We took our story with us on our summer road trip. We are driving cross-country, and there are lots of miles to fill. This story runs about two and a half hours, so it was a great listen on a very long stretch of road between Ohio and Missouri. Beric the Briton transported us from the farmlands of Indiana to Britannia and Rome just before, during, and after the reign of Emperor Nero. A combination of creative storytelling, gifted voice actors, and beautifully composed music kept everyone on the edge of their seats (well, as close to the edge of his seat as the seatbelts would allow). I also have to give a loud shout out to the Foley artists. There were some well-timed and seemingly insignificant sounds -- the creak of a door, distant footsteps, etc. -- that would not necessarily be missed in the larger presentation, but add a layer of dimension that enhances the production and demonstrates Heirloom Audio's commitment to detail and quality.
One thing I enjoy about these stories is they are not just entertainment, but an engaging way for learning about history. In the past, we've heard about explorer Sir Francis Drake, Scottish heroes Wallace and Bruce, and Alfred the Great. Although we've learned about a young cavalryman in the American Confederate Army, you'll notice that the stories are rich in British History. This is undoubtedly because Henty was a British Victorian author, writing for British children. However, his stories still translate well to American children of today. Ideals such as courage, standing up in others' defense, and thinking before acting are timeless.
Unlike the other stories, "Henty" (portrayed once again by Brian Blessed; John Rhys-Davies also is a repeat participant) is not directly interacting with our old friends Ned and Gerald, but rather reading aloud a letter he is sending to them as he travels on a ship. In his message is the tale of Beric the Briton. Beric is the son of a chieftainess in Brittania, in a time when clans ruled themselves but Rome ruled the world. Beric, who has been in the keeping of a Roman centurion, attempts to help the clans overthrow the Romans, but he is taken as a prisoner and made to train as a gladiator in Rome itself. He wins his freedom by saving that centurion's daughter from certain death in the Colosseum, and finds himself Nero's head guard.
Christian underpinnings in Henty's tales are usually easy to see and deftly woven into the story. Here, I thought the Christianity was rather heavy handed. At first, the story often points out that the Celtic priests and rulers cannot be trusted because they are manipulating for their own gains what the "gods tell them," and Beric sees this incongruity. There was also a Roman official, who swore "on the altar of Diana" that he would allow Beric's band of men to be kept prisoner, rather than put to the sword. As Luke and I heard this, we were saying, "Wow, this sounds like Henty's showing that these virtues transcend 'just' Christianity, and show that regardless of religious belief, goodness is in all men." Even when the ship carrying Beric and his band of soldiers to Rome is shipwrecked, he goes back into the water to save his jailer's child, because it was the right thing to do. Cue Christianity. The man asks if Beric is a follower of Christus, because his actions put into life the words that he had heard a man named Paulus speak. Beric eventually learns more about this man named Christus, including the persecution by Nero of those who overtly followed Christian teachings. I thought this had the potential to be a great conversion story, showing how God works in our lives before we even realize it, but it soon became an "us vs. them" storyline. I admit that I have not had an opportunity to read Henty's original story (an e-version is part of the digital download), so I can't say if it was the productions' decision or if the original work propelled it. However, we found that it seemed to bog down the second half of the production, and Christianity became more a part of the plot than part of Beric.
In addition to the audio CDs, we received a digital download containing not only the novel but also a fifty-page study guide that included biographical information about the warring rulers Roman Emperor Nero and Queen Boadicea of Brittania and chapter questions that address both the facts from the story and critical thinking about the events.
Overall, we enjoyed listening to this presentation and are looking forward to the next release. For more information on Heirloom Audio Productions' offerings, follow them on social media or click the banner below for more Crew Reviews.
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