Welcome to the latest installment of our current Tale for Our Time - Jerome K Jerome's enduring comic classic of Three Men in a Boat. In well over two years of audio adventures, we have never presented a book that's played mainly for laughs ...but with the occasional detour into sober and somber history. Marc Swerdloff, a First Day Founding Member of The Mark Steyn Club, particularly appreciated last night's contrasting moods:
Tonight's installment is by far my favorite. It turned from the absurd to the sublime within minutes. Don Quixote to scripture without warning. I was left at the conclusion with a warm awesome tingle from a masterpiece of writing delivered masterfully.
In that case, Marc, you'll like tonight's episode, which includes the usual misadventures with run-down watches and water-logged shirts, but also what the author called a bit of "historical retrospect, specially inserted for the use of schools":
The sun had got more powerful by the time we had finished breakfast, and the wind had dropped, and it was as lovely a morning as one could desire. Little was in sight to remind us of the nineteenth century; and, as we looked out upon the river in the morning sunlight, we could almost fancy that the centuries between us and that ever-to-be-famous June morning of 1215 had been drawn aside, and that we, English yeomen's sons in homespun cloth, with dirk at belt, were waiting there to witness the writing of that stupendous page of history, the meaning whereof was to be translated to the common people some four hundred and odd years later by one Oliver Cromwell, who had deeply studied it.
It is a fine summer morningâ€”sunny, soft, and still. But through the air there runs a thrill of coming stir. King John has slept at Duncroft Hall, and all the day before the little town of Staines has echoed to the clang of armed men, and the clatter of great horses over its rough stones, and the shouts of captains, and the grim oaths and surly jests of bearded bowmen, billmen, pikemen, and strange-speaking foreign spearmen.
Gay-cloaked companies of knights and squires have ridden in, all travel-stained and dusty. And all the evening long the timid townsmen's doors have had to be quick opened to let in rough groups of soldiers, for whom there must be found both board and lodging, and the best of both, or woe betide the house and all within; for the sword is judge and jury, plaintiff and executioner, in these tempestuous times, and pays for what it takes by sparing those from whom it takes it, if it pleases it to do so.
You can enjoy Three Men in a Boat episode by episode, night by night, twenty minutes before you lower your lamp. Or, alternatively, do feel free to binge-listen: you can find all the earlier installments here.
For more on Magna Carta, see the book Chris Berg, John Roskam and I did to mark its eight hundredth anniversary - and, if you're a Steyn Club member, don't forget to enter the promotional code at checkout to enjoy special member pricing.
If you've yet to hear any of our first twenty-eight Tales for Our Time, you can do so by joining The Mark Steyn Club. Or, if you need an extra-special present for someone, why not give your loved one a Gift Membership and start him or her off with a couple of dozen cracking yarns? And do join us tomorrow for another episode of this Jerome K Jerome classic - just ahead of my return to "Tucker Carlson Tonight", live across America at 8pm Eastern/5pm Pacific.