We know what an audiobook is. Now you can hear professionals read books to you on your drive to work in the morning instead of having to read them yourself. You can listen to books while you do yard work or exercise at the gym instead of having to find the time where you can sit down to read in your favourite fireside armchair. Personally, I prefer fireside reading. Making time to read a book or read aloud to the family is so worthwhile. But if you're busy doing something on your own, sometimes an audiobook is the best option.
They do have their drawbacks though. Some books don't work as well as audiobooks. Some voices are better suited for audiobooks than others. And then there's that bothersome concept of comprehension. How much do you remember from the audiobooks you've heard? For me there's a noticeable difference between the two. There's just no comparison to holding a physical book in your hands.
But as it turns out, there's another option out there for hearing stories. It's called audio drama. Unlike audiobooks, today's audio dramas boast a full cast of actors, music, and sound effects. An audio drama is like a movie, but without the visuals. The movie plays in your mind instead of on a screen. The BBC has been adapting classic literature into audio drama on the radio for years. In the U.S., the long-running kids' show Adventures in Odyssey stands out as an example of original content. And there are many more great audio dramas out there waiting to be discovered.
Audio drama can captivate you for hours. I remember as a kid sitting in the living room drawing pictures or colouring or playing with LEGO, all the while listening through the audio dramas of all seven books in The Chronicles of Narnia. Whereas an audiobook sticks to a dry reading of the words on the page, an audio drama brings the story to life. It puts you right in the middle of the action. Unlike some audiobooks, audio drama is the farthest thing from being boring or bland. And yet it accomplishes it all with sound alone—no brightly flashing screen required.
Whether you're looking for classics like Oliver Twist, Anne of Green Gables, and The Secret Garden, or the World War II era biographies of people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Corrie ten Boom, or even rare books that no one's ever heard of (see Lamplighter Theatre), audio drama has you covered. I think one of the reasons audio drama works so well is because it adapts the stories for the audio format. It's not simply a reading, but a dramatization. And it also allows sound designers to use the full range of tools at their disposal. These are stories which engage your imagination, stories you remember. Whatever genre you like or whatever age you are, there's something out there for you. I really can't recommend audio drama highly enough.
“Where words fail, music speaks.” This quote is attributed to Hans Christian Andersen, the 19th century author of fairy tales such as “The Little Mermaid,” “The Ugly Duckling,” and “Thumbelina.” He’s saying that for all its precision and utility, language has its limits. There are times when words are not enough, when what seems inexpressible in words alone can only be expressed in song. That’s a very humbling thing for a writer to admit. You might think Andersen would privilege the written word above all else. But you don’t have to call yourself a musician to understand the truth in his statement.
We know that we need music. I once heard a public talk about pseudoscience and mental health from a psychiatrist at university. His whole lecture was basically an attack on things like anti-stress colouring books, fidget spinners, and other products that people push while claiming they have mental health benefits, even if there is little evidence to back up their claims. Having thrown out nearly everything under the sun, the psychiatrist concluded that science does back the importance of at least two activities which contribute to our mental well-being. Exercise was one of them. The other was hearing music. (Personally, I would add a few things to that list, like reading, writing, community, and service, but then again I’m not an intensely skeptical psychiatrist, so what do I know?)
When I first watched The Fellowship of the Ring movie and heard the opening seven notes of the Shire theme, composed by Howard Shore, I was transported. It wasn’t the visual effects that brought me to director Peter Jackson’s vision of Middle-earth. It was that score. I was there with Sam as he lamented the departure of the elves into the far west, with Arwen and Frodo on the desperate gallop to escape the hooded Ringwraiths, and with the nine members of the Fellowship as they rested in the hallowed woodland of Lothlórien. The Lord of the Rings movies are indeed wonderful adaptations, though they don’t measure up to J.R.R. Tolkien’s books. And yet I’ve often thought that for all the changes the filmmakers made, it was worth it to have these films made if only because we got that musical score.
Life is a series of choices. Some are big choices, like who to get married to. Others seem small, like what to have for breakfast. Porridge? Or perhaps an egg-free tofu omelette. All these choices, big and small, have led you to this moment. They’ve had on impact on your education, career, health, and relationships. One choice leads to opportunities for more choices and pretty soon you can look back on your life as a long string of decisions. This is your story, almost as if you were a character in a book. And it all starts somewhere. But before each stage of your story can really begin, you must make an important choice. It's the choice of how to respond to what Joseph Campbell entitles "the call to adventure."
In Campbell’s description of the hero’s journey, the call to adventure is where everything takes off. Our main character receives a revelation. Perhaps they discover that a whole other world exists, an unknown world "of both treasure and danger." It’s an exciting place, but also unpredictable. And so like Neo in The Matrix, they come to a crossroads. The blue pill or the red pill. It is the choice of whether to continue being comfortable with what they know, or to take a chance and step out into the unknown.
Why would anyone ever leave what they know in order to be uncomfortable? That doesn’t sound very relaxing. Or safe. And more importantly, what would the neighbours think? Bilbo Baggins deals with those exact concerns in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The Bagginses are seen as "very respectable" in large part "because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected." But when Gandalf and his throng of dwarves show up on the doorstep for an evening of telling tales about the battles and treasures of faraway lands, something awakens inside Bilbo’s heart. He realizes there’s more to life than tea, buttered scones, and seed-cakes at Bag End. There’s a whole other world out there, and it starts at the little road just outside his front door.
Christmas is fast approaching and the mad rush to purchase last-minute gifts is in full swing. The season brings with it plenty of sweets, colourful lights, and crowded department stores. For those of you in more northern climes, chances are you’ve been trekking through the snow and ice to do your holiday errands. And finally, the big moment will arrive. You give the gifts, Santa Claus gets the credit, and everybody sits down to eat too much Christmas ham, or your poultry of choice. But believe it or not, that isn’t the only way to celebrate Christmas. They do it a little differently, for example, in Narnia.
When we first encounter Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe it looks like a snow-laden wonderland of sorts. It’s kind of magical, really. But as Mr. Tumnus the faun soon reveals, there is apparently something sinister behind the beautiful quiet of the falling snowflakes. He tells Lucy that the White Witch "has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!" Sounds horrible. But think of all the time you’d save not having to scour the aisles for stocking stuffers.
If you remember the story, the Narnians do get to have Christmas eventually. As Peter, Susan, and Lucy Pevensie follow Mr. and Mrs. Beaver through the snow, hoping to escape from the White Witch, they hear the sound of an approaching sledge and its jingling bells. Who else could it be but the witch herself, hoping to catch them before they reach Aslan’s army? But it isn’t. As C.S. Lewis describes the scene, "on the sledge sat a person everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him. He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as hollyberries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest." Father Christmas himself.
David Raphael Hilder
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