Review of Pearl and Sir Orfeo by J.R.R. Tolkien

SFFaudio Review

Fantasy Audio - Pearl and Sir Orfeo by J.R.R.TolkienPearl and Sir Orfeo
By J.R.R. Tolkien; Read by Terry Jones
2 cassettes – 2 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Audio
Published: 2000
ISBN: 0001053744
Themes: / Fantasy / Mythology /

Pearl, the longer of the two stories in this collection, is an elegy for the poet’s baby daughter, told in alliterative verse. It tells the story of a man who goes into a graveyard to mourn the death of his baby daughter, whom he has lost like a pearl that slipped through his fingers into the grass. Worn out by his grief, he falls asleep and has a glorious vision of another, symbolically bejeweled, world, in which he meets his daughter again and discovers what has happened to her.

Sir Orfeo, a Celtic version of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, complete with a twist happy ending. The moving story of a love so strong it was
able to overcome death itself.

*ALSO INCLUDED* ~Two Essays by J.R.R. Tolkien
Two introduction and background essays by the master himself, J.R.R. Tolkien regarding the translation and preservation of the anonymous fourteenth-century poems upon which these stories are based.

Best known for his work with Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Terry Jones lends his signature voice and style to these two wonderful translations by J.R.R. Tolkien. Jones, is well equipped to flesh out the characters and voices of Tolkien’s texts. The combination of the lilting verse and the audio medium bringing the absolutely right feel to the presentation. This audiobook makes it quite clear that heroic tales were meant to be heard rather than read. Jones uses his knowledge, he’s actually a scholar of medieval literature himself, for a particularly effective reading, he sets just the right tone to the musical quality of the verse. Also of interest to
Tolkien fanatics are the unmentioned (on the packaging) essays and introductions by Tolkien for both these tales, a fantastic resource for teachers and students studying Toklien and comparative mythology. One caveat – the accessibility of this audiobook’s text is high school or above and not at all suitable for young children.

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

Review of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Star Wars: Revenge of the SithStar Wars: Revenge of the Sith
By Matthew Stover; Read by Jonathan Davis
11 CD’s – 14 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: 2005
Themes: / Science Fiction / Star Wars / Republic / War /

Well, here it is. Thirty years after the original Star Wars film, we have the conclusion. George Lucas said in an interview that he seems to have two sets of fans, one loyal to the first trilogy, and one younger set that prefers the recent trilogy. I admit up front that I’m of the first set, and that I found Episode I very disappointing, and Episode II a bit less disappointing. But like so many others, I went right out to see Episode III immediately upon its release. This audiobook is written by Matthew Stover, based on George Lucas’ screenplay for the film.

Now, I know that this is an audiobook review, but it’s very difficult not to bring the film into it. The audiobook is filled with sound effects and music from the movie, and because I’d seen that movie, Lucas’ brilliant and beautiful images were front and center in my mind while listening. Jonathan Davis’ superior narration also took from the film as he often imitated the actors while speaking. Palpatine sounds like Ian McDiarmid’s Palpatine, Obi-Wan sounds like Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan, and all to great effect. Jonathan Davis is fabulously talented. At times, his voice was altered by sound engineers (when speaking as General Grievous, for example), also to great effect. This audiobook sounded wonderful.

The movie was longish, clocking in at 140 minutes, every minute of which moved at breakneck speed. This audiobook runs 14 hours, and tells the same story as the movie, but Matthew Stover was given a lot more room to tell it. I don’t know how closely he consulted with Lucas on this, but the story runs at a much slower pace with lots of backstory and deep penetration into the characters’ thoughts. The first time a character is met in a story, Stover writes until he hits a natural break point in the action, then delves deep into that character’s past or his current state of mind, then returns to the action. The result is a satisfying companion to the film. Knowing what I know now about the characters would make watching the film a better experience, because Lucas spends no time at all on depth of character.

