Friday, February 12, 2010

Scrubb and Pole in Narnia

Jeremy Northam can read to me anytime. He's the narrator of The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis' 6th (or 4th or 5th depending on how you come down in the reading order debate) Chronicle of Narnia. We start this installment at the appropriately named Experiment House (what we would probably call an "alternative" school), where social outcasts Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole are miserably fending off bullies. Eustace (called Useless by those bullies) mentions his previous journey to Narnia (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader), and asks Aslan for help. The two children attempt escape through a usually locked door and find themselves in Narnia.

Aslan assigns them a quest (even though Jill is not really paying attention when he lays out the job): Find the long-lost son of King Caspian and bring him back to Cair Paravel, palace of the rulers of Narnia. Eustace and Jill set out on their journey -- accompanied by Puddleglum, a pessimistic Marsh-wiggle (well, they are all pessimistic) -- which takes them into the land of the giants, and underground where the evil Lady of the Green Kirtle is holding Prince Rilian under a spell. Relative danger and exciting heroics occur and the Prince returns, just in time to bury his father. (Then, there's some Christian allegory that went way over my head as Eustace sticks a thorn into Aslan's paw, which bleeds onto the corpse of the Caspian, which then makes him young again ... born again?)

Sometimes actors hired to read audiobooks aren't very good. They are talented people who can inhabit a character in a play or a movie. But they can't portray multiple characters, or -- most importantly -- read the narrative portions of a book with appropriate feeling and pacing. Northam is not one of these actors. He reads the narrative portion (the C.S. Lewis "role" if you like) with enough enthusiasm to keep the plot moving, while recognizing the humor (mostly skewering Experiment House and its educational philosophy -- including, I might add, a headmistress who has a nervous breakdown at the end of the novel) that Lewis includes in his story.

Northam also has a Jim-Dale-esque field day with the many characters -- human and not -- that Eustace and Jill encounter along their journey. Whiny, morose Puddleglum, regal Aslan, a cranky cook for the giants, the wicked Lady, a political owl, and assorted gnomes and forest creatures. Each voice is unique, humorous and/or terrifying. Dare I say that under Northam's secure guidance this episode almost rollicks.

I've got one more Narnia, read by the estimable Patrick Stewart (make it so!). We'll see if he measures up to Jeremy Northam (of whom I am most fond movie-wise as well) -- he's been the best so far!


Playing by the book said...

My eldest has just started listening to the Narnia series on CD and so it's really interesting to read this review. I've just checked and I see our local library's copy of the Silver Chair is read by Andrew Sachs, so I wonder how they'd compare

leecat said...

Hello! Thanks for posting! I just did a quick search to see if I'd ever heard Andrew Sachs read, and it looks like he's done all the Narnias for British publication. Before I started keeping this blog, I listened to "Urchin of the Riding Stars;" wasn't crazy about the book, but loved him!