Our last big Tales for Our Time serialization - A Journal of the Plague Year - was certainly timely, but struck some listeners as a bit heavy for an eternity of contagion and lockdown. So I thought I'd offer something lighter, as we often do in the summer, but this time by yours truly. I'd just read a kind comment from a listener who'd belatedly discovered my serialization of Anthony Hope's classic The Prisoner of Zenda - and immediately afterwards I chanced to see a BBC news bulletin reporting on something or other in a semi-deserted London, followed by a story on the Polish election. And it occurred to me, not for the first time, that in this weird year of 2020 life in most Eastern European capitals looks more normal than life in most Western European capitals. It is one of the odder twists of fate that, having had the lousiest twentieth century one could imagine, the far side of the Iron Curtain seems to be navigating the currents of the twenty-first rather better than the west. And so, with Sir Anthony's Ruritania still floating around the back of my mind, I wondered if today a Ruritanian wouldn't find life in London at least as fantastical as Hope's Rudolf Rassendyll found life in Strelsau.
And so herewith a summer entertainment: a sequel to The Prisoner of Zenda set in England in the day after tomorrow - and not just a sequel, but an inversion. Anthony Hope's romance of 1894 spawned an entire industry of yarns set in barely credible kingdoms - so the contemporary UK should fit into that tradition just fine. You don't need to have read Zenda to get this caper, although, if you haven't heard my serialization, you're more than welcome to check it out. Still, I think most listeners are familiar with the basic conceit: an English gentleman visiting Ruritania is called upon to stand-in for his lookalike, the King, at his coronation. When I describe this latterday rendering as an inversion, I mean that in this instance a Ruritanian from the House of Elphberg is called upon to return the favor and stand in for an Englishman in London.
There are other inversions, too. The first chapter of Hope's book is titled "The Rassendylls - with a word on the Elphbergs". As you'll see above, all I've done for the first episode is flip that around - and made it literally a single word on the Rassendylls (a word which Garth van Sickle, a First Day Founding Member from Maryland, claimed in a comment earlier today that he only knows because of yours truly - so I'm happy to reprise it here). Likewise, Hope's first sentence in Zenda is as follows:
'I wonder when in the world you're going to do anything, Rudolf?' said my brother's wife.
We retain that opening question here, but transferred from breakfast with the Rassendylls to dinner with the Elphbergs.
As longtime listeners and readers know, I've always liked this exchange from Chapter One:
'The difference between you and Robert,' said my sister-in-law, who often (bless her!) speaks on a platform, and oftener still as if she were on one, 'is that he recognizes the duties of his position, and you see the opportunities of yours.'
'To a man of spirit, my dear Rose,' I answered, 'opportunities are duties.'
And that is very much the spirit of the enterprise - both then and now. As with Hope's tale, this inversion is about honor and duty in a very foreign land.
As before, we'll post an episode a day, and you can either enjoy it as a book at bedtime half-an-hour before you lower your lamp - or pile up the chapters and listen to the whole thing on a long car journey. The last time I did this it was for one of those literary parlor games where fifteen writers contribute a chapter apiece in relay. And, just as all those years ago, the ending is not yet written, so who knows how it'll all shake out - but it's a radio serial, so we'll try to get a few cliffhanger endings in as we go on.
To hear Episode One of The Prisoner of Windsor, Mark Steyn Club members should please click here and log-in.
The rest of our audio adventures in Tales for Our Time are by far more eminent authors: We now have three years' worth of my serializations of classic fiction starting with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's cracking tale of an early conflict between jihadists and westerners in The Tragedy of the Korosko. To access them all, please see our easy-to-navigate Netflix-style Tales for Our Time home page. We've introduced a similar tile format for my Sunday Poems and also for our audio and video music specials.
We launched The Mark Steyn Club three years ago, and I'm overwhelmed by all those members across the globe who've signed up to be a part of it - from Fargo to Fiji, Vancouver to Vanuatu, Cook County to the Cook Islands, West Virginia to the West Midlands. As I said at the time, membership isn't for everyone, but it is a way of ensuring that all our content remains available for everyone.
That said, we are offering our Club members a few extras, including these monthly audio adventures by Dickens, Conrad, Kafka, Gogol, H G Wells, Baroness Orczy, Jack London, Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Louis Stevenson. You can find them all here. We're very pleased by the response to our Tales - and we even do them live on our annual Mark Steyn Cruise, assuming such ventures are ever again permitted, and sometimes with special guests.
I'm truly thrilled that one of the most popular of our Steyn Club extras these last three years has been our nightly radio serials. If you've enjoyed them and you're looking for a present for a fellow fan of classic fiction, I hope you'll consider our special Club Gift Membership. Aside from Tales for Our Time, The Mark Steyn Club does come with other benefits:
~Exclusive Steyn Store member pricing on over 40 books, mugs, T-shirts, and other products;
~The chance to engage in live Clubland Q&A sessions with yours truly;
~Transcript and audio versions of The Mark Steyn Show, Mark's Mailbox, and our other video content;
~My video series of classic poetry;
~Booking for special members-only events, such as The Mark Steyn Christmas Show;
~Priority booking for the next Mark Steyn Cruise, assuming we're ever again allowed to hold such a thing;
~Advance booking for my live appearances around the world (assuming "live appearances" become a thing once more);
~Customized email alerts for new content in your areas of interest;
~and the opportunity to support our print, audio and video ventures as they wing their way around the planet.
To become a member of The Mark Steyn Club, please click here - and don't forget that special Gift Membership. As soon as you join, you'll get access not only to our current adventure but to all the other yarns gathered together at the Tales for Our Time home page.
One other benefit to membership is our Comment Club privileges. So feel free to let rip if you feel either the tale or my reading thereof doesn't cut the mustard. And do join us tomorrow for Part Two of The Prisoner of Windsor.