Adventure stories on audiotape

21st April 2000 at 01:00
It all depends on whether you like talking mice. C S Lewis, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, made the hopeless drip Eustace's objection to talking mice the overwhelming marker of his hopeless drippiness. The mouse in question then was Reepicheep, a foot-high hero who was handy with a sword. Who but a hopeless drip would squeal with horror at being asked to share a meal with such a super-rodent?

Who but a hopeless species-ist, then, could object to spending a few hours in the company of the heroic mice and woodland creatures of Brian Jacques's Redwall books? Jacques has been turning out his well-crafted epics for eight to 12-year-olds for more than 15 years. His unabridged reading of the first book, Redwall (Cavalcade pound;8.99, three hours five minutes) is a particularly fine rendition.

As the Redwall community of mice, with assorted friends (folk such as Constance the stout-hearted badger and Colin the faint-hearted vole), enjoy themselves in the walled abbey, little do they know that the wicked rat Cluny is advancing with evil intent. Many battles and strategems later, and thanks to the endeavours of the young mouse Matthias, peace is restored.

Jacques's language is pitched nicely between Victorian derring-do and modern action adventure, and holds the attention while his narrating voice offers reassurance and excitement. His reading of The Legend of Luke, another Redwall novel, is a more low-key account (being undramatised) but equally satisfying (Tellastory pound;8.99, three hours). It traces the quest of warrior mouse Martin, son of Luke, to unveil the mysteries of his childhood.

Michael Morpurgo has written (and now reads) his version of one of the great original adventure stories in Arthur, HighKing of Britain, which frames a selection of the rambling romances of Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur with the tale of a contemporary boy lost on a sandbank as the tide comes in. The Arthur High King of Britain series includes three three-hour volumes - Excalibur, Arthur High King of Britain and Camelot: the last days (Hodder Children's Audio pound;7.99 each) - and is of one the very best introductions to the famous stories of Gawain and the Green Knight, Tristan and Iseult, Arthur and Merlin, and the tragic love triangle of Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere. Morpurgo's voice, though a touch lugubrious, is compelling in its rendition of these savage narratives. Brothers behead each other, spouses betray each other, knights are horribly wounded and large numbers of soldiers are killed. However, the thrill and the gore come with moral context.

Of course, the most successful adventure story of this time - but can it be of all time? - is that of J K Rowling's Harry Potter. The unabridged Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets read by Stephen Fry (Cover to Cover pound;21.99, nine hours, 40 minutes) immerses the listener in the parallel world of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Fry's somewhat arch reading matches the knowing (to my mind) humour of the text. The plotting is fast and furious, the style conversational. The listener becomes Harry's ally as he fights adult vanity and obtuseness as much as the evil that lurks within the Chamber of Secrets. It's pretty much like being at school anywhere, except that the stakes are higher, with the risk of petrification and deadly snakes pouring out of people's mouths. Most eight to 12-year-olds will be captivated for the whole stretch.

Victoria Neumark

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