The SFFaudio Podcast #337 – READALONG: The Lord Of The Rings (Book 5 of 6) by J.R.R. Tolkien

October 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

TheSFFaudioPodcast600The SFFaudio Podcast #337 – Jesse, Julie Davis, Seth, and Maissa talk about The Lord of the Rings Book V (“The War Of The Ring”) by J.R.R. Tolkien (aka the first half of The Return Of The King).

Talked about on today’s show:
Published 60 years ago; research is Jesse’s “security blanket”; The Black Stone by Robert E. Howard; stone of Erech has parallels to the Kaaba in Mecca; Moses’s ill-fated water-rock in Old Testament; the Stone of Scone; palantíri; War? What is it good for? We aren’t fans of all the battles; Éomer’s poetic “all is lost” moment; The Last Samurai and heroic fatalism; World War I; Faramir’s dislike of war; the movies’ over-reliance on spectacle; the power of words; the Lord of the Nazgûl; Éowyn’s badassery; Houses of Lamentation vs. Houses of Healing; the strength of the weakest; parallels between Merry and Pippin; the flaws of film versions of Éowyn–and Faramir; great deeds vs. duty; Éowyn as Old Norse valkyrie archetype; the twisting of the Nazgûl; debating the corporeality of Sauron; Sauron and Denethor use others for their dirty work; Ghân-buri-Ghân and other marginalized figures; woodwoses; no authorized Lord of the Rings fan fiction; Jesse wants public domain story following Gimil and Legolas on postwar adventures; Fifty Shades of Grey as Twilight fanfiction; Tolkien’s scholarly inside jokes; we don’t know our Greek numbers; on foils, parallels, and the integrity of Tolkien’s work; Théoden and Denethor; Gandalf’s healing power, “see the light”; Denethor’s false wisdom; Denethor passages have quality of a Greek tragedy; modern society, like Denethor, can’t see the whole picture; film portrayal of Gandalf whacking Denethor is not canon; Christ parallels and the resurrection of hope; the layering of symbolism; barrow wights and Théoden’s barrow; Korean harvest festival Chuseok; the aggression of the Tolkien estate; the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings animated movies of yore; “the hands of the king are the hands of a healer”; athelas (kings foil) to the rescue!; the king’s power to call the wounded back from the dead; the title of lore master; the last big distraction and self-sacrifice at the Black Gate; on the division of Lord of the Rings into books and volumes; on the pleasures of slow reading; more discourse on Denethor; Pippin and Merry are interchangeable (!?); even Sauron is just one evil power, parallels cyclical historical events in our world (cf. resurgence of Russia under Putin); no spoilers for Maissa!; the Mouth of Sauron’s terms, and what if Gandalf had surrendered?; Hitler, appeasement, and Alexander the Great; envisioning flamethrower guitarist from Mad Max: Fury Road at the Battle of the Black Gate;

Draggy The Dragon with THE RETURN OF THE KING by J.R.R. Tolkien

Eowyn And The Lord Of The Nazgul - illustration by Jim Reid

Ballantine Books - The Return Of The King by J.R.R. Tolkien

Methuen - The Return Of The King by J.R.R. Tolkien

UNICORN - The Return Of The King by J.R.R. Tolkien

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #280 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: Völsungasaga

September 1, 2014 by · 1 Comment
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Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #280 – Völsungasaga translated by Eiríkr Magnússon and William Morris; read by Corpang (of LibriVox). This is an unabridged reading of the saga (4 hours) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse, Seth, and Mr Jim Moon.

