I grew up watching old horror movies on Saturday nights. Basil Rathbone was always Sherlock Holmes, and Vincent Price was some kind of mad scientist. I never realized how much vocal training they must have had during their careers -- it shows on this recording, one of the best I've ever heard (and I listen to a lot of recorded books.) Rathbone brings Poe's poetry to life, rather than let it lie tediously on the page ("The Bells.") Price makes accessible one of Poe's best stories, The Gold Bug, by absorbing and translating for a modern ear the page-long sentences of Poe's time.
I first heard this book on a tape borrowed from the library, and briefly considered "losing" it rather than returning it when the due date arrived because I wanted to keep it for myself. It's great to have it on my MP3 player now! I will never nod off on a long drive again. This stuff is better than caffeine.
The Gold Bug is remarkable because the main character is so unreliable. The narrator can't tell whether he is crazy or not, so you have no idea whether they will be successful at finding the treasure, or even whether there is any to be found at all; and then you still need to know how they knew where to look. It's an original, absorbing mystery, perfectly written.
Who hasn't heard Price on Michael Jackson's Thriller? He loves to chill your blood. Basil Rathbone Is absolutely mesmerizing in The Pit and the Pendulum, much more emotionally intense than his brainy portrayal of Holmes.
Both actors shine. It's a joy to watch them compete for best in show. Every time I listen to this book, I get to ask myself which one is better. And this is a book into which one can dip many times. Perhaps the one who shines most brightly is Poe. He is a national treasure. I question the editor's decision not to include some of his best stories in this collection, however (The Purloined Letter, The Murders in the Rue Morgue.) Perhaps the recording was made as a kind of lark, to see whether there would be any real audience for it. Or maybe it was made quickly, in preparation for a Halloween radio broadcast. The problem is, where are the actors today who can generate performances like these? I think Poe would be pleased with their work. They not only "get" him in spades, but they make him understandable to us, even through the thicket of his outdated English.
If you are a serious collector of recorded books, you should own this recording. I think it might be useful to English teachers who want to get their classes through a unit on Poe. Or for anyone who likes Halloween and has had enough of the Monster Mash.
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