LibriVox: Stories Of King Arthur’s Knights Told To The Children by Mary MacGregor

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New at LibriVox for kids of all ages (especially those who like crossbows and catapults)…

LibriVox - Stories Of King Arthur's Knights Told To ChildrenStories Of King Arthur’s Knights Told To The Children
By Mary MacGregor; Read by Joy Chan
7 Zipped MP3 Files or Podcast – Approx. 1 Hour 53 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Published: July 8, 2009
“More than four hundred years ago there lived a diligent man called Sir Thomas Malory, who wrote in English words many of the beautiful Welsh tales about King Arthur’s Knights, that the people of Wales loved so well. All the stories in this little book were found in Malory’s big book, except ‘Geraint and Enid.’ But it, too, is one of the old Welsh tales that tell of the brave knights and fair ladies of King Arthur’s court. Many times, since Sir Thomas Malory wrote his book, have these stories been told again to old and young, but perhaps never before have they been told to the children so simply as in this little book.”

Too see all the pictures associated with this book look HERE.

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Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Blood of Ambrose by James Enge

SFFaudio Review

Blood of Ambrose by James EngeBlood of Ambrose
By James Enge; Read by Jay Snyder
Audible Download – 14 hours 29 mins [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Published: 2009
Themes: / Fantasy / High Fantasy / Arthurian Legend / Sword and Sorcery / Necromancy / Regency / Immortality /

In his introduction to the Audible Frontiers recording of Blood of Ambrose, James Enge places his debut novel in the “swords and sorcery” fantasy sub-genre. While the work certainly fulfills the expectations established by that label–it’s replete with feats of arms, dark conjurings, and roguish characters–it also owes debts to the Arthurian tradition and to humorous fantasy in the vein of David Eddings and Joe Abercrombie. The resulting mélange of tropes and styles sometimes clashes, but in the end it leaves the reader with a varied and satisfying reading experience.

The blurb from Pyr, who publishes the hardcopy edition, reads as follows:

Centuries after the death of Uthar the Great, the throne of the Ontilian Empire lies vacant. The late emperor’s brother-in-law and murderer, Lord Urdhven, appoints himself Protector to his nephew, young King Lathmar VII and sets out to kill anyone who stands between himself and mastery of the empire, including (if he can manage it) the king himself and his ancient but still formidable ancestress, Ambrosia Viviana.

When Ambrosia is accused of witchcraft and put to trial by combat, she is forced to play her trump card and call on her brother, Morlock Ambrosius—stateless person, master of all magical makers, deadly swordsman, and hopeless drunk.

As ministers of the king, they carry on the battle, magical and mundane, against the Protector and his shadowy patron. But all their struggles will be wasted unless the young king finds the strength to rule in his own right and his own name.

With names like Uthar and Viviana, even the most casual scholar of Arthuriana will recognize several connections to that illustrious tradition. Even the book’s title, Blood of Ambrose, is an allusion to Arthur, since in some medieval texts King Arthur is sometimes conflated with the late Roman British official Ambrosius Aurelianus. Though the novel is set in a seemingly fictional realm, tantalizing connections to our own world fleetingly appear, including overt references to the Latin tongue and to Britain itself. The relationship between the Ontilian Empire and our own past, however, is never fully explored. While Enge asserts that Blood of Ambrose serves up a completely self-contained story, he certainly leaves room for future world-building.

King Lathmar VII, as the above blurb suggests, is ostensibly the novel’s protagonist. Seen in this light, Blood of Ambrose is a coming-of-age story, and in this capacity it succeeds beautifully. In the book’s early hours, Lathmar is tossed around “like a sack of beans,” as he says, but by book’s end he’s making his own decisions and asserting his rightful authority. His relationship with the other characters are fraught with ambivalence and ambiguity.

The novel’s shining star, though, is the almost-immortal Morlock, who epitomizes the paradoxical swords-and-sorcery antihero. On the one hand, he’s valiant, protective, and very kind to Lathmar. Yet at times he is prone to violent outbursts or spells of depression. In a unique twist, we’re also told that he’s had a drinking problem in the past, and his refusal to let spirits pass his lips recurs as a frequent talking point among the other characters.

