I Heard it On the Radio

Our guest blogger is Emily-Jane, a reference librarian at Central and Belmont libraries, and a regular contributor to Furthermore: Where the Headlines Take You, where you can read her latest raves about books and films that have something to do with current news stories.   

There's a real trend in public radio these days for shows that focus on storytelling. The long running story show This American Life has been joined by Snap JudgmentRe:SoundThe Moth Radio HourState of the Re:Union, and Radio Lab, all shows centered around personal narratives, anecdotes, and other tales. The focus on stories brings the human element to the forefront in these shows, and let me tell you, I am hooked. I haven't been so in love with the radio since I was a kid in the 1980s, in the midst of another fad in public broadcasting: radio theater.

Starting in the late 1970s, regular series like NPR Playhouse, Earplay, and National Radio Theater of Chicago presented drama miniseries every week.  Some were imported from abroad, and some were produced in the U.S. Many were dramatizations of popular novels or adaptations of films, and if my memory serves, an awfully high percentage were some kind of science fiction. I wasn't too picky – I memorized the radio schedule and listened faithfully to whatever story was on offer. And although I haven't found any regular radio dramas on the air in Portland nowadays, I can still get my radio play fix at the library!

The most famous public radio dramas of the 1970s and 80s, no doubt, were Star Wars and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but I think my personal favorite was The Fourth Tower of Inverness. It's a mystery/science fiction tale about Jack Flanders, a likeable young man who travels to visit his aunt Lady Sarah Jowls at her mansion, Inverness.  The place is fully stocked with odd characters – the Madonna Vampira, Old Far-Seeing Art, a million-and-a-half year old Venusian named Little Frieda, Dr. Mizoola the alchemist, and several others. Lady Jowl's husband, Lord Jowls, is missing, having disappeared some years before into the mysterious fourth tower (most folks only see three towers on the mansion, but Jack sometimes catches a glimpse of that fourth one), and Jack sets out to find him.  With, of course, the help and hindrance of all the other strange folk who live at Inverness.

I listened to The Fourth Tower of Inverness originally when I was about 12 years old, and always remembered it fondly – especially the introduction to each episode when the narrator announces in stentorian tones, "The FOURTH. . . TOWER . . . of INVERNESS."  My that gave me chills!  So, when I realized the library had it on CD I listened to it again.  Here's what my adult drama critic has to say: This is a weird, weird story with a major helping of spiritual and quasi-spiritual concepts: past life regression, Sufi mysticism, shamanistic communication.  The narrative is erratic and the sound effects are wild and vivid.  The characters are boldly drawn, but less cartoonish than you might imagine. The mystery is indeed mysterious, the setting is compelling, and the theme at the beginning of every episode gave me the same chills it did when I was a child!

If The Fourth Tower of Inverness suits you, there are a number of other radio tales about Jack Flanders.  If not, never fear – you can get a wide variety of other radio dramas, including This American Life, at the library.