Podcast Review – “The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward”

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erick mertz, charles dexter ward, supernatural fictionThe BBC recently dropped a new adaptation of The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward based on the horror novel by HP Lovecraft. First written in 1927, this story was never published in Lovecraft’s lifetime but in the 90 years since it has become one of his canonical weird tales.

For those unfamiliar with the source material, Charles Dexter Ward is a young man in his mid-twenties. The story drops us in at a point where he is locked up in a “mental asylum”. Ward’s psychological infirmity stems from a burning obsession with Joseph Curwen, a distant relative. Charles physically resembles his relative (an accused wizard) and he works to resurrect his relative’s occult spells.

The BBC has chosen to reinvent the story using a true crime/investigative style. Doctor Willitts (who is also the investigating character in the original) works to understand his disturbed patient. In the podcast interviews begin back in recorded conversations with the boy. Willits contacts his teachers as well as a cast who knew the young antiquarian when he was into hanging out and playing video games.

The BBC was clearly disinterested with preserving HP Lovecraft’s original tone.

erick mertz, charles dexter ward, supernatural fictionHere it is critical to note the difference between podcast and audiobook. The latter is defined as a simple dramatic reading of the text. The former however implies episodic, and it lends itself to a broader and more adventurous story interpretation. The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward has been adapted into an audiobook numerous times. It is available on Audible and here. It was also broken down admirably with performances on an early episode of the HP Podcraft Literary Podcast.

The BBC ventures far from the source. Their adaptation feels more like the wildly popular Serial that took the podcast world by storm than an audiobook. For one thing, the story is updated to the modern day. The story is also told using a female point of view. It views the titular character as a disturbed boy. Episode One even alludes to a most modern plague: school shootings.

It is critical to note the inclusion of a female character because Lovecraft almost never wrote female characters. Certainly none of those token mentions was given a point of view.

Another distinction is the inclusion of examination of an in depth child character. Once again the BBC is going somewhere the source author rarely did. Aside from the fantastical creation of Wilbur Whateley in The Dunwich Horror children are largely left out of Lovecraft’s fiction.

For Lovecraft purists, the BBC’s adaptation may sting a bit. Some might view it as unnecessary. My bristle is a bit more with how this adaptation uses too many horror motifs. We get a lot of female protagonists. Disturbed children are the genre’s stock and trade.

Scholars postulate that Charles Dexter Ward is HP Lovecraft’s most obviously biographical character. I think of this this story as Lovecraft’s most purely psychological. While many of his tales involve insanity, what afflicts Charles is more relatable. This is less about monster myths and more about an inborn psychological frailty therefore this story stands as pretty modern and stands up to adaptation.

The BBC’s adaptation of The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward works in part because reminds us of a key aspect in understanding HP Lovecraft: the open source nature of his work. The author wanted new generations of writers to tinker with his worlds therefore this should be viewed as a reflection of that desire.

If Lovecraft were alive today (a phrase that launches countless debates) I’m sure he would listen to podcasts. He might even produce one. I would hazard a guess then that had The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward been written in 2018, it might sound a little more like this.

Want to check it out for yourself? Here is the link to the BBC Sounds presentation of The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward.

Have You Listened To The Podcast Version of The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward already? 

Leave me a comment about this podcast or review. Perhaps you could suggest a supernatural fiction podcast for me to check out.

While you’re at it check out my book page to see the latest Oregon supernatural mystery I’m working on.

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Podcast Review – “Welcome To Night Vale”

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erick mertz, welcome to night vale, supernatural podcast reviewI don’t know whether it was a mistake to announce at a recent board game night that I was in the market for a new supernatural podcast. When the entire room shouted “Welcome To Night Vale” in unison I felt like a fool.

Only momentarily a fool though. Then I felt grateful.

To say that “Welcome To Night Vale” has everything would be an understatement. The podcast takes the form of a free form community calendar with each episode featuring town news and updates on the locals. An idyllic, small town feeling exists throughout, and there is usually a piece music to boot referred to as “the weather”.

The fictional Night Vale is not a normal town though and your host isn’t an everyday local radio DJ rube. Strange things happen in Night Vale. Bizarre turns of events are part of the community character. A recent High School Football preview show dissected the local team’s chances on the gridiron… only with bizarre touch like dismembered limbs and undead coaches. You get the picture.

Did I mention your bi-weekly host? Cecil Baldwin is the show’s host and narrator and one of the first things listeners notice is the resonant magnetism of his voice. His baritone read on news is a draw. He’s funny. He’s mysterious. When I listen to Night Vale it’s easy to just slide in and forget I’ve ever lived elsewhere.

The world of Night Vale is more surreal that it is terrifying. It’s bizarre. In one episode a boy turns into a tree which is a strange fate but his transformation is for poetic reasons and his fate is cruel, yet touching.

The writing is top notch. The characters are memorable. On the binge worthy scale, “Welcome To Night Vale” is up there and well-worth your headphone time.

Have you checked out “Welcome To Night Vale” yet? 

Leave a comment about this podcast, this review, or suggest a supernatural podcast for me to check out. While you’re at it check out my book page to see the latest Oregon supernatural mystery I’m working on.

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Podcast Review – “The White Vault”

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erick mertz, supernatural fiction, the white vault, podcast reviewIf you’re anything like me, your stack of unread books is three feet high and rising. Your Netflix queue begs for a flu. And now you’ve got podcasts. To help sort out the latter at least, I’ve decided to run a few podcast review blogs.

First off, The White Vault by Fool & Scholar Productions.

The White Vault follows a multi-national repair team’s mission to a remote Arctic outpost. The story which spans two seasons is told using a found footage style made of cobbled together recordings from their journeys into the ice as well as the messages they sent home.

The basic story is as follows. The team gathers at the outpost and begins their repair mission. All of their unique personalities come out. Strange discoveries are made in the ice. Then a massive storm hits.

The White Vault really hits my sweet spot when it comes to supernatural fiction. For one, I love the Arctic. Also, I love confinement. Throw in some long buried ancient civilizations and I’m ready to go.

One of the reasons I enjoyed The White Vault is that it’s writers don’t try to deviate from what makes Arctic based horror scary. Characters are confined in a hostile environment. That storm hits at just the right time to make the already dangerous surface deadly. Portland based writer K.A. Statz hits the mark right on.

What works in movies like the original version of “The Thing” or in books like HP Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madness work very well here. There has been something of a fan backlash against found footage of late, which is understandable. The style was played to exhaustion about ten years ago.

My issues with The White Vault are quite small. Some of the actor’s performances feel stiff at times. My  issues with found footage are that the story really becomes the domain of the assembler of that footage. While The White Vault does nothing to get me over that hump, it’s not a distraction.

The White Vault really is worth the listen though which is why I chose it for my first podcast review. I binged most of the first season in a couple of days, only to find out that I had to wait for Season #2.

Have you checked out The White Vault yet? 

Leave a comment below about this podcast, this podcast review, or suggest a supernatural fiction podcast. Meanwhile, check out my book page to see the latest Oregon supernatural mystery I’m working on.

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