One of the things I love most about Stephen King is his ability to poke fun at himself. But I can't imagine that he would want his book to be read this way.
Frank Muller paints every sentence as if it's the most damning piece of evidence in a huge conspiracy. He has a wholly unnatural cadence that starts all strung together sing-songy, ending in summer camp ghost story danger whisper italics. There are points where a bit of noir may help with the story, but he uses it on every phrase regardless of content. He says, "Roland ate a sandwich" in exactly the same way as "Roland awoke startled to find himself covered in blood." To call it annoying would be a kindness.
The worst part is that he doesn't do this for other characters in the story. They all have their own distinct (if usually overblown) style, which means Mr. Muller simply doesn't understand the main character. This is not a hyperbolic Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti western. Roland is pedantic, analytical, and humorless. He resents people splashing their personal drama all over him simply because it interferes with his objective. Muller reads the whole thing like a pulpy detective novel. He couldn't have gotten it more wrong.
I'm a huge fan of the historical novel in general, with a particular love for the birth and early formation of the British empire. Fortunately for me, there seems to be a never-ending supply of stories about the royal/religious elite across the ages. But Follett's 'Pillars' gives us a rare view into how all of those political machinations impacted -- or had absolutely no bearing on -- the everyday lives of the medieval peasants, tradespeople, and local clergy. From the opulence and treachery of grasping robber barons to the stinking squalor of outlying townships, Follett shows us a handful of small people with very big dreams.
The Performance: John Lee's telling is, in my opinion, a study in perfection. In the wrong hands (or throat, I suppose), the story could become stickier than a Telenovella in July. But Lee has a light touch. With barely noticeable changes in accent, pitch and timing, he gets us right into the hearts and minds of these remarkable characters. I'll be watching for more from this duo.
I have much love and a profound respect for Mr. King. Like most good writers, he is at his core, a romantic. However, having a romantic nature and being a romance writer are two very different propositions. He painted himself into a corner, having made lots of promises to show us Susan, Roland's one great romance. The poor girl was occasionally cheeky, but mostly just a petulant cliche. A teen Jessica Rabbit in Wranglers who wouldn't have been worth more than a pleasant afternoon in the porch swing for Roland. And then it got scary (but not in the way crave from SK). First, there seems to be quite a lot of nipple-twisting in Hambry; a bit more than seems normal per capita. Stephen: Use it once, use it well, then leave it. Generally, the only sex that seemed remotely authentic was happening between the nastier characters. Of course, Mr. Muller's performance may have added to my discomfort; it was like being read soft core porn by your junior high drama teacher who wore the same tie every day and smelled vaguely like a two-day-old fast food bag. Read the book! You need to know this story if you're following the Beam to The Tower, but read it yourself. That may let the sticky parts be sticky in a good way, or at least allow you to step over them without getting any on ya.
Oh, Mr. Inglis. You have tremendous command of your instrument, and through 98% of your performance you had me riveted! I think your choice to compose and sing every song was a bold one, but it didn't pay off. No one would've faulted you for reciting the text in the form of stylized poetry. I'm sorry to say, each song was a little worse than the last (and there are many). I was fast-forwarding after the first two or three attempts.
The spoken word is performed and recorded very differently from singing. The mic is more sensitive and directional; your full-blown baritone would certainly set all needles jumping into the red. I'll bet you had to hold back so the technicians wouldn't need to reset levels each time, but it ended up sounding timid and self-conscious.
Just read. Trust the words to sing themselves into our brains like they always have.
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