I grew up on Golden Age Radio, and while I love to read, I typically consume more books via audio thanks to a job that lets me listen while I work. As an aspiring writer, I try to read a great deal of non-fiction in addition to a variety of fictional genres. I especially love history, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and old-style gothic horror.
The Canterbury Tales has withstood the test of time because within them, Chaucer paints character portraits of the kinds of people he met in his time. I have read both modern translations and translations that are closer to Chaucer's original, keeping in mind that English was a foreign language back then compared to anything we understand now. It's the kind of thing that makes Shakespeare far easier to understand. In fact, I had the same problem with Shakespeare and Chaucer both back in school in that I felt like I was missing a vital ingredient in truly being able to understand and appreciate them.
While it took some time to get through this because I was constantly comparing the audio with the printed versions I have, I found that the extra time was well spent. I have a love for the printed word, but I tend to learn and retain information better through audio. As much as I hate to admit it, reading something like this is more akin to literary scholarship than it is reading an anthology of short stories as it might have been in Chaucer's day. I found this audio version to be of immense value in that I could hear the stories perhaps as Chaucer himself might have told them to other people that he met along the way. The character studies become people, even if they are perhaps exaggerated here and there, and that sort of thing helps to bring both this work - and the history of the time in which it was written - to vibrant life. And now that my appreciation has grown enough to catch up to my curiosity, I can truly say that I understand now that it's not simply the age of the work that makes The Canterbury Tales the classics they are. It's the character studies and the stories that make them the classics they are.
As with any translation, there is the risk of potentially losing something. Advanced scholars might be more inclined to try the original versions after hearing this. As it is, maybe it's the style, but it seemed to me pretty close. Most of what I didn't translate well for me was more a case of not understanding some of the vocabulary of the age, which is why I kept comparing the printed texts; I had to keep looking things up as some things that were common in Chaucer's time simply do not exist in ours. Again, well worth it, I think, though I understand most won't take that kind of time or effort. Audio will probably help considerably. There's something about hearing things in context that help a reader to fill in the gaps. If you love old literature, or if you have a fascination with the Middle Ages as I do, this is positively a must-read, for through the arts we better understand our histories.
One of the separation points I have when reading classical poetry is that it's just not the same when reading to yourself. Poetry of this caliber demands a performance. From Homer to Shakespeare and beyond, epic poetry requires the performance from a master with a strong voice to get the drama across on a higher level. Charlton Griffin delivers that punch, catapulting the listener through some of the best epic poetry ever offered in this planet's history.
For those who only think they know the story, and especially for those who seem to think of Paradise Lost as merely "Biblical fanfic," I would invite those people to spend some time in the mind of the literary genius of Milton through this work. And as a bonus, you get the sequel for free, as well as a 2-hour bio of Milton so as to place these works in the historical and spiritual contexts in which they were written - a time of ecclesiastical upheaval. Getting the proper perspective makes all the difference when understanding and appreciating a work like this.
I pretty much cut my teeth on the classic monsters of the silver screen from Universal and Hammer Studios. Those old movies in turn helped me to discover books such as this one. As a kid, I used to find myself returning to the well as often as the movie studios do, for as everyone knows... the novel is ALWAYS better. And regardless of which monster is your favorite on screen, Frankenstein is the best written of them all when it comes to the original source material. That's not just opinion on my part. That's just the very nature of the beast. Between Shelley's considerable literary gifts and personal influences, perhaps it was inevitable that this novel should stand the test of time as one of the great proto-Gothic horror masterpieces.
As my reading list has grown considerably wider since I was a kid, it's been a decade, perhaps more, since my last reading of Frankenstein. In those years, I've since better acquainted myself with Shelley's world and contemporaries such as her husband Percy, Lord Byron, Keats, et al, so I feel I've gained a deeper appreciation of the author and her circle through history and their own works. As a result, I feel it's been far too long since I revisited this story.
But chances are, if you're reading this review, it may be that you're ready to read this story for the first time, and so you naturally want to know what to expect. Above and beyond all of praise I heap upon it, this book is a product of its time and place. It reads with all the flowery prose of the early 19th century, but it's by no means difficult reading as some novels of that time may be for modern readers. As to the story itself, Frankenstein has the distinction of not only being the source for so many fun horror movies, it's also the very science fiction novel. When this was written, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and the boundaries of what was possible culturally and scientifically were being pushed all the time. Long before Jurassic Park, Shelley dared to ask if humanity should open the doors we dared to open simply because we could. This classic is born of fear and despair, which is as real as the ink that flowed from Shelley's pen. Because of pop culture, it's so easy to take this story for granted, but it's precisely for that reason that this book needs to be experienced. It's depth will surprise you as you come to know Dr. Frankenstein and his equally intelligent Creature. If anything, for all of our social media, I find that the perceived isolation of our current generation is something that will likely resonate with modern readers.
For this particular edition from Audible, Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens is an excellent choice for narrator. He lends his own brand of class and gravitas to this tale in a way that just works for me. He brings this venerable tale to life with the same depth and perception gifted to the Creature.