'Redwall' Animal Stories Yield Mixed Results on Tape

Redwall, by Brian Jacques

Performed by author and a full cast

Listening Library, $64.98

Eight cassettes, 9 hrs., unabridged

Redwall, by Brian Jacques

Read by Ron Keith

Recorded Books

$17.50 (Rental)

Nine cassettes, 13.25 hrs., unabridged

Pearls of Lutra by Brian Jacques

Read by the author

Putnam Berkley Audio, $17.95

Two cassettes, 3 hrs., abridged

This year celebrates the 10th anniversary of the US publication of "Redwall," the heroic drama of the mice, followers of Martin the Warrior who are pitted against the villainous rats led by Cluny the Scourge. It was the first in a series that has captivated the imaginations of thousands of young readers and families.

The series continues the well-loved tradition of English animal kingdom stories, such as "Winnie-the-Pooh" and "Wind in the Willows."

Offering the stories as sound recordings is a special passion for author Jacques, even more than the prospects of movie, TV, animation and possibly opera projects that may be part of "Redwall's" future. Jacques emphasizes how important the "sound" of the stories is. "Sound recordings leave a great deal to the kids' imaginations," he says.

The full-cast production includes Jacques himself, his son, Martin, and nearly 20 actors creating the lively fantasy. Although recorded as a radio play, there's a slight awkwardness in the performance. This may be the result of so many actors participating in the unabridged reading of the original.

In Brian Jacques's single-voice recording of "Pearls of Lutra," the performance is more unified. There's no end to the character voices Jacques conjures up for the animals, from sweet Tansy, the hedgehog, to the vicious monitor lizards.

Ron Keith, in contrast, gives a restrained performance on "Redwall" without sound effects or music, and, indeed, without strong character voices. The soft burr of his Welsh origins makes his reading more of an unfolding narrative than a thunderous adventure. His narrative pace is slower than Jacques's high-octane tellings.

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