Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Radio dramatisation of The Once and Future King

One of my favourite writers - and one of the most underrated prose stylists in the langauge - is T.H. White.

BBC Radio is broadcasting a six-part dramatisation of his series of novels The Once and Future King, with the first episode going out on Sunday afternoon.

Den of Geek! has an interview with Brian Sibley, the writer who has adapted the books for radio.

He talks of the difficulties of adapting them. The first book, The Sword in the Stone, is a near-perfect children's book, but they then get progressively adult and dark, until the fifth book (not published in White's lifetime) which returns to something like the register of the first.

Added to that, White substantially revised the first two books - largely to their detriment - in the light of the later ones.

Sibley explains his solution:
So these six plays take place in the six hours between one o’clock in the morning and seven o'clock, six hours later, as dawn breaks and Arthur goes out to the battlefield. So it’s a conversation through the night in which Merlyn and Arthur look back across every aspect of his life; his childhood, all the things they did together, the things he learned when he was turned into a fish and a bird and an ant and so on, and the battle with Madam Mim, and drawing the sword from the stone. And then it goes on to his meeting with Guenever, and his meeting with Lancelot and all the events that play out in the rest of the story. 
But everything isn’t absolutely chronological, so for example turning Wart into a fish we don’t hear until episode 2, we don’t hear Madam Mim until we hear it as a flashback in episode 3, so the events of The Sword In The Stone are broken up. It’s a way of presenting it a little bit like a mosaic, really, but hopefully one that everybody will be able to follow.... 
I hope when people hear it that they will realise that this isn't just a children’s story, because the framing device includes a lot of quite serious ideas and conversation. But the first three episodes do contain these significant flashbacks to the childhood and the magic, as well as introducing Guenever in the first episode, who doesn’t turn up until Book 3 in The Once And Future King, and the second episode introduces Lancelot who again doesn’t turn up till Book 3 otherwise. 
It's an attempt to try and hold all those things in one place, [while] keeping in the mix Archimedes the talking owl and some of the humorous characters as well, and those more light-hearted interludes from the original book.

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