Welcome to the second in our summer season of audio diversions. This is the twenty-ninth radio serial in our popular series Tales for Our Time, and it's a kind of a sort of a companion piece to its somewhat controversial predecessor, The Riddle of the Sands. Like Erskine Childers' tale, it's set on a boat - and its journey is so well known that, as with the Riddle route, there are fans who recreate its voyage each year. But this time we are not on the turbulent German Bight, merely the placid waters of the River Thames above London. And, instead of two men in the boat, as in Riddle of the Sands, we've splashed out on the budget and we now have three men in a boat, "to say nothing of the dog", as the subtitle has it. And, instead of geopolitical intrigue, we're playing it mostly for laughs, but with a substantial dash of history - including a recreation of the signing of Magna Carta - and an occasional diversion into penny-shocker melodrama. Which seems an agreeable mĂ©lange for the height of summer (and - who knows? - for our southern hemisphere listeners maybe for the depths of winter, too).
Three Men in a Boat was written by Jerome K Jerome in 1889 and first appeared in August of that year - one hundred and thirty summers ago. To the bewilderment of its publisher, it was a runaway bestseller, and has never stopped selling. And, almost from the day we launched Tales for Our Time, I've had requests from listeners to do my own reading. I've resisted because, ever since my BBC days, I've known various darling London luvvies for whom Three Men was something of a party piece. But it occurred to me that most of them are now deceased so the competition may be less fierce than it once was.
In my introduction to this tale, I tell a little of Jerome K Jerome's autobiography and the circumstances that led him to produce this book - which, though nominally a novel, is something of a category-defier. The author himself felt obliged in the preface to alert the reader as to what he should and shouldn't expect:
The chief beauty of this book lies not so much in its literary style, or in the extent and usefulness of the information it conveys, as in its simple truthfulness. Its pages form the record of events that really happened. All that has been done is to colour them; and, for this, no extra charge has been made. George and Harris and Montmorency are not poetic ideals, but things of flesh and bloodâ€”especially George, who weighs about twelve stone. Other works may excel this in depth of thought and knowledge of human nature: other books may rival it in originality and size; but, for hopeless and incurable veracity, nothing yet discovered can surpass it. This, more than all its other charms, will, it is felt, make the volume precious in the eye of the earnest reader; and will lend additional weight to the lesson that the story teaches.
For the benefit of North American listeners, twelve stone is 168 pounds. For Continental listeners, that's about 75 kilos. Not often you have the characters weigh in before the narrative starts, but I hope that's useful. To hear me read Part One of Three Men in a Boat, prefaced by my own introduction to Jerome K Jerome's tale, Mark Steyn Club members should please click here and log-in.
We now have over two years' worth of my audio adaptations 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.
We launched The Mark Steyn Club a little over two 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 our monthly audio adventures by Dickens, Conrad, Kafka, H G Wells, Baroness Orczy, Jack London, Scott Fitzgerald, John Buchan, Robert Louis Stevenson - plus a piece of non-classic fiction by yours truly. 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 Club Cruise with special guests. If you haven't yet signed up for our September Alaska cruise, well, you've left it a bit late because we've sold out. But we'll be doing another Tale for Our Time along with live editions of The Mark Steyn Show and much more on our third annual cruise.
I'm truly thrilled that one of the most popular of our Steyn Club extras these last two 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, SteynPosts, and our other video content;
~My video series of classic poetry;
~Priority booking for the above-mentioned Third Annual Mark Steyn Club Cruise from Rome to Gibraltar, Barcelona and Monte Carlo with Conrad Black and my other guests;
~Advance booking for my live appearances around the world;
~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 Three Men in a Boat 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, whether you like this twenty-ninth Tale, or think it holed below the waterline, then feel free to comment away below. And do join us tomorrow for Part Two of Three Men in a Boat.