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A movie in my mind

Posted: April 15, 2011 3:19 p.m.
Updated: April 18, 2011 5:00 a.m.

For a total of 20 hours over the past several weeks -- and thanks to the Friends of the Kershaw County Library’s recent book sale -- I played a movie in my car.

Notice I didn’t say “watched” a movie in my car -- that would be dangerous, wouldn’t it? But what if it the movie was in my mind? Those of you old enough to remember the thrilling days of yesteryear on your radios will know what I’m talking about. Soap operas got their starts on the radio. Gunsmoke  started as a radio series. There was a Superman radio show, Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Kildair and so many others.

Even the granddaddy of all movie franchises -- Star Wars -- got the radio drama treatment in 1981, 1983 and 1996.

I wasn’t sure anyone was still doing that kind of work anymore until last month’s library sale in the old Burndale Shopping Center.

After walking up and down the rows of tables, I had finally made my way to some boxes on the floor near the far right wall. There, a man was combing through a series of what I could tell were multi-CD cases with the logo “GraphicAudio” on them. I took a look myself and saw a name I recognized: Brandon Sanderson.

If that name sounds slightly familiar to readers of this column, Sanderson is the man who took over writing The Wheel of Time fantasy series following the death of original author James “Robert Jordan” Rigney Jr.

Sanderson was tapped to write the final installments of Jordan’s epic series in part because of his Mistborn trilogy. But he had also written a stand-alone novel called Elantris.

The three CD cases I picked up -- 18 CDs in all -- comprised a full 2009 dramatization of the novel. Not knowing what to expect, I kept my iPhone in its belt clip, took out the first CD and put it in.

I was instantly mesmerized.

Never having read the book before, I had no preconceived notions. Sanderson has said on his blog that if you’re an audiobook fan, it’s an experience you should try and saluted them with a “hats off” on the production.

The one thing I didn’t expect is how rich the production is. Not only do you have sound effects standing in for things Sanderson would write, like “the door opened,” but there was a full musical score to accompany the dialog and action.

Again, without knowing the characters, I can’t really speak to whether or not the voice actors fit what Sanderson created -- but what he created was marvelously portrayed by the cast. Sanderson’s quickly getting known for creating unique worlds, magic systems and characters. Elantris is no exception.

With the GraphicAudio production, the first thing you’ll notice is the great narration by James Konicek. As a former radio announcer, I can tell you he’s got the perfect voice for this kind of work.

Elantris is the name of a city in the western country of Arelon that -- 10 years before the story begins -- was the home of “the Gods,” beings that could tap into a magical form called AonDor. They mingled with humans, especially those in the four cities immediately surrounding the giant, shining city.

Ten years ago, the city suddenly went dark, the magic failed and the Elantrians were transformed from shining beings to black-spotted, shunned wretches. Often, regular people, from the humblest peasant to noble, would be transformed into Elantrians. Now, when transformed, they are thrown into Elantris and forgotten.

As the story opens, one person awakes to find themsleves transformed: Raoden, crown prince of Arelon living in the new capital city of Kae.

Danny Gavigan’s young, irreverent, yet determined voice work neatly matches my image of a roguish prince who does everything he can to tease out the secret of Elantris’ fall.

Roaden’s horrible transformation comes just as his never-before-met bride, Sarene, from a country north across the ocean named Teod. Where Gavigan’s American accent fits his character, Lily Beacon’s somewhat uppercrust British tones fits hers.

In fact, as voiced by Beacon and written by Sanderson, I will say that Sarene is perhaps the best female character in fantasy fiction I’ve ever encountered.

She was so much fun to listen to. As the 25-year-old “spinster” daughter of Teod’s king, Sarene is an undiplomatic diplomat whose knowledge of royal courts and -- fencing??? -- underlies a cutting wit and fierce loyalty to her new people.

The story of how these two great characters end up getting together (Sarene has been told Raoden is dead) and working together would be a wonderful tale in any genre. Luckily, Sanderson has populated the book with other great characters in a tightly woven but fantastic setting.

I was especially impressed with performances by Thomas Penny as Raoden’s new friend, Galladon; Steven Carpenter as Sarene’s uncle, Kiin, who has a secret; Tony Nam as Shuden; and Mort Shelby’s Ashe (pronounced “ay-shee”), Sarene’s seon, a mystical, sentient ... well, ball of light that puts up with her mistress’ headstrong ways.

Listening to the dramatization of Elantris was a wonderful way to spend 20 hours in my car.

GraphicAudio still sells the set, along with dramatizations of other novels and even comic books series, as either CDs or audio file downloads.

I’m thinking of purchasing another of their “movies in your mind” -- Superman, anyone?

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