Review of The Tower Of The Elephant and The Frost Giant’s Daughter

Fantasy Audio Drama - Conan by Robert E. HowardRobert E. Howard’s Conan – The Tower Of The Elephant & The Frost Giant’s Daughter
Adapted by Roy Thomas & Alan B. Goldstein; Performed by a FULL CAST
33 1/3 RPM LP – Approx. 46 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMATIZATION]
Publisher: Moondance Productions
Published: 1975
Themes: / Fantasy / Aliens / Battle / Mythology / Gods /

Alan B. Goldstein had a dream, to bring the Robert E. Howard 1930s pulp magazine hero, Conan The Cimmerian, to audio. In 1974 he contacted Glenn Lord, agent for Howard’s literary estate and proposed a radio series based on Conan. Permission was granted and a pilot was adapted from one of Howard’s shortest Conan tales – “The Frost Giant’s Daughter”. After the pilot was completed, Goldstein brought it to Marvel Comics editor Roy Thomas. Thomas loved it and expressed an interest in contributing to the project. So together, with Alan B. Goldstein working as producer and Roy Thomas scripting, they decided that a second Conan audio adventure should be made.

Actors Owen McGee and Paul Falzone were again hired to reprise their roles as “The Narrator” and “Conan” respectively. And thus was born the second audio dramatization “The Tower Of The Elephant”. Unfortunately their vision of a Conan radio series was dashed. By the late 1970s, radio dramas were virtually dead. Only these two stories were ever adapted for the aborted Conan radio series. But Goldstein would go on to produce at least one more Conan record – but that, my Hyborian friends, is another story.

Side One – “The Tower Of The Elephant” – 27 Minutes 29 Seconds
Conan is in Zamoria’s City Of Thieves, Arenjun, where in a local tavern he overhears a boastful kidnapper. Before dispatching the cur Conan discovers the whereabouts of The Tower of the Elephant and of the fabled jewel rumored to be secured within it. Soon after Conan is at that bejeweled tower, determined to rob it of it’s jewel – but he has much to contend with – he must surpass another thief, ravenous lions and a giant spider. And what he finds in the tower’s interior is like nothing else in this age undreamed of. Howard’s prose is frothy, wondrous and direct. The performances here are letter perfect and the power of the original short story is successfully translated.

Side Two – “The Frost Giant’s Daughter” – 17 Minutes 41 Seconds
This, the shorter of the two dramatizations, again takes its stylistic cues from Howard’s pulp roots; nearly every word of this adaptation is taken directly from the original text itself. “The Frost Giant’s Daughter” is set in the high mountains that border Vanaheim and Aesgard where Conan has just fought a fierce battle, lying exhausted and near death on the battlefield, a near-naked woman suddenly visits him. Her voluptuous body re-ignites his will to live but when she mocks him, he chases her for seeming endless leagues across the snow-covered mountains. Conan finds it strange that she does not seem to feel the cold that chills his bones, dressed as she is shouldn’t she be frostbitten? Of course it is all a trap, this “woman” is no mortal, she’s lead Conan to her two massively dangerous looking “brothers”. The performances and narration paint a vivid mental film full of both preternatural storytelling and mythological virtue. Structured more as an incident than a plotted adventure the layered mythology of Howard’s invented Hyborian world casts a spell upon the listener. We feel Conan’s weariness and we follow along hotly in his footsteps as he’s tempted by that fleet-footed Valkyrie. It all has a dream like quality and it’s juicily full of pulpy goodness. I truly wish Alan B. Goldstein had got his dream and these two audio adventures had become the first two episodes in the Conan radio series.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Legends II: Volume III

Legend II: Volume IIILegends II: Volume III
Edited by Robert Silverberg
Containing stories by Robert Silverberg, Neil Gaiman, and Orson Scott Card
Read by Jason Culp, Peter Bradbury, and Michael Emerson
4 Cassettes – 7 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0739310860
Themes: / Fantasy / Majipoor / Mythology / Alternate History / Gods /

The cover of this audiobook prominently displays the names “Neil Gaiman” and “Orson Scott Card”, so I was a bit surprised to find a Robert Silverberg story leading off the collection. It probably shouldn’t have been unexpected, because a look at the back of the audiobook includes blurbs from all three stories – it’s just from the front, the audio appears to include two stories, not three.

“The Book of Changes” is set in Silverberg’s Majipoor universe and is a fine story about an epic poet’s discovery and subsequent writing of his masterwork. The story is steeped in the history of Majipoor, but is clear and enjoyable to a person unfamiliar with that history, as I am. Silverberg has created a world that is as much science fiction as it is fantasy. In Majipoor’s past, humans colonized then got into a war with the native inhabitants. These past events are discussed in Silverberg’s story, but the tale is firmly focused on the poet and the act of creation – something Silverberg knows much about. Jason Culp’s performance was near perfect.

The second novella in the collection is “Monarch of the Glen”, written by Neil Gaiman. The story starts in a hotel bar where Shadow (the main character from Gaiman’s American Gods) is talking to a Scotsman. It is immediately notable that the story is in good hands with Peter Bradbury, whose crisp, clear accents place the listener firmly in the setting which in this case is Northern Scotland. The scotsman offers Shadow a job as a bouncer, but Shadow knows that something is afoot beyond the obvious. Neil Gaiman provides a story that is just as mythic and mysterious and unexpected as his previous fiction. This is a Gaiman story through and through, which is as marvelous a thing as a visit from a good friend.

Last up is Orson Scott Card’s “The Yazoo Queen,” which is set in his Alvin Maker universe. It’s read by Michael Emerson, who performs a sort of old-west style voice which works very well with the prose Card writes with throughout the series – conversational with plenty of 19th century slang and pronounciation. THe story is a prologue to The Crystal City, the sixth novel in the series. In the story, Alvin Maker and Arthur Stuart meet Jim Bowie and Abraham Lincoln while travelling on the Mississippi River. Card’s world is early 19th century America where the Revolutionary War never took place and the magic (called “knacks”) that superstitious folks believed in back then really works. Alvin, the focus of all the stories, is a maker – he can see into things and change them, making them better. He’s chasing after the Unmaker and each volume in the series is building toward a confrontation between the two.

Another notable thing about this audio is that each story is preceded by a summary of what the series is all about. I found each one interesting – in the case of Silverberg’s Majipoor, it was all new information and in the case of the other two, it was a recap for me. But in all three cases it was very welcome.

Three very enjoyable stories read by three top-notch narrators – highly recommended!

Posted by Scott D. Danielson