Welcome to the latest in our series of audio adventures, Tales for Our Time: it's Part Three of my contemporary inversion of The Prisoner of Zenda - The Prisoner of Windsor. In tonight's episode two kings play a match of what's usually known these days as "real tennis" (see right) - although its aficionados dislike that qualification. I have only had one brief go at it, very long ago, but I'm pretty sure I've got right all the technical details - caterpillars, piquet, chase the door, etc. If not, it's almost certainly the sort of arcana some or other Mark Steyn Club member is sure to be an expert in. One of the kings is partial to a bit of pre-serve declaiming:
All manner chance are Rackets, wherewithall
They bandie men like balls, from wall to wall...
There's a lot of bandying in tonight's installment.
You don't really need to have read The Prisoner of Zenda to follow this inversion, but my serialization of Anthony Hope's classic has proved one of our most popular Tales for Our Time - so, if you want to listen to that first, or side by side, you're more than welcome. Most people are aware of the basic conceit - an Englishman who fills in for a Ruritanian king at his coronation - and, as I say, in this summer entertainment all we've done is have the Ruritanian return the favor in a London afflicted by viruses and globalism and statue crises and Euro-machinations. In Hope's original the plot is set in motion when two courtiers stumble upon a slumbering Englishman:
Why, the devil's in it! Shave him, and he'd be the King!
In tonight's episode we hear an echo of that line well over a century on:
Why, the devil's in it! Shave him, and he'd be...
Simon Croft, a First Month Founding Member of the Steyn Club from the United Kingdom, writes:
I'm enjoying this - a promising start, fizzing with mordantly comic references (the 'Brit Happens' store, with its Coronation thongs and condoms; the 'Suicide Belt' cocktails). Can we hope to encounter a suitably villainous descendant of Rupert of Hentzau (eponym for Anthony Hope's own sequel to The Prisoner...)?
We shall see, Simon. Rupert of Hentzau is a great character, but Hope's sequel for my tastes always suffers from the fact that this time the narrator is not the English adventurer but a rather stiff Ruritanian courtier: It's much more fun seeing the fantastical kingdom through the eyes of a foreign observer.
Sir Anthony wrote a third book, The Heart of Princess Osra, an attempt to blend Ruritania with the light social comedy with which he'd first made his name (The Dolly Dialogues). It's nobody's idea of a masterpiece, but it does fill in a lot of details about his mythical land, and, as you'll hear tonight, I have lifted the names of several supporting characters from its pages.
If you have friends who might appreciate The Prisoner of Windsor, The Prisoner of Zenda or both, we have a special Steyn Club Gift Membership that lets them in on that and all the other fun in The Mark Steyn Club.
If you've only joined the Steyn Club in recent days and missed our earlier serials (Conan Doyle's The Tragedy of the Korosko, Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel, Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda, plus Kipling, Kafka, Dickens, Gogol, Louisa May Alcott, Jack London, H G Wells, Scott Fitzgerald and more), you can find them all on our easy-to-access Netflix-style Tales for Our Time home page. Indeed, it's so easy to access that we've introduced a similar format for the new audio editions of The Mark Steyn Show.
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