Audible listener who's grateful for a long commute!
James Thurber! James Thurber!
Ben Stiller! Ben Stiller!
Can you tell I was more than a little thrilled by this Audible short? James Thurber (1894-1961) was a wonderful commentator and cartoonist who was 50 years ahead of his time. For the last five years, every time I read a blog or a tweet that misses its mark, I've wondered, "What would Thurber say?"
"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (1939, 1942) tells the story of a henpecked man, on a quest to find new galoshes and dog biscuits, who daydreams an exciting life of saving lives and crucial war missions. He's every person - who hasn't thought of heroically saving a stranger from a falling shelf in an earthquake or tornado when you're stuck in a line at the grocery store, wondering whose tragedy People Magazine is exploiting this week?
Ben Stiller does the narration, and - I'm going out on a limb that even a real life timid Walter Mitty would venture onto - I think that's because a movie version of "Mitty" is coming out. Just a guess on my part, of course. Stiller did a fantastic job acting in "Night at the Museum" (2006), one of my favorite movie adaptations of a book (Milan Trenc, 1993). Stiller directs and stars in "Mitty" and I hope I enjoy the movie as much.
I'm only rating the audio at a 4, though, because while Stiller is a Great Narrator, the production wasn't. Too echo-y.
If you're wondering about the title of the review - it's another Thurber short story.
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St. Louis, Missouri
The thing about reading—or listening to—Wodehouse is that his characters live such long, complex lives. Bertie Wooster, for example, made his first appearance in 1919 and his last adventure was published in 1974, the year before Wodehouse’s death. Consequently, the happily married man in the novel you just finished reading may have a backstory you know nothing about. Beyond, of course, the arch allusions to his checkered career made by his wife, his relations or the narrator in the novel you just finished reading.
It all adds to the odd realism of Wodehouse. Keen observers like Evelyn Waugh asserted that the England Wodehouse writes about never really existed. Yet the appearance and reappearance of places and characters, the ability to see the same character from several other characters’ viewpoints, the interweaving of characters— for example, Bertie Wooster and Tipton Plimsol both belong to the Drones and therefor must have at least a nodding acquaintance—all contribute to this queer substantiality, making the England of P. G. Wodehouse, Utopian as it is, as solid as Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County.
All of this is by way of explaining why Blandings Castle is such an enjoyable listen. You get the back story of how Freddie Threepwood met and married Niagara “Aggie” Donaldson. You finally understand what a character in one of the later Blandings Castle novels was talking about when he describes Lord Emsworth as being worried about his pumpkin (your natural reaction is to assume it’s a typo; he must have meant “pig”). You discover the surprising family connection between Lord Emsworth and his head gardener. And you get the full story, only alluded to in later books, of the chap from Nebraska.
Beyond these revelations that do so much to illuminate the rest of the Blandings Castle saga, you get “Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend”, probably one of the sweetest stories Wodehouse ever wrote; not saccharine sweet but rather revealing an unsuspected tenderness and solicitude on the part of the ninth earl.
So much for the first six stories in this collection. The other six are a delightful grab bag: one featuring Bobby Whickam, the rest the various nephews and connections of Mr. Mulliner who work in Hollywood. Bobby’s tale is pure Wodehouse lunacy and the last story, “The Castaways” is a writer’s-eye view of Hollywood that should not be missed—especially if you’re a writer.
James Saxon’s performance makes me wish he’d record more Wodehouse. His characters all live as individuals in your ear buds and his vocal range covers every Wodehousian nuance, from the sprightly and brainless to the dark and dubious.