Thursday, May 31, 2012


I’ve listened to all but one (that one oddly not available through Library2Go and the book on CD is owned by just a handful of libraries) of Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, which means that for me IanMcKellen is inextricably connected to these stories of a fantastical pre-history. McKellen is the mage, we are the members of the clan, keeping our fears at bay while we listen to the stories that help to explain our world. While he’s speaking, I can hear the fire crackling, and I can see him -- hooded eyes, sharp nose, undoubtedly wearing a cloak [Lord-of-the-Rings influenced, sorry]. This is one of those cases where it’s not a bad thing to have a person’s (actor’s) picture in your head while you read. I wonder, though, whether he is quite so well-suited to any other kind of story. (I see that he has read Homer’s Odyssey – another story where he can be the bard.)

Ghost Hunter is the last of Paver’s Chronicles of the orphan Torak, his pack brother Wolf and the sympathetic members of the Raven Clan who have adopted him. (It won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize in 2009.) Since Torak’s Fa died at the hands of a demon bear, things have not been right in their world of forest, mountain and sea. Mages from the various clans have turned to evil, becoming Soul Eaters, in the hopes of amassing the power of the souls they eat (metaphorically?) to dominate the world. In each story, Torak has faced and defeated an evil Soul Eater. Eostra, the Eagle Owl Mage/Soul Eater, is the only one left but she is powerful, sending out sickness to the clans and magicking dogs and children to wreak havoc. The only way to defeat her is to confront her on her territory, the Mountain of Ghosts. Even though it is likely to destroy him, Torak knows that he is the only one who can face and conquer her.

I confess that while I have enjoyed these audiobooks immensely, whole swaths of clan mythology and immortal battles to the death elude regularly elude me. Am I just too dreamy listening to Ian McKellen that I lose focus on the story? They seem to build and build and then finish so quickly that I feel I’m missing something in the denouement. In Ghost Hunter, the climax builds from three different perspectives quite effectively, but then suddenly it is all over. A character (from the first novel) mysteriously appears as well (I only know this because I reviewed the synopses in Wikipedia) and I’m still not quite sure what he did. (And really, Michelle, I read that book seven years [and 1500-odd books] ago, do you honestly think I’m going to remember?)

All that being said, the listening experience is terrific. McKellen’s narration trumps the books’ flaws, as he seems to understand the epic sweep of the story and his responsibility to deliver the characters’ emotional arcs as well as the forward momentum of the adventure. Like many an actor, he knows the value of a good pause – even in the middle of a sentence. He voices the novels, but not with dramatic differentiation, and he uses volume, silence, and register to express emotion so effectively. He’s totally tuned into the anthropomorphic Wolf who feels his own suffering and that of his pack brother deeply.

One of the characters is described with a voice of rattling bones, which McKellen portrays with a hoarse, dry rasp. I also enjoyed his interpretation of the albino outcast, Dark, who is giddy with excitement upon finally connecting with his own kind. Even the tame ravens, Rip and Reck, get a little bit of avian dialogue, accurately provided.

With so little time for reading, I sometimes wonder why I stick with some authors’ whose work is kinda average. For the same reason that I insist on starting at the beginning, I’m also a bit of a compulsive finisher. Like The Ranger’s Apprentice (which I stopped listening to long ago – but kept reading – as I grew tired of the narrator), which I started around the same time as the Chronicles, I’m satisfied to be a completist, but I feel no desire to pursue additional work by the authors. It’s kinda the same with Bloody Jack, except I’m not sure that L.A. Meyer will write anything else. It might be time to move on, but sometimes our obsessions just don’t have much to do with reality.  Sorry!

[The photo of the Indian eagle owl was taken by Charles C and was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.  Sir “Ian McKellen bei der Weltpremiere des dritten Teils des Herrn der Ringe in Wellington (Neuseeland)” was taken by Stefan Servos and also retrieved from WikimediaCommons.]

Ghost Hunter (Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, Book 6) by Michelle Paver
Narrated by Ian McKellen
Harper Audio, 2010. 6:19

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