Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Carmilla (Unabridged) - AudioReview

Article author: Alwyn Ash

"You will think me cruel, very selfish, but love is always selfish; the more ardent the more selfish. How jealous I am you cannot know. You must come with me, loving me, to death; or else hate me, and still come with me, and hating me through death and after. There is no such word as indifference in my apathetic nature."

I have always enjoyed a walk through tales of vampires, those ghastly apparitions that must feed on the blood of their prey to survive. My journey has mostly explored cinematic portrayals, though in recent times I have discovered the works of authors such as Charlaine Harris and Rachel Caine. Until recently my only taste of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's classic novella, "Carmilla", had been via a screen adaptation by masters of horror Hammer Films. Titled "The Vampire Lovers", the 1970 feature starred actress Ingrid Pitt in the lead role, with Madeline Smith as her lover and victim. However, I am yet to read the tale in print, first published in 1872. Ironically, even though "Carmilla" predates "Dracula" by twenty-five years, it is Irish author Bram Stoker's 1897 novel that is most fondly remembered.

And so it is a heavenly treat to discover Textbook Stuff's unabridged audio adaptation of "Carmilla", narrated by British actress and voice artist Miriam Margolyes ("Blackadder", "Harry Potter"). Clearly much love has been invested into this retelling of Le Fanu's story, with crisp sound design and music by composer Howard Carter (known also for his Big Finish work including titles such as "Treasure Island", "Doctor Who" and "Jago & Litefoot"), which allow the listener to be immersed in the world that is being related. This, and Margolyes' perfectly-delivered narration, achieves something quite remarkable - you can feel yourself in every scene, witnessing every moment, as if you are actually there sharing someone else's life. The richness makes for a captivating audiobook...

The multi-talented Barnaby Edwards produces and directs this stunning telling of a gothic love story focusing on eighteen-year-old Laura, whose life is changed by the arrival of Carmilla to her home in Styria, Austria. The newcomer is equally young and beautiful, and a friendship is formed. However, there is much mystery concerning Carmilla, and before long Laura falls under her spell. Of course, this all follows the mysterious death of another young lady, Bertha Rheinfeldt, whose uncle General Spielsdorf states in a letter to Laura's father, "I thank God my child died without a suspicion of the cause of her sufferings. She is gone without so much as conjecturing the nature of her illness, and the accursed passion of the agent of all this misery. I devote my remaining days to tracking and extinguishing a monster. I am told I may hope to accomplish my righteous and merciful purpose. At present there is scarcely a gleam of light to guide me".

A theme that Le Fanu's text delivers is that of lesbian vampirism, Carmilla's interest in Laura quite clearly more than just an act of friendship. Though the tale is careful in its exploration of this, understandable given Carmilla's publication date, the unsettling attraction and affection that Carmilla displays for her new friend is unmistakable. What emotions play a part in this bond, however? Can a vampire truly love? That is surely the appeal of vampirism, the erotic taste of beauty and yet... the desire for blood is stronger still, an uncontrollable urge to survive, to exist. And then there are the vivid nightmares of a cat-like beast that stalks Laura's room, biting her before taking Human form and vanishing. Following this the young woman's health deteriorates...

You can quite clearly see the comparisons between "Carmilla" and Dracula", for they both share similar patterns: the presence of Professor Abraham Van Helsing in the latter is likely inspired by Le Fanu's character creation of Baron Vordenburg, both vampire hunters. And, just as Bertha in "Carmilla" succumbs to vampirism before Laura, so does Lucy before Mina in "Dracula". Though Stoker's masterpiece had created a universe of its own and helped to establish vampires further within the conscious mind, it is interesting to consider the possibility that, without Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, there would have been no Count Dracula; "Carmilla" has almost certainly influenced other literature and media. Indeed, the same can be said of "Varney the Vampire", published in book form in 1847 - these early explorations of "vampyre" have set the foundations by which modern writers follow.

How the text from the original novella came to be transferred to audiobook is fascinating in itself. Barnaby Edwards' passion for resurrecting "Carmilla" began in May 2011, when he invited fellow horror fans and Textbook Stuff customers to support the project by pledging via wefund.com. An accompanying video featuring Barnaby and music by Carter explained what would be required to make the audiobook a reality. You will be astonished to learn, for example, that such an ambitious project costs approximately £10,000 to finance - one reason why independent companies such as Spokenworld Audio, Textbook Stuff and Big Finish should be applauded for their hard work and commitment.

Thankfully funding exceeded the £5,000 target (with Textbook Stuff meeting the remaining £5,000) and Laura's encounter with the terrifying and yet alluring Carmilla was recorded at Moat Studios, London, in July of that year. For this reviewer, rediscovering "Carmilla" in audio format is an eye-opener, and I passionately feel that a creature such as this is, in every way, just as enticing and seductive as her male counterpart. She is the perfect predator, a femme fatale whose empowering sexuality and charm is used to entrance and snare her prey. Vampires are the most fascinating of supernatural beings, their immortality and strength incomparable. Whether demon or tortured soul, these "creatures of the night" (and in some cases, "day" too) will continue to defy time, entertain and terrify, and find new ways of reaching out from beyond the grave.

You can purchase the audiobook of "Carmilla" for download at
Spokenworld Audio (MP3 sound files) - £14.99 ex. VAT