Talked about on today’s show:
anonymous, 1000 AD, Beowulf, Germanic myth collection, Volsung Dynasty, quick character changes, irrational logic, biblical similarities, Sigurd, echoes of myths, family relationships in Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Tales of Dragons, a hodgepodge of influences, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, dramatic events, wolves, half-historical and half-saga storytelling, origin from Homeric Myths, odes, cyclical time, less Christian influences than other written sagas, a source or influences on stories and also influenced by earlier sagas, Vikings on History Channel, moral lessons to be awesome, unconsciousness of glorious kings with immoral actions, The Old Testament, hierarchy of power, jealousy of wealth and power, Medieval Japan, neighbor relationships, attitudes toward prophesy and fate, stoicism and acceptance, Odin Mythology, simple naming of characters, absence of fear of death, reincarnation, female equality, werewolves, Roman Mythology, frequent raiding, laws protecting wolves, wolves as outlaws, Caligula, power creates rules, Christian epics with Christian rule system, power of sacrifice, irrational idea of original sin, The New Testament subverting the idea of superiority, master morality and the slave morality, a lot of similarity to Beowulf, a source for education and entertainment, reason for being dramatic, 13th century literature, history in a very vague and incorrect way, more atrocity earlier in the saga, parallel between fantasy and real life, Story of Attila, transmission of knowledge, Haida Gwaii’s similarity to Vikings, We are really here for the gold!, names of dwarfs, broken names, obsession of money creates craziness, atrocity and craziness as history, story created before medieval nobility, morality as generosity, guest morality, Richard Wagner, being near Vikings is dangerous, endurance of pain as superior, no laughs and mild jokes in Volsunga saga, disrespect is bad, burial traditions create conflict, William Morris, the absence of slaves in Tolkien Fiction, free society.

The Worm Fafnir illustrated by Lancelot Speed

Sigmunds Schwert illustration by Johannes Gehrts

Ramsund Carving

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister E. McGrath

January 2, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Cover of C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister E. McGrath

C.S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius and Reluctant Prophet
By Alister E. McGrath; Read by Robin Sachs
13 hours 56 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Oasis Audio
Published: 2013
Themes: / biography / religion / fantasy / medieval literature

Before setting out on this review, I must apologize for the liberal use of the first-person pronoun, which I normally use sparingly. This book intersects my personal and professional interests at several points, so I’m not even going to attempt an objective, impartial review, if such a thing is even possible. I am, as Lewis was, a student of medieval literature, though I can only dream of reaching his depth of knowledge and scope of imagination in this field. Furthermore, I undertook part of my studies at Oxford University, which was home to Lewis for much of his life. The City of Dreaming Spires, as Matthew Arnold called it, exerted a profound influence on Lewis’s life and work, and having walked its winding cobbled streets and ancient quadrangles it’s easy to understand why. Last, but certainly not least, Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia had a profound impact on my intellectual and imaginative development as a child. In this I suspect I’m not alone, and I hope this review will encourage readers to learn more about the life and mind behind one of the wellsprings of modern fantasy.

Before discussing the biography itself, I should say something of its author. Though currently Professor of Theology at King’s College, London, McGrath’s previous post was in Oxford, where I had heard his name spoken with a great deal of respect while I was there. The biography lists ever so slightly in the direction of Christianity, reflecting its author’s background in theology and apologetics, but on the whole it’s a balanced work firmly grounded in scholarly research of Lewis’s works and correspondence. The biography, of course, deals extensively with Lewis’s religious and spiritual development so central in his life and work, but the work by no means white-washes Lewis’s life or even his faith. This audio recording is preceded by an interview with McGrath, whose calm, measured voice assures us as listeners that we’re chosen a trustworthy guide down the path of Lewis’s life.