I would heartily recommend this audiobook to Star Wars fans who’d like to know more about these characters. Skywalker’s turn to the dark side makes a bit more sense here than it did in the movie, since his inner thoughts are revealed for us to see. Though I am still partial to the original three films, I found that this story adds depth to those stories too. Bravo to Random House Audio for producing this fine piece of work.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Hunting For Robin Hood by Seth Feldman

Fantasy Audiobooks - Robin HoodHunting For Robin Hood
By Seth Feldman; with readings by Penelope Reed Doob
and Barry MacGregor
1 CD – Approx 1 Hour [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: CBC AUDIO Published: 2003
ISBN: 0660189143
Themes: / Non-Fiction / History / Mythology / Fantasy / Magic / England /

“Ballads, plays and movies tell of Robin Hood stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. But did he really exist? Seth Feldman cavorts with a merry band of scholars searching for the still elusive outlaw.”

Hunting For Robin Hood was first produced for broadcast on CBC Radio’s long running Ideas program. Ideas has been the standard-bearer for the intellectual and scholarly radio programming for decades. One would be hard pressed in Canada, or anywhere else in the English speaking world to find a consistently more enlightening program presenting scholarly lectures and documentaries in the fields of sociology, culture, arts, geopolitics, history, biography, science, technology or the humanities in a more accessible or entertaining way. If Ideas hasn’t covered it at some point, it probably doesn’t matter. With the wide commercial release of this and other CBC Audio CDs and cassettes the ephemeral radio broadcasts are preserved, marking the beginning of some of the very best audio non-fiction programs previously available only through costly direct order from the CBC. I’ve been an avid listener to Ideas since the 1980s. The program runs weeknights between 9PM and 10PM throughout most of Canada.

Hunting For Robin Hood interviews several Robin Hood scholars who trace the origins of the popular English hero. They touch on his roots in the “Green Man” mythology, something which ties Robin Hood to the fantasy realm, why he’s such a popular hero, his outlaw mystique, and even his ties to Morris dancing! Other surprising revelations include Maid Marian’s roots as a fertility goddess and the scattered origins of the rogues’ gallery of Robin Hood villains. Production values and sound quality are of course absolutely top notch, and the CD comes in an attractive DVD style Amaray case. Highly recommended to Robin Hood fans.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch: A Romance

Fantasy Audio Drama - Mr. Punch by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKeanThe Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch: A Romance
By Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean; Performed by a Full Cast
Publisher: BBC Radio 3
Published: March 3rd 2005
Themes: / Fantasy / Mythology / Puppetry / England / Memory /

“That’s the way to do it!”

Audio drama is a hit or miss affair, but the BBC knows its stuff, so it is really terrific that they produced this adaptation of a Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s graphic novel. The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch: A Romance is somber reminiscence of a young English boy’s familial experiences and the resonance it had with the seaside Punch and Judy shows. North American audiences probably aren’t familiar with the Punch and Judy so I’ll lay out the basics… Punch and Judy is a popular British puppet show for children, featuring Mr. Punch and his “bit of stuff” Judy. The performances consist of short scenes, each of which depict an interaction between the chaotic trickster Mr. Punch and one other character. The Punch and Judy show is always performed by a single puppeteer, (known in the trade as a Professor), which is why only two characters can be on stage at the same time. Mr. Punch is a hunchback who sports a hideous grin, beady piercing eyes, a giant chin, hooked nose and the dress of a court jester. Mr. Punch usually carries a stick, with which he happily beats the other character on stage. The other character could be Judy, her baby, a crocodile, the devil or even a string of naughty sausages. The plot of this particular audio drama shows us how the particular staging of a Punch and Judy show doesn’t vary the particular impact on the audience except when one has been cast in the play. McKean’s original piano score haunts the production and the actors all play their roles to perfection. While not as engaging as some of Gaiman’s later work this tale is nonetheless very neatly woven. This radio drama will be archived for one month on the BBC Radio 3 website. So listen while you may you naughty little sausages!


Narrator …… Richard Dillane
Swatchell …… Alexander Morton
Grandfather …… Hugh Dickson
Morton …… Karl Johnson
Boy …… Jonathan Bee
Mermaid …… Rachel Atkins
Grandmother …… Susan Jameson
Father …… Stuart McLoughlin
Mr Punch …… Geoff Felix
Sister …… Frankie Dean
Music by Dave McKean and Ashley Slater
Directed by Lu Kemp

Posted by Jesse Willis

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