Friday, June 8, 2012

"Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" by Robert Browning

SourceLibriVox (mp3)
Length: 13 minutes
Reader: Algy Pug

The poem: In The White Company, Conan Doyle mentions the great knight Roland as the company travels from France into Spain through the Roncevaux Pass in the Pyrenees Mountains. Roland, a knight of King Charlemange, died while holding the rearguard in a battle in the pass, made famous by the French epic poem The Song of Roland.

This poem, composed hundreds of years later, follows a legendary earlier quest by Roland to the Dark Tower. Browning describes a desolate landscape full of imagery of death, reminding him of other knights who have failed this quest. Roland himself holds little hope of himself succeeding at finding the Dark Tower, but continues on anyway. Browning, perhaps, is commenting on the futility of life as well as our duty to keep living as best we can. The depressing nightmarish land described in the poem have been a inspiration to other writers, notably Steven King's The Dark Tower series and Gordon R. Dickenson's Childe Cycle.

Rating: 8 /10

The reader: Pug does an adequate job here reading a very difficult poem. He has a strong Australian accent, but it did not inhibit my understanding of the words. I did have trouble following the poem due to its complexity and had to follow along by reading the text. Each stanza heading (1, 2, 3, 4) is read out loud, which, although faithful to the text, is somewhat distracting. Though Pug's reading does little to aid the interpretation of the poem, his neutral tone is probably best for those wishing to find their own sense of meaning.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The White Company by Arthur Conan Doyle

Source: LibriVox (zipped mp3s)
Length: 14 hr, 43 min
Reader: Clive Catterall

The book: Although known now as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle considered The White Company and his other historical fiction as his best work. The title refers to an English mercenary band of archers during the Hundred Years' War. The book follows the adventures of two men from very different parts of the feudal hierarchy: Alleyne, a second son of a minor nobleman who after being raised in a abbey, goes off to find his fortune and John, a massively strong peasant who has been kicked out of the same abbey for flirting and drinking. They both fall in with Aylward, an enthusiastic recruiter for the White Company.

The story takes a long time in getting started, with plenty of descriptions of everyday life in the 1300s before the action gets going. Perhaps Conan Doyle was trying to set up a connection with the characters before thrusting them into danger, but they never seemed more than two-dimentional to me. The action set pieces are quite exciting and worth the wait. Although this was a fun book, I'd have to disagree with Conan Doyle and go with the Sherlock Holmes books as his greatest legacy.

Rating: 7 / 10

The reader: Catterall's narration is outstanding. He's a gifted narrator, using his tone of voice and pacing to play up all the action and humor that's in the text. His character voices are particularly well thought out. Sam Aylward's rolling baritone perfectly brings out the bravado of the old soldier. This is a top-notch recording. I'll be looking forward to hearing more of Catterall's work soon.