Unfortunately, the novel’s plot isn’t on par with its vibrant characters. Blood of Ambrose certainly tells some thrilling, engaging, and poignant stories, but they work better as standalone adventures rather than building a unified edifice. Characters like Lathmar, Morlock, and the arch-villain poisoner Steng serve as unifying threads,  but the plot simply lacked the momentous drive to keep me interested in what would happen next. Luckily, the character development was strong enough to provide me with that forward impetus.

Jay Snyder’s reading of Blood of Ambrose is mostly run-of-the-mill, with one significant exception. His resonant, laconic, intentionally dead-pan portrayal as Morlock transcends mere performance. This is how a flesh-and-blood Morlock really would speak. Seldom in my experience listening to audiobooks has a character been so indelibly linked to the narrator who gives him voice. Snyder’s depiction of Lathmar also deserves note; the transition from tremulous stuttering to firm command mirrors the development of the young king. His rendition of the tempermental Ambrosia is less flattering, and her outbursts can grate on the listener’s ears like claws. Of course, that may well be intentional.

Though it tells a rather lackluster story, Blood of Ambrose introduces a fascinating settting populated by a host of multi-faceted characters. It’s my hope that James Enge will continue to work and play with this colorful palette.

Posted by Seth Wilson

Documentary on Sir Thomas Malory and Le Morte d’Arthur

SFFaudio Online Audio

Online Audio BBC Radio 3BBC Radio 3‘s “Sunday Feature” had a cool 45 minute documentary about Sir Thomas Malory and his Le Morte d’Arthur. This was produced by the same guy who made the excellent H.P. Lovecraft documentary on BBC Radio 3 last year. Malory: A Tale of Two Texts aired on Sunday. The producer, Paul Quinn, says of it:

“Malory could be said to be a forgotten forbear of heroic fantasy! This programme, though, presented by professor David Wallace of the University of Pennsylvannia, concentrates on the different textual histories of the two versions: the long lost manuscript, and Caxton print version, produced within 15 years of each other but launched into different worlds.”

This is only going to be available via the ‘Listen Again‘ until Sunday, so get listening!

Review of Rings, Swords, And Monsters: Exploring Fantasy Literature by Michael D.C. Drout

SFFaudio Review

Modern Scholar - Rings, Sword, Monsters Rings, Swords, And Monsters: Exploring Fantasy Literature
Lectures by Professor Michael D.C. Drout
7 CDs & Book – 7 Hours 51 Minutes [LECTURES]
Publisher: Recorded Books LLC / The Modern Scholar
Published: 2006
ISBN: 1419386956
Themes: / Non-Fiction / Lectures / Fantasy / J.R.R. Tolkien / Middle Earth / Beowulf / Children’s Fantasy / Arthurian Legend / Magic Realism / World Building /

“It used to be that fantasy was a boy’s genre and that was clear even back through the 80s and 90s, that 90% of your audience for fantasy literature, 90% of your audience for Tolkien was male. That is no longer the case. When I give lecturings [sic] at gatherings of Tolkien enthusiasts the crowd is easily 50-50 male female and often times more female than male – though I will have to say that many of the women in the crowd are wearing elf-princess costumes – I’m not really sure what that means.”
-Lecture 13: Arthurian Fantasy (on the ‘Marion Zimmer Bradley effect’)

