I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
I eagerly purchased this audiobook of T. H. White???s complete The Once and Future King, because for a long time Audible only had the individual books available. And I loved the first four books, which begin with the halcyon fantasy of The Sword in the Stone, in which the boy Arthur (???Wart???) is educated by an anachronistic Merlyn. The scenes describing the daily life of a medieval castle during different seasons are vivid and beautiful, while those recounting Wart???s fantastic adventures and transformations into various animals are imaginative, suspenseful, and humorous. White loved and respected flora and fauna (even snakes), and this first book is encyclopedic and fantastic, dense and rich, absorbing and moving.
From the second book, The Queen of Air and Darkness, which opens in the cold north as Queen Morgause boils a black cat alive while her four sons are telling the story of their grandmother???s rape by Arthur???s father, begins the increasingly dark movement of the novel, centered on the tragedy caused by Arthur???s family history and the romantic triangle between himself, Guenevere, and Lancelot (The Ill-Made Knight). In the 2nd through 4th books White most closely follows Malory, though he also moves the era forward from the 11th to the 15th century and empathically imagines how medieval men and women felt and thought with modern psychological insight. At the same time, he writes plenty of joie de vivre, questing and combating knights, and fascinating details about medieval life (food, fashion, feudalism, etc.).
The novel really concludes with the 4th book (The Candle in the Wind) as the last battle between Arthur and Mordred is about to begin, but this audiobook then adds The Book of Merlyn, which may be good for completists, but which I found disappointing, as on the eve of the last battle Merlyn takes his former pupil off for a night of anachronistic political and philosophical debate with Badger and company about why humans wage war and what might be done to prevent it. Apart from Arthur changing into an ant and a goose to experience two different social systems, there is little ???story??? in this last book: too little Arthurian Matter and too much Whiteian Musing.
Jason Neville does a marvelous job reading the long work, effortlessly giving different characters distinctive voices and personalities without over doing it (so that, for example, his female characters sound like human beings rather than like a man imitating ???women???). And his King Pellinore reminds me of John Gielgud.
I recommend this audiobook for anyone interested in the Matter of Britain or philosophical and well-written fantasy.
Listening to Kidnapped was a great adventure! While the story itself is not as intoxicating as Treasure Island, it is exciting, fascinating, grueling, moving, suspenseful, and funny. And Alan Breck Stewart, the outlawed Scottish lord on the run with first person narrator young David Balfour, is an even more appealing rogue-mentor-friend than Long John Silver: proud, hot-tempered, quick to take offense, loyal, brave, humorous, strong (when it comes to fighting and fleeing), weak (when it comes to playing cards and blowing the bagpipes), a complex, fully rounded person. It is a pleasure (that finally becomes quite poignant) to accompany the pair as they struggle to escape south over the dangerous, inhospitable heather covered highlands of northern Scotland through numerous patrolling red-coats.
Stevenson depicts the political and historical setting of mid-eighteenth-century Scotland complexly, depicting the rebellious Highlanders with sympathy for their loyalty, honor, and resilience, even as he exposes their pride, grudges, and violence.
Frederick Davidson does an excellent job reading the novel, appropriately making David na??ve and youthful, Alan experienced and mature, and all the other supporting characters just right for their roles and personalities.
The only criticism I could make with this production is to say that it has Davidson somewhat startlingly announce the next chapter number and title without pausing after ending the present chapter, but that is a very minor quibble about what is a great audiobook.
Because I love the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz and had listened to Anna Fields' Blackstone Audio (2001) fine reading of the original book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), I was curious to try an audiobook version read by a popular and accomplished actress, and so listened to the Anne Hathaway "performs" The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (2011), for audible.com's "a-list" line of classic books read by popular actors.
First, about the original novel itself, the story is light-hearted, with plenty of fantastic and appealing characters (like Dorothy's companions), exciting flare-ups of ultra-violence (like the orders and fates of the Wicked Witch's forty wolves, forty crows, and forty bees) ironic insights into human nature (like the pure Tin Woodman's mistaken belief that if he had a heart he would not need to be so careful to avoid hurting living beings because people with hearts naturally avoid hurting others), humorous lines (like when the Scarecrow asks the Lion if he has brains he answers "I suppose so. I've never looked to see"), and good themes for children (like personal hygiene is important and we all have the potential to develop the qualities we think we lack and just need to find the confidence and opportunities to use them). If you've only seen the movie, and if you like it, you should read or listen to the original book, because it's interesting to compare the similar and different points between them. The movie, for instance, stops about three-fifths of the way through the book, downplays the violence, increases Dorothy's age, and adds songs and dances, as well as the wonderful feature of some fantasy world characters having real world alter-egos.
One feature of the Audible a-list audiobook that's convenient and nice is that the 24 chapters of the book are divided into 24 navigable chapters and Hathaway reads out the titles of the chapters after their numbers, while the Blackstone version has only five navigable super audiobook chapters, so that when you click the fast forward or rewind button you end up several chapters ahead or behind rather than just one, and Fields only reads out chapter numbers rather than titles and numbers together.
Like many of the reviews posted on Audible, I have mixed feelings about Hathaway's reading. She mostly does a fine, fun job with the different characters' different voices. The Scarecrow is funny and scratchy (sure, he does sound a bit like a hyper Marge Simpson, but Marge's voice is not a bad one to recall); the Tin Woodman is sensitive; the Cowardly Lion deep and blustery and a little New York or New Jersey-ish; the Mouse Queen cute and squeaky; the Wicked Witch old and wicked; Oz feckless; Dorothy sweet. . . I suppose you could complain about her Stork sounding like a storky-valley girl, the pseudo-British King of the Flying Monkeys rolling too many of his Rs, the Guard of the Gates of the Emerald City sounding oddly Daffy Duckish (especially when he says "spectacles"), and the Hammer-Heads sounding a bit too much like the Scarecrow, but, hey, Hathaway does her best to give each character a distinctive feel, and I enjoyed most of them.
The problem for me was her over-reading too many of the third person narrator's lines, becoming, for instance, too breathy, fast, and excited when reading exciting parts of the story. In Chapter 1 Dorothy and Toto have been carried up into the air in their house on the cyclone, and although at first the scene has been exciting and scary, with Hathaway (perhaps over-dramatically) inflecting her voice for greater urgency, one paragraph ends calmly with the cyclone carrying the house "miles and miles away as easily as you could carry a feather." When the next sentence begins, "It was very dark, and the wind howled horribly around her," Hathaway briefly resumes her hyper danger mode, even though that same sentence ends, "but Dorothy found she was riding quite easily," and its paragraph ends, "she felt as if she were being rocked gently, like a baby in a cradle," for which Hathaway uses an extra sweet calm mood. Her vocal mood shifts sound too much right next to each other, and a sentence that ends calmly should be read from the beginning calmly, even if the first phrase of the sentence indicates some horribly howling wind, because the context before and after that howling wind is not scary. In short, Hathaway over-reads much of the narration, which detracted from the listening experience, making me think at times, as some reviewers have said, of Anne Hathaway rather than of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Finally, it comes down to preference. If you like the reader of an audiobook to *perform* different voices and moods and so on like an actor (tellingly, the Audible title is "Anne Hathaway Performs The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"), you should listen to Hathaway. If you only want to hear a person with a pleasant voice, accurate pronunciation, and sensitive and smooth pace read a good book, you should listen to Anna Fields. Hathaway is strutting her actress stuff, mostly enjoyably (because she obviously enjoys the story), but although kids probably prefer her different character voices and high-tension narration, I prefer Anna Fields' more subtle differences between characters and more even-keeled and natural narrative voice.