Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Heirloom Audio Productions: In the Reign of Terror (Homeschool Review Crew)

When we last left off our listening to Heirloom Audio Productions, "Henty" hinted at returning to "London on the 14th of July, which is a date that has significance in quite another story..." our guess was it would have something to do with the French Revolution.  We were excited to learn that we were right, and he was hinting at Heirloom Audio's newest offering,  In the Reign of Terror. This adaptation of Henty's retelling of the French Revolution is a 2-disc set plus a study guide that continues to impress. Henty's stories are not just entertainment, but also an engaging way for learning about history. Their commitment to quality production values has made them an excellent choice for "car schooling."  This installment is no different, and when we popped the CD into the car player, we were transported back to late 18th Century France and the chaos that marked the time.

You might think, "Oh...another audiobook."  Nope.  We do enjoy audiobooks - in fact, I often put one on at lunch time, or when my voice can't handle any more but we want to listen to a read-aloud.  However, an audio drama is an entirely different thing. A combination of creative storytelling, gifted voice actors, clever sound effects, and beautifully composed music kept everyone on the edge of their seats. (Well, as close to the edge of his seat as the seatbelts allow.)

It's no surprise that Brian Blessed again reprises his headlining role as G.A. Henty.  His long career as a West End, Shakespeare, film, and voice actor has garnered him numerous awards; in 2016, Mr. Blessed was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his contribution to arts and charity.   John Rhys-Davies, another renowned actor, appears again, this time voicing The Marquis de St Caux.  While each of the stories is a stand-alone volume, I enjoy hearing these gentlemen's voices in the new releases, providing continuity to the series.

As for the "audio drama" perspective, there is plenty of drama.  The actors bring their characters to life, and one really doesn't miss the lack of visual.  Their retelling brings to life the far-left radicalism that many in the Revolution espoused, including the execution of entire families.  For being a British writer, Henty's tale eagerly points out the difference between the American's fight for freedom and the French Revolution.  I admit that I've had a long-standing fascination with the French Revolution, thanks to a passionate high school history teacher, and the older boys' curiosity has been piqued by playing Assasin's Creed (Unity).  We enjoyed listening to this 2-disc set as we drove from New Jersey to Massachusetts - on our agenda was Lexington and Concord, the towns where the American War for Independence began.  I say "War for Independence" because the Revolution truly began long before, with the Boston Tea Party and other refusals to pay taxes levied without Parliamentary representation.  Herein lies a large difference between the American and French revolutions, and this is the base for Henty's story.

The story begins with Mr. George meeting a young man on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. I admit my skepticism concerning young Harry's long-deceased Revolutionary War-era ancestor buried at Arlington; after all, it didn't become a military cemetery until 1864, and the remains Unknown Soldier representing all the American slain from then is buried at Washington Square in Philadephia.  Thanks to the internet, I've discovered that there really are Revolution vets buried at Arlington!

Back to the story, Henty points out a significant difference between the Americans and the French: in America, violence against the Crown is the last resort, and men are judged by their politics and words, not their bloodlines.  While I'm not naive enough to think there weren't any atrocities committed (by either side),  I would agree that there has never been any reason to consider there ever had been a mass extermination of Tories, with parents and children being cut down because of their genealogy. Henty's story focuses on the right that a few men could accomplish, even in the face of all of this killing.  The author points out that ideals of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" are nothing if poor execution (rather literally) follows.

As we toured Lexington and Concord and viewed a fantastic National Parks-produced film, The Road to Revolution, I couldn't help but consider Henty's teachings.  Yes, shots were fired at Lexington Green, and the first battle was waged at the North Bridge in Concord, but they are arguably defensive fights and come after a several years' of relatively peaceful resistance.  The fighting comes to the colonists; they don't go looking for a battle. While In the Reign of Terror can't possibly present every political activity in two hours, it became clear that there is no rhyme or reason to the almost mob rule.  The French Revolution, while perhaps inspired by the success of the Americans, quickly devolved into a bloodbath, and the Jefferson administration found itself distancing America from her former political ally.

While the focus of the story is on France, it's an excellent tool for promoting critical thinking and discussion, especially with older students.  Luke, Matthew, and I, spurred on by a need to distract ourselves the slow pace of our travels (yes, I'm looking at you, traffic on the Tappan Zee Bridge), found ourselves having some interesting dicussions, especially since we are coming from different levels of study. As Matthew is currently studying the early administrations, he was comparing and discussing from an almost "in real time" perspective, while Luke had the ability to also think forward to later political effects and even similarities in thinking in today's culture.

When I downloaded the Study Guide that was made available to us, I hadn't actually considered using it -- we tend to enjoy just listening to and discussing the presentations.  However, I'm beginning to rethink my plans.  This is probably the best guide that Heirloom Audio has produced!  Not only is it a list of questions for discussion, but there are also plenty of added topics that turn this from just an audio drama with a few questions to see if kiddo was listening into a full study of the French Revolution.

Once again, Heirloom Audio Productions has created a new masterpiece.  They've brought a new historical event to life in a way that engages young children like Jude and Damien in an epic tale and yet nudges young adults to consider the ways that that history leaves an enduring mark on the future.

You can read our reviews of past Heirloom Audio titles:

The Cat of Bubastes
Beric The Briton

The Dragon and the Raven
With Lee in Virginia
In Freedom's Cause
Under Drake's Flag

Read other reviews of In the Reign of Terror from the Crew by clicking the banner below:

In the Reign of Terror {Heirloom Audio Productions Reviews}

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