real, she tells him, and they’re hidden among us, and she knows at least five children who have been taken by them.
An odd way to comfort a recently orphaned boy, but lucky too, considering the witch-encounters lurking in his near future.
The audiobook narration is beautifully performed and complete with subtle sound effects like chirping birds and the crackling of a fireplace. I found the witches’ screechy voices difficult to listen to in one chapter and had to adjust the volume a little now and then, but this wasn’t a problem overall. The grandmother’s voice is especially well narrated: I loved her accent, and her consistently warm and affectionate tone.
The cigar-smoking grandmother was my favourite character. She is not fazed by anything and has a kooky alternative streak when it comes to caring for children. At one point she offers her little grandson a puff of her cigar, and when he reminds her he’s only seven, she says, “I don’t care what age you are. You’ll never catch a cold if you smoke cigars!”
I’ve tried not to give away too much in this review because The Witches is so much fun to discover, and it has some unusual twists and turns. Definitely worth listening to… it’s funny and magical, with haunting little tales hidden within the main story.
Posted by Marissa van Uden
The SFFaudio Podcast #258 – Jesse, Seth, and Maissa discuss The Star Rover (aka The Jacket) by Jack London.
Talked about on today’s show:
titled The Jacket in the UK; astral projection; what about alien past lives; the primordial ooze; the book is a laundry list of Jack London’s interests; structure resembles television flashbacks; knuckle-rap Morse Code; The Count of Monte Cristo; Seth recounts his own past-life story; Jesse and Maissa debate plausibility of reincarnation; Plato and the Land of the Forms; “little death” means something else in French; Ragnar Lodbrok based on Norse Mythology; anachronism; Korean history and turtle ships; Jesse attempts to use the Napoleon Complex to debunk reincarnation; everyman (and everywoman); does reincarnation extend beyond humanity?; “there’s only one soul”; Lucretius, star dust, and the recovery of scrolls from Herculaneum; “souls are totally bogus”; past lives as a metaphor for reading widely; prevalence of the number 40; hallucination; Jack London on surfing; multilingual reference as an indicator of fame; prison reform; interrogation, torture, and Guantanamo Bay; loosely adapted in 2005 film The Jacket; the 1923 silent film adaptation is sadly lost; comparing and contrasting with The Iron Heel; T.C. Boyle’s The Relive Box in The New Yorker; Until the End of the World, a film about reliving dreams; on cultivating sleep; frame narrative; sexism; historical basis for character names; H.P. Lovecraft, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the creative power of dreams; confabulation; Total Recall; “faith in the lordship of my mind”; the odd importance of tobacco; The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells.
Posted by Jesse Willis
Anthony Hope’s 1894 novel, The Prisoner Of Zenda, gave rise to a craze for a new sub-genre of romance novels – the “Ruritanian romance” – so called after the fictional European country in which the titular “prisoner” is found. The novel’s plot, in which a visitor from England travels to a fictional European nation and, via an unbelievably convenient coincidence, becomes it’s king, was so popular that it’s echoes were felt well into the 20th century.
The 1933 Marx Brothers film, Duck Soup, takes it’s plot from the Ruritanian romances (it’s set in the country of “Freedonia”), Robert A. Heinlein’s 1956 novel, Double Star, borrows the Zenda plot and takes it to Mars, and the 1988 movie Richard Dreyfuss comedy, Moon Over Parador, places an actor in the role and places the action in a fictional South American country.
This brings us to one of my favourite OTR style radio shows – The CBS Radio Mystery Theater, which had a 1977 adaptation of The Prisoner Of Zenda – this shouldn’t have surprised me as CBSRMT had an adaptation for practically everything (the show ran 1,399 episodes). While their version gives short shrift to many of the novel’s subtleties the 46 minute running time allows for an entertaining, if break-neck, presentation of the story’s highlights.
CBSRMT #0639 – The Prisoner Of Zenda
By Robert Newman; Adapted from the novel by Anthony Hope; Performed by a full cast
1 |MP3| – Approx. 46 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Brodcaster: CBS Radio
Broadcast: April 22, 1977
The coronation of a new king is disrupted when the king’s brother drugs him. A distant relative who closely resembles the king steps in to take his place at the coronation.
Posted by Jesse Willis
A new release from Angelo Panetta and the good folks at the Radio Repertory Company of America!
If you like your action with a hint of humor and a soupçon of sex, then “Richmond Smokes a Joint” will make you stand up and cheer. Bursting forth from the popular “Anne Manx” series, that felonious firebrand, Jean Richmond (Patricia Tallman, “Babylon 5″, “Night of the Living Dead 1990″) is back, and taking the spotlight in her own cosmically wild adventure!
L. Sid Knee (Kris Holden-Ried, “The Tudors”, “Lost Girl”) has a secret. He knows the location of the mythical Sacred Plate of Marange. When he approaches Richmond’s ne’er-do-well boyfriend Herm (Jerry Robbins, “Powder River”, “Beacon Hill”) about obtaining the plate, the treacherous trio take-off on an intergalactic free-for-all filled with colorful crewmen, mysterious murders, dangerous double-crosses, and mommy talk.
Through its memorable characters, immersive sound design, and an original score, “Richmond Smokes a Joint” zips you from a secret safe to the caverns of Marange… where not even Richmond’s considerable wiles and cunning might be enough to make her come out alive and on top. So, strap yourself in for a dizzying science-fiction adventure so clever, even the title itself is a double entendre!
Posted by Scott D. Danielson
This UNABRIDGED AUDIOBOOK (10 hours 1 minute) comes to us courtesy of LibriVox.org. The Star Rover was first published in 1915.
The next SFFaudio Podcast will feature our discussion of it!
Posted by Jesse Willis
Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line (Veronica Mars #1)
By Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham; Read by Kristen Bell
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 25 March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours, 42 minutes
Themes: / crime / mystery / kidnapping / girl detective / spring break /
From Rob Thomas, the creator of the television series and movie phenomenon Veronica Mars, comes the first book in a thrilling mystery series that picks up where the feature film left off.
Ten years after graduating from high school in Neptune, California, Veronica Mars is back in the land of sun, sand, crime, and corruption. She’s traded in her law degree for her old private investigating license, struggling to keep Mars Investigations afloat on the scant cash earned by catching cheating spouses until she can score her first big case. Now it’s spring break, and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica is called in to investigate. But this is no simple missing person’s case; the house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. And when a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica’s past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.
This is a book for Veronica Mars fans, to listen to after seeing the crowd-funded movie (I watched it last weekend and was not disappointed! While I’ve been watching Kristen Bell’s new show, House of Lies, I miss Veronica and her many mishaps). The story picks up a few months after the movie ends, and Veronica is still in Neptune when a college student disappears during the Spring Break season.
Logan is missing for the entire story (for reasons the movie details) but another person from Veronica’s past shows up that I wasn’t expecting to see again. I hope in the future we see more new characters because I personally am getting a little weary of some of the same old people, but maybe I do not fully appreciate the importance of repetition in a girl detective narrative.
The audio is great fun because it is read by Veronica herself, Kristen Bell. Her voice carried us through the narration of the tv show and movie, and having anyone else read the book would have been a real tragedy. She does different voices for the characters, as well as distinguishing the narrative voice from the character of Veronica Mars. I hope they continue to have her read the future Veronica Mars audiobooks (and I hope there will be future Veronica Mars books).
Posted by Jenny Colvin