Most of this lecture series is concerned with Tolkien. Drout explains what influenced Tolkien’s fiction, how his work impacted Fantasy and how later writers reacted to and imitated him. A full five of the 14 lectures are on Tolkien’s books proper, with another four on what influenced him, and who he influenced. The scholarship here is absolutely engrossing, hearing Drout tease out details from names, the structure and the philosophy of Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit and The Silmarillion will delight any Tolkien fan. At one point in Lecture 4 Drout explains the sources for the names of both the 13 dwarves of The Hobbit and Gandalf too. According to Drout, Gandalf was originally named “Bladderthin.” But this isn’t just scholarship here, Drout is very much a critic, a fan of the works he studies. He gives a critical examination of plots, themes and the worlds of each of the Fantasy novels he talks about. Drout dissects Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books, calling them possibly the best Fantasy since Tolkien, on the one hand and also shows what doesn’t quite work in them. Drout, like Tolkien is an scholar of Anglo-Saxon so there is also plenty of talk about Beowulf and the impact it had on Tolkien. In fact, central to many of his arguments is the linguistic background each work of Fantasy makes use of. Tolkien works so well, argues Drout, in part, because it all hangs linguistically together. Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, which Drout thinks immensely prominent in post-Tolkien Fantasy, doesn’t have a cohesive linguistic bedrock, and that hurts the series – which he thinks is otherwise one of the best realized “secondary worlds” created. Whatever it is Drout talks about, he backs up his critical opinion. Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, he’s read them, and has dissected the plots to show how as time has gone by and Brooks has written more, he’s come to have something of his own voice, and not just stayed the pale Tolkien imitator he started as.

The lectures on Tolkien inevitably lead to the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. Drout gives them their due, and shows why some of it works and some of it doesn’t. Arthurian Fantasy, which predates Tolkien, seems to have run a parallel course to “secondary world” fantasy literature. After hearing Lecture 13 you’ll come away with a desire to find a copy of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King and Mary Stewart’s Merlin series. My own opinion is that Drout gives too much credit to J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter novels, he talks about her writing for about 8 minutes. In fairness it would probably not be possible to talk about Children’s Fantasy literature without mentioning her popular series. But on the other hand there are many different kinds of Fantasy that Drout doesn’t talk about at all. I wonder why Neil Gaiman isn’t mentioned. What of Robert E. Howard? And why almost no talk about short stories? James Powell’s A Dirge For Clowntown needs some attention! The only solution is for Recorded Books to go back and ask for more from this professor. Call it Gods, Barbarians, and Clowns: Further Explorations Of Fantasy Literature or something. Until then I’ll be working on my Cimmerian-clown costume.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Translated by J.R.R. Tolkien

Fantasy Audiobooks - Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by J.R.R. TolkienSir Gawain And The Green Knight
Translated by J.R.R. Tolkien; Read by Terry Jones
2 cassettes – 150 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Audio
Published: 2000
ISBN: 0001053736
Themes: / Fantasy / Mythology / Arthurian Legend /

It’s Christmas at Camelot and King Arthur won’t begin to feast until he has witnessed a marvel of chivalry. A mysterious knight, green from head to toe, rides in and brings the court’s wait to an end with an implausible challenge to the Round Table: he will allow any of the knights to strike him once, with a battle-axe no less, on the condition that he is allowed to return the blow a year hence. At the center of the story of the challenge and its consequences is Arthur’s brave favorite, Sir Gawain.

*ALSO INCLUDED* ~An Essay By J.R.R. Tolkien
An introduction and background essay by the master himself, J.R.R. Tolkien regarding the translation and preservation of the anonymous fourteenth-century poem upon which this story is based.

Another mytho-historic tale translated by J.R.R. Tolkien, who was, as many forget these days, a professor of linguistics at Oxford. Another medieval scholar contibuted to this audiobook…. Though best known for his work with Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Terry Jones lends not only his signature voice to Tolkien’s translation of the Arthurian legend but also his familiarity with the subject. Not just an internationally recognized comedian, Jones also happens to be a scholar of medieval literature. As such he is well equipped to flesh out the characters and voices of Tolkien’s text in an authentic way. The combination of the lilting verse and the audio medium bringing the absolutely right feel to the presentation, something that makes it quite clear that heroic tales were meant to be spoken aloud rather than simply read. Also of interest to Tolkien fans is the included essay by Tolkien on the translation. A hard to find audiobook but well worth the effort!

Posted by Jesse Willis