I love Professor Michael Drout, perhaps because there are a lot of things he loves, especially very old and very new literature. He certainly does love Tolkien's work, and for any devotee of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, these lectures are a cheerful delight.
J.R.R. Tolkien was a professor of medieval literature, and he brought very old forms into his own writing, which was much influenced by the evils he experienced in World Wars I and II. Like Shakespeare and Churchill, Tolkien wrote from the very bones of English itself, and his language calls powerfully to modern English-speakers who can feel what he is doing. Tolkien's work has strongly influenced 20th and 21st century writing, and major movie epics have been made of his books. He is important, and this course tells why and how.
You can't go wrong with Professor Drout. I've listened to a number of his courses, and he has charm and youthful enthusiasm. It's a winning combination.
Maybe it's the translation: but I doubt it. The political correctness problems of this classic novel are so unfashionable now that I can only remind listeners that it's French PC issues, not American (despite the fact that the characters are ostensibly American from the Civil War). The French, of course, had African colonies at this time. The black servant Ned is described incessantly in terms far more condescending than those used for the dog belonging to the castaways. The reader sounds as if he is soldiering on during all this, embarassed but trying manfully to give value for wages.
Basically it's a shipwreck story and how they made do, like Swiss Family Robinson or Robinson Crusoe, both of which Verne references. Captain Nemo is there -- it's his home island -- and gives an occasional helpful hand to the survivors of the balloon's wild runaway during a hurricane as the passengers escape a Southern prisoner-of-war camp during the American Civil War. Verne's original slant was to leave the marooned men with almost nothing at all to work with, as opposed to the copious supplies both the other fictional shipwrecks could salvage. They have to depend instead on The Engineer, an august being who owns the servant, the dog, and an Olympian ability to make quite a lot out of nothing, in a celebration of 19th century science.
I've read the long version of Foucault's Pendulum twice, and now that I've heard this plot-focused reading, I feel I understand it properly for the first time. There is no use other reviewers saying it should all be read unabridged: how can you read aloud all those esoteric chapter heads in Latin, Kabbalic Hebrew, Greek, etc.? Apart from the many quotations from worldwide conspiracy theories of centuries past, there is the infamous complexity of the plot text itself. Simplifying it makes it possible, and I can go back and read it again in the original and actually understand it this time. Wikipedia has an annotation of the many quotations and references, by the way.
The story is actually simple and delightful at bottom: according to Prof. Potkay in the Holy Grail lectures in the Modern Scholar series available here, Umberto Eco wrote it in outraged indignation after reading "Holy Blood, Holy Grail," the allegedly but doubtfully historical work that also inspired Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code." She thinks his point is that if you lose faith in a communal traditional religion, you then are open to believing not anything, but EVERYthing. That the point of formal religion is not what you believe, but all the distracting stuff you don't believe. Suppose some editors, exasperated by arcane and nonsensical conspiracy theories, simply made up a Theory of Everything that incorporated a millennium worth of famous conspiracy theories? Would people believe it? Oh, yes, they would, and could the conspiracy theorists still be lurking around, watching for someone who knows their lost secrets? And could such a theory take hold of its inventors until they became concerned that it might actually be true, overwhelming them like the Sorceror's Apprentice?
Tim Curry's reading is perfect. Lush, humorous, expressive. If someone is planning on tackling Foucault's Pendulum, I would recommend listening to this reading first and then you'll be prepared for the long text version.
The reader James Saxon does a magnificent job developing the characters in this light but intricate Ngaio Marsh mystery. He is especially good at expressing the real malignity of some of the female characters. The differentiation of all the characters is excellent. Fortunately, Saxon has done others of the Marsh mysteries.
All the friends, relatives, servants, and business associates of famous actress Mary Bellamy have a serious problem as she drastically declines in mental health, possibly as a function of an age far higher than she cares to admit to. Never reliable in relationships and given to artistic "temperament" even as a young woman, now Mary lashes out in escalating explosions, in which she reveals more and more her own jealousy --- and other people's secrets.
Since this is a classic murder mystery, these tantrums are ended in an ingenious way, and Inspector Alleyn of Scotland Yard arrives to sort out whodunnit.
The Pandora's Star/Judas Unchained volumes are instant science fiction classics, as readers know. I was blown over by John Lee's voice characterization of such a multitude of characters. His gangster voice for Morton is perfect, and his crude, humorous, and matter-of-fact accent for Clouddancer, the utterly unexpected adult winged Silfen, is delightful. I immediately searched through Audible for more John Lee readings and either bought them or put them on my Wish List: he's that good, like the great, late David Case/Frederick Davidson but without the taint of cynicism.
The character development, the action, the space opera ought to satisfy us in themselves, but I was continually pondering the ideas. Ideas is what science fiction is for, and Hamilton's got them. If you can be "re-lifed" from a memory chip when you die........are you REALLY the same person alive again?? The entire Commonwealth has talked themselves into this, but....... How about genocide: if an alien species is determined to annihilate every other life form in the universe however long it takes, is it morally justified to destroy them? If someone erases all his memories of a murder he did during his periodic regenerations, can he still be guilty of a murder?