Like most biographers, McGrath takes a strictly chronological approach, with very few detours either to backtrack or to foreshadow. The narrative takes us through Lewis’s birth and childhood in Northern Ireland, through his lengthy tenure at Osxford University, to his final years as Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge. The biography strikes a delicate balance between Lewis’s rich inner life as reflected in his writings and his sometimes tumultuous outer. In the former case, McGrath devotes considerable space to Lewis’s conversion experience and subsequent development of his spirituality. As an academic, I was also pleased that Lewis’s scholarly works, notably on Edmund Spender’s Faerie Queene and Milton’s Paradise Lost, receive some attention. In regards to Lewis’s personal life, the biography charts Lewis’s many professional disappointments resulting from his popular religious work and the rift that formed between Lewis and other Oxford academics. Lewis’s relationships also receive some attention, in particular his long-running peculiar arrangement with the older Mrs. Moore and his controversial marriage to Joy Davidman. Of course, there is significant interplay between Lewis’s inner and outer lives, and McGrath expertly weaves these strands together to illustrate how one sometimes influenced the other. The book concludes by reflecting on the rise of Lewis’s reputation in various circles, religious and popular, after his death in 1963.

Two whole chapters are dedicated to Lewis’s development of The Chronicles of Narnia. McGrath packs a lot of material into these relatively few pages, from Narnia’s inception in Lewis’s mind, to the debate over the proper reading order of the books (Lewis’s ordering, order of publication, or internal chronology), to the works’ modern reception, especially Philip Pullman’s criticism. This section also manages to delve a little deeper, too, highlighting the philosophical and theological underpinnings of this imaginative, not imaginary, world. McGrath deals with the question of whether Narnia is an allegory, and also links the work to Plato’s Republic and the allegory of shadows in the cave. Obviously this is a lot of topics to cram into so little space, and I would have liked a more thorough treatment, but to be fair this is a biography, not a work of literary criticism. McGrath has promised a fuller, more scholarly edition of this book in the near future, which will likely feature copious footnotes providing a wonderful paper trail for the Narnia enthusiast eager to learn more. SFFaudio readers should also note that Lewis’s lesser-known Space Trilogy also receives brief treatment in this biography.

Though built on academic bedrock, C.S. Lewis: A Life is written in a lively, accessible style. McGrath uses Lewis’s own words, or the words of his associates, when possible, which imbues the book with a sense of immediacy and authenticity to the work. I sometimes felt as though I were in the room with Lewis, Tolkien, and the other Inklings as they discussed important religious, mythological, and literary matters. Like Lewis himself, McGrath also has a way of explaining complex intellectual and theological matters in a way that an average reader like me can understand. This is, in my view, the hallmark of any solid intellectual or literary biography. My only criticism of the book, and it’s a trifling one, is that McGrath hardly even alludes to any sexual relations between Lewis and Mrs. Moore, or later between Lewis and Joy Davidman, even though it’s obvious there was some sort of sexual element to these relationships. Perhaps McGrath found this matter distasteful, or thought the book’s Christian readers would. In any case, this omission is to me the one glaring lacuna in an otherwise thorough life story.

Robin Sachs’s stately narration lends the perfect air of British respectability to the audio edition. His pronunciation of some of the book’s more arcane linguistic and literary terms are, for the most part, spot on. As mentioned earlier, the inclusion of an interview with Alister McGrath, is a welcome addition, and provides additional insights into an already insightful work. Another minor quibble: I feel the interview should have been included at the end of the audiobook, rather than the beginning. I prefer to go into a book unbiased by the author’s later thoughts on the book. Again, though, this quibble is very minor. What does conclude the audiobook, however, is an amazing recording of Lewis at his deep-timbres lecturing finest.

There are certainly many other windows into the lives of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the other Inklings. Despite the influence of these authors on my own life, I have to admit I have not read most of these other works. So I’m very glad that one of the first I’ve read has proved to be such an enlightening and entertaining journey, (mostly) free from the partisanship and polarity that plague some biographies of relatively recent figures. I can’t think of many readers who wouldn’t benefit from or at least be entertained by Alister McGrath’s C.S. Lewis: A Life.

Posted by Seth Wilson

Review of Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith

October 22, 2012 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Fantasy Audiobook - Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-SmithUnholy Night
By Seth Grahame-Smith; Read by Peter Nerkot
10 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Published: 2012
Themes: / Fantasy / Mythology / Occult / Christianity / Bible /

“Joseph? Mary? My name is Balthazar. This is Gaspar . . . this is Melchyor. We don’t want to hurt you . . . we’re just looking for a place to rest. But, Joseph? if you don’t put that pitchfork down, I’m going to take it from you and stab you to death in front of your wife and child. Do you understand?”

