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Some stories are better heard than read
on August 26, 2006
I have a comment on the CD version because, frankly, it was much more magical and interesting than the written work by itself. Anansi stories were made to tell around a fire at night, or out on the trail to pass the time, or, ever so quietly, while casting in a line to fish.
They are stories for people who do things, not just read things.
You can't read "Evil-doers beware!" and not think it's all a bit silly. But when you hear it around the fire, and thrill to the sound in your own blood, it doesn't sound silly at all. THAT's the power of stories told instead of read.
More importantly, Lenny Henry's voice captures every character as a unique creation. At first, the island accents are a little hard to follow, but then you get into the spirit of the thing. I know Lenny Henry as a comedian. I think the best comedians are observers and Henry has clearly observed a lot.
I enjoyed Mrs. Higler and Graham Coates the best, I suppose. Mrs. Higler is the voice of every well-meaning-but-meddling old woman who ever lived. Graham Coates is a fat weasel of a man who wants to be a big man. We've all met their type before. Lenny Henry takes us into their hearts with just a little bit of pacing and a fake accent or two.
Truthfully, though, I liked the stories BEHIND the stories, the original African tales worked into the novel, most of all. I played them for the toughest audience in the world-- my five-year old son. My son listened to the Anansi stories with a smile on his face that could outshine the sun. At the end of the tar-baby story he laughed and asked for more.
(Unfortunately, some of the book is a little too intense for young kids. So, I'm probably going to spend a fortune on e-bay to find some tapes Lenny Henry made of Mother Goose Tales. If they're half as good as Gaiman's & Henry's tale, it'll be worth it.)
I saw that a lot of people didn't like the book and all of those reviews compared this book unfavorably with American Gods. I suppose that's so. American Gods is a dark ride through the landscape and the psyche. It's magic at it's most threatening. A tale of terrors long-forgotten. A tiger tale. And those have their place.
If that's the only type of tale you like -- then neither this book nor this recording are for you.
But if there's a little "flexibility" in how you view the world. . . if you like to hear someone new tell an old story. . . if you think Br'er Rabbit and Bugs Bunny are zen philosophers in disguise. . . .
Well, then, this might be the best story you've ever heard.