Leinigen Versus the Ants by Carl Stephenson

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Download the two parts of Leinigen Versus the Ants

Buy Appointment with Fear: The Pit and the Pendulum

Download NBC's Tales of Edgar Allan Poe

Fitzrovia Radio Hour, 2008
First published in Esquire magazine in 1938, Leinigen Versus the Ants is a science fiction tale set in Brazil where Leinigen, a plantation-owner, refuses to flee from a plague of ants advancing towards his territory, eating anything and everything unfortunate enough to block their way. The main internal conflict of the tale centres on Leinigen's evolving state of mind: at the beginning he arrogantly assumes that the ants lack intelligence, and the task of vanquishing them will be largely straightforward. As the story unfolds, so he comes to realize that the ants are formidable adversaries; hence he has to devise more sophisticated strategies to overcome them.
The Fitzrovia Radio Hour transposed the tale to an unspecified colony of the former British Empire: Leinigen became a steadfast type sustaining his sang-froid in the face of adversity - unlike the narrator who became more and more disturbed at the sight of the ants bearing down upon them. The style of presentation evoked radio productions of yesteryear: everyone Spoke In Capital Letters, emphasizing the harsh-sounding consonants, interspersed with rhetorical devices such as repeating occasional words ("horror," "terror"), the use of multiple adverbs ("terrfying yet fascinating"), or the introduction of pauses in mid-sentence ("he was ... a queer fish"). To contemporary listeners this kind of delivery might seem artificial; but it seemed appropriate for a classic science fiction tale dating from before the Second World War.
Recordings from that era are readily available: I recently listened to two Poe adaptations produced by the BBC and NBC. The BBC version of "The Pit and the Pendulum" dates from 1947, and comes from the Appointment with Fear series, which ran from 1943 to 1955. Introduced by "The Man in Black" (Valentine Dyall), it transforms Poe's tale into a melodrama, complete with eerie music and emphatic delivery from the actors. Marius Goring is particularly memorable as the central character. NBC's Tales of Edgar Allan Poe (1949) comes from the University of the Air series, and comprises a portmanteau of three separate tales (including "The Fall of the House of Usher") presented by Poe himself (Joseph Schildkraut). Schildkraut takes the role of Roderick Usher, whose blood-curdling scream of death at the end of the tale is truly scary.
It is a tribute to the vocal skill of the Fitzrovia Radio Hour that they have recreated this style of production six decades later, as a tribute to what might be called "The Golden Age" of radio drama. Do try to listen to them if you can - or better still, go to see them performing live on stage; you won't be disappointed.