Wanted thieves Balthazar, Melchyor, and Gaspar, disguised as wise men, show up at a little manger in Bethlehem with a huge star blazing overhead, looking for a hideout from the law. But when Herod’s soldiers begin slaughtering the babies in Bethlehem, Balthazar takes the safety of the Holy Family into his own hands. As fugitives on the run to Egypt, they must escape not only Roman soldiers but creatures of mythology and the occult. Everyone’s either gunning for the Antioch Ghost with a price on his head or the innocent newborn who has such an unearthly effect on those around him.

Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) finally stops inserting his words into other people’s writing and writes a book in his own words. And a fine job he does of it too. For a violent, gore-filled, action-thriller there are a surprising number of very human characters, many of whom we are meant to recognize.

Pontius Pilate appears as an ambitious young officer ambivalent about truth. Mary and Joseph struggle with how to reconcile the truth of Jesus as God with the reality of a baby who must be fed, loved, and parented. Above all, this is Balthazar’s story, who has a complex story-line driving his actions and attitudes. We learn how he became the cynical Antioch Ghost and we wonder if he will find a more worthy goal than vengeance.

Above all, I was surprised to find myself eventually thinking of Unholy Night as modern midrash. Midrash is a traditional Jewish way of trying to understand the underlying spirit of scripture, sometimes connecting it to modern life, by creating parables. This allows for some imaginative storytelling as rabbis look for interpretations with are not immediately obvious but are nevertheless held within the original text.

Grahame-Smith lives up to the midrash ideal by both being respectful to his source material and also using his vivid imagination on a Biblical event that is wide-open to interpretation, Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt with the Christ child. Among other things, the author is very good at opening new views on familiar subjects, such as just how horrible King Herod was. It brings to life the terrible things he did very much as I have read them in history books. One also gets a deeper understanding of the locals’ simmering, resentful hatred of the Roman empire.

Narrator Peter Berkrot is a reader I haven’t come across before but will be seeking out in the future. He conveys just the right amount of cynicism as Balthazar, menace and insanity as Herod, and innocence as Mary. I am not sure how this book comes across in print but I’d listen to it again in a heartbeat thanks to Berkrot’s narration.

Grahame-Smith has delivered a story of Biblical proportions in Unholy Night: zombies, swarms of locusts, epic sword fights, outlaws, obsessed rulers, vengeance, redemption, and more are in this entertaining action tale. That he did it all while staying true to original material that can be unpopular reading these days makes him a writer I am going to seek out in the future. Highly recommended.

Posted by Julie D.

Aural Noir Review of Dimiter by William Peter Blatty

April 27, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Aural Noir, Reviews 

Aural Noir: Review

Audiobook - Dimiter by William Peter BlattyDimiter
By William Peter Blatty; Read by William Peter Blatty
8 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Published: 2010
Themes: / Thriller / Religion / Christianity / Espionage /

In 1973 a nameless prisoner is being tortured in an Albanian prison, where “grace and hope had never touched.” Colonel Vlora, known as “The Interrogator,” is frustrated and mystified by a man they have come to call The Prisoner because they cannot even make him speak. Is he an American spy, Paul Dimiter, known as the “agent from hell?” The solution to this stalemate while expected on one level is a complete surprise on another. This turns out to be emblematic of William Blatty’s book. Part 1 is an appropriate foretaste of this complex, suspenseful, and fast paced thriller.

