The folktale of Bluebeard is a particularly awful and gruesome one–as many such tales happen to be–but in The Professor’s capable hands, the story gets molded into something of exceptional and sublime perversity. Gone is the greed and duplicity of the new wife, replaced with lust and a single-minded desire for the titular husband. Knowing that this is a retelling by The Professor should be sufficient to warn you that this does not arrive at the expected conclusion for those familiar with earlier iterations of the Bluebeard story. There are no antiquated morals associated with woman’s obedience to men in this adaptation. At the same time, there’s none of the Pandoran punishment for a woman’s curiosity at the root of this story. Instead, The Professor deftly casts aside that old world, parochial mentality and empowers the woman by allowing her to embrace the cruel sensuality of her discovery and subsequent abuse. Naturally, you would benefit from listening to the narration of this title as provided by your purchase on Godless. The soothing, hypnotic cadence of The Professor’s relation of Bluebeard perhaps provides us some insight into why the new wife experienced such a sudden change of heart in her abrupt dedication to Bluebeard as a courter and husband. Was she caught in some spell? Are we tangled up in a similar sort of magic when listening to The Professor’s voice? Do we care?
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The Professor delivers more than we could have hoped for with his epic poem, Vanitas. With this Robert Browning-inspired poem, he manages to create a vanitas of sorts. Both in the narrative conveyed within the poem and from the reading of the poem itself, the reader is subjected to a consideration of the contrast between life and death. Subtle nuances in the still life painting of his wife send a Duke down meandering and shadow-cloaked pathways within his bitter and jealous imagination. As the Duke becomes increasingly certain the Duchess has been seduced by the painter, he determines that there might be a bit of artistic sensibility in himself as well. Was the Duchess scampering through the maze, seduced by whispering promises of what the artist would give her if only he could? Did seeds of this infidelity take root in the soil of her heart where they germinated, decaying the love for her Duke? Perceiving this rot inside her, the Duke had only one course of action. Of course, it’s always possible the Duke is simply a madman driven to extremes by a jealous nature and bitter envy of the painter’s skill. The truth is something we might never know. Could this latest release from The Professor serve as a prequel of sorts to the Browning poem, My Last Duchess? Are we reading the sordid details of what transpired before Browning’s poem begins? The Professor may be revealing to us the telltale unfaithfulness captured in the Duchess’s slight blush, sending the Duke reeling toward horrific conclusions with fatal consequences. I, for one, choose to accept this as a canonical antecedent.
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I’d never finished reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle when I was growing up. I’d somehow just never gotten around to it. Waiting for the final novel of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy got me in the mood to revisit this series–and hopefully finish it–as it was one of Rothfuss’s major influences when he began writing The Name of the Wind. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed Le Guin’s capacity to blend minimalism with exquisite prose, crafting a streamlined narrative that never bogs itself down with minutiae and long-winded deviations from the main story. In that and her sheer imaginative quality, Le Guin remains an iconoclast in the realm of fantasy literature. We join Ged on his journey from childhood through young adulthood as he finds his place in the larger world of Earthsea. We experience his mistakes and misplaced pride as if they’re our own, and we feel both his terror and exultation as he travels to lands familiar and far distant in his quest to evade and subdue the shadow he set loose on the world. The narration provided by Rob Inglis made the audiobook a vastly different experience from simply reading the book decades ago, and I’m pleased to see that he continues as narrator for the subsequent volumes in this epic series.