Ozzie is the most charming character, a Wild Child of Leonardo-quality genius, whose idea of solving the problem of invasion of the Commonwealth of human civilizations by implacable murderous aliens is to ask, well, the elves. It is not clear that this works, precisely, but it does expand human knowledge exponentially, which seems to be Ozzie's life speciality. "Elven" Clouddancer's last speech at the end of the book is well worth waiting for.
There are five stories in this collection: the delightful and subtle Mrs. Packletide's Tiger; the very dark Sredni Vashtar -- be warned;The Peace of Mowsle Barton; the radical and in these days non-PC story The Unrest-Cure, which is, however, extremely funny once you stop gasping with shock; and Tobermory, a story of a cat that learns to talk, causing immediate consternation among the house-party of guests near whose bedroom windows he has been walking freely.
Stephen Fry's reading is of course perfect: it was obvious on sight of the offering that he would be a wonderful Saki reader, as the wry, sophisticated, ironic tone is common to both Saki and Fry. I wish Stephen Fry would do more recordings of dedicated Saki collections.
Any Screwtape is better than no Screwtape --- this is one of C.S. Lewis' most delightful and spiritually nourishing stories. But it does need the voice of Screwtape to be diabolical, after all, and the reader Ralph Cosham is dry and not expressive.
I stopped an hour and a half in and searched for another version, and I am well pleased with the Joss Ackland reading also offered by Audible. This is a work of humor and so it should not be treated as a sermon.
It is apparent that junior tempter-in-training Wormwood is having a lot of trouble securing the soul of his "patient" and the aghast and disapproving tone of his mentor Uncle Screwtape, an elder demon, gets more and more pronounced, ameliorated by Wormwood's occasional headway via temptations made possible by World War II, the patient's annoying mother, and his fashionable and atheistic friends.
This novel, Double Star, and Door Into Summer were for decades my two favorite Heinleins. Double Star has pulled to the front now. Lloyd James gives it a brilliant reading, bringing out things I didn't pick up despite it being an over-20-readings book in my life. His reading is so good that I went through all 209 books he has on Audible at this time and bought two and put more on my Wish List.
Lloyd James gives Bonforte (and thus his double, The Great Lorenzo, or more prosaically when he's forced to be honest, Laurence Smith) a beautiful and elegant coastal South Carolina accent, Charleston born and bred. This is an off-planet international cast of characters, so differentiation is plausible and easy to listen to: one of the characters is Australian. I was surprised because I never read it that way all these years: Bonforte is an obvious Churchill persona. But it works, and even points up the racial subtext.
This is a pre-stroke Heinlein, before he wrote "Time Enough for Love" when everything changed. The early Heinleins are more than safe to give to children, especially boys: they are practically mandatory for good character development. There are parts of this book one never forgets -- for example, when an entirely too important person asks, "Who are you, really?" This is a thoughtful, morally complex, and idealistic book as well as being listen-all-day gripping in plot and action.
I listened to this audiobook less than a year after reading the novel. The plot is gripping and I wanted to understand the characters even better with a second approach to the book. The novel is difficult to put down in either form, text or audio, so engaging is the plot and so fascinating the characters.
Basically, the kid Jacob gets in trouble. How much trouble? His father is utterly loyal to him throughout. Well --- why? No one at all can figure that out, including Andy's own father; though that man shows the same trait, so one wonders about genetic predispositions, a theme of the novel. But what is being passed on? Whatever it is, it's a whole lot more complex than the characters seem to think.
You WILL be surprised more than once during this story. The story is clear and the characters few enough that listening to it first should be easy to comprehend.
The reading by Grover Gardner is good, especially the male characters. The females sound a little prissy, but this is basically a father-son-grandson story about men and families, and their reading is excellent. I strongly recommend both the novel and the audiobook. Wow. Very thoughtful book, as well as exciting.
Some reviewers are complaining about the reader, but I think he's got a creative solution to doing a 15-year-old's voice. He does sound naive and young, and that's what the protagonist is.
I have a feeling this book would be perfect for male teens, and may be intended for young adults. However, I enjoyed it and I finished it, and I'm not young or male!
It's not clear that John Wayne Cleaver is a serial killer. He thinks he is, but he may just be mixed up normally. He does not in fact kill anyone....................exactly, at least not anyone human. I liked this kid a lot more than Dexter, which goes WAAAAY too far in violence for me.
Lots of action and lots of interesting psychology and very creative ideas: all in all, a good listen, in my opinion.
Candide is an easy and delightful classic, great for teens and adults. Jack Davenport's reading is superb -- my favorite is his interpretation of Martin, the pessimist. He brings out the sarcasm of this character very effectively.
A strange coincidence is Voltaire's description of the humorously reduced circumstances of a king of Corsica, which so closely describes Napoleon's exile on Elba that it is necessary to remember that Voltaire died before the French Revolution.
The dispassionate calm of this light work make it an excellent sleep book.The last line, of course, is still quoted everywhere today and the reader delivers it well, a triumphant solution to the puzzle of life.
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