The scene shifts to Jerusalem where we meet Moses Mayo, a neurologist, who is investigating a series of seemingly natural deaths that are nevertheless linked. He also is plagued by a gruesome murder, reports of apparitions and mysterious miraculous healings. We also meet Mayo’s life-long friend, Peter Meral, an Arab Christian, who is a police detective. Among other things, Meral is investigating a strange car explosion and the mysterious disappearance of the men involved, a CIA cover-up, and a body found at the Tomb of Christ.

The body count climbs and complications arise from the interweaving of all the events. This sounds somewhat like a standard thriller, however, it is anything but. We know the deaths are real but what about the reported miracles? Is everything really connected and, if so, what could possibly be the logical link? The solution is not only surprising but also provides an extremely moving moment of redemption.

Dimiter‘s suspense keeps the listener fascinated while also raising it above the ordinary by not being afraid to have characters who care about spiritual searching, loss, redemption, and love. The spiritual element will make this work especially interesting to those who are drawn to themes that investigate good versus evil. This is not an element that should surprise those who remember that Blatty is the author of the justly famous horror novel The Exorcist. Although this novel is strictly in the thriller vein, I must admit that I did find the torture scenes rather horrific and did fast forward through a few of them.

The author narrates his work and does such an effective job that I often forgot I was not listening to a professional voice talent. The only downfall was that during fast-paced scenes with more than two male characters, such as CIA interrogations, there was not enough differentiation between all the voices to make it easy to tell when dialogue shifted from one person to another. This was not a huge problem but it did require me to back up a couple of times until I figured out the tempo. Otherwise, William Blatty’s reading was a sheer pleasure, especially in voicing his more eccentric characters who he brought to life in a most vivid fashion.

Highly recommended.

Posted by Julie D.

Review of Pilgrim’s Progress Audio Drama

December 15, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

TITLEPilgrim’s Progress: Similitude of a Dream
Audio Drama by Spirit Blade Productions
Publisher: Spirit Blade Productions
Published: 2009
Themes: / Fantasy / Allegory / Christianity /

Frankly The Pilgrim’s Progress is not a book I ever imagined that I’d be reading, much less excited to tell anyone about. That was before I’d heard Spirit Blade’s version which reimagines The Pilgrim’s Progress as a dynamic audio drama complete with dragons, elves, and a mystical book of truth.

Spirit Blade Productions has pulled off a masterpiece here. The original allegorical story has been refashioned featuring a full-cast, orchestral score, and complete sound effects to urge our imaginations on a quest with Christopher Pilgrim for truth. Waking after a nightmare of death and destruction, Christopher determines to find his way to the legendary Mystic City, looking for a cure that will avert disaster. Along the way he encounters others who have all sorts of advice for his journey, some helpful and some disastrous. Christopher must discern which actions will lead to success.

This audio drama captured my attention so thoroughly that I found myself wondering exactly how much was modern imagination and how much was originally in the book. This is exactly what the audio drama producers intended so they made it easy to check by including the corresponding part of the original book, also recorded with sound effects and a musical score. I was completely surprised to find how the original text captured my imagination and was thought provoking about my own life even as I enjoyed the story.

Spirit Blade’s reason for existence is “to present the uncompromised truths of Biblical scripture in unique formats that will provoke thought and appeal to fans of creative music and imaginative fiction.” I can attest that with this presentation of part one of Pilgrim’s Progress they have done just that. I found myself immediately recommending the audio drama to a friend whose 6th grade brother has outpaced the reading resources available. Designed for 12 years and up, this production will capture the attention of readers of all ages who may never have heard of The Pilgrim’s Progress but will be interested in Christopher Pilgrim’s adventure.

At $4.99 to download the first one-hour episode as well as the half-hour audiobook reading, this seems like a great deal to me. Right now you can also buy one and “gift” one free which makes it an even better deal.

It is always a pleasure to “discover” a classic book that one wishes to share and I must thank Spirit Blade Productions for giving me the review opportunity. I am going to be looking forward to future episodes in the series that shows us what sort of progress Christopher Pilgrim makes.

Highly recommended.

Download Trailer here…

Posted by Julie D.