Saturday, 19 December 2009
'An acrid cocktail...'
Radio 4's Book At Bedtime has taken another of its occasional breaks from the dreary prosing of the latest 'acclaimed' contemporary novelist - and this time it's lurched off in a gloriously unpredictable direction with a rather stylish prose adpatation of 10 of The Ingoldsby Legends. This is one of those books (or rather series of books) so popular in its time and so entirely unfashionable ever since that I never thought it would be revived in any form, let alone as a Book At Bedtime. I doubt more than a handful have read these stories for pleasure in recent times (though one of them, The Jackdaw of Rheims, was still widely anthologised in my schooldays). The Legends seemed to survive only as unsold volumes on the shelves of second-hand bookshops. The received opinion, inasmuch as there is one, dismisses them as 'an acrid cocktail of gallows humour, antiquarian ghoulishness and atrocious punning' (what's not to like?). And yet, to judge by the radio adaptation, they are richly entertaining fare - jolly tales, often of supernatural events, very similar in tone to some of the stories Dickens inserted into the Pickwick Papers (which, sadly, is probably among the least read of Dickens's works nowadays). Dickens, indeed, was a friend of Barham (the author) and his editor on Bentley's Miscellany. There's a colourful account of Barham and his corner of Kent here. And there are still five of the Legends coming up next week on Book At Bedtime.