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Epic Stories from Uncommon Viewpoints

The epic is a particular kind of narrative, often presented in verse, featuring the adventures of and challenges faced by historical figures in legend or cultural history. Week 12 of this year’s SYNC season features a pair of epics thanks to Tantor Media and Candlewick on Brilliance. Both these free audiobooks also provide unusual points of view, which your discussion group may want to explore. They differ in the legends they honor and in the performance styles in which they come to SYNC participants, making them another great pair for discussion opportunities.

Paradise Lost Cover, author, and narrator images
From left: author John Milton, narrator Simon Vance

PARADISE LOST is a classic epic by 17th-century English poet John Milton, brought to our 21st-century ears by Simon Vance, whose “ability to interpret epic poetry by delivering the lines with rhythm and superb pacing” pulls listeners right into the adventures—and moral concerns—featured. This is a great example of how excellent narration can work magic on a text you might have considered reading with your eyes. The story here may be familiar but there are several surprises, starting with the fact that Satan is the sympathetic hero of the tale of Adam and Eve’s Biblical expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Between the excellence of Milton’s epic storytelling and Vance’s engaging narration, there is plenty to consider about how morality guides decision-making. This selection isn’t about pat right answers; it’s an invitation to think about why you consider what you do to be the right choice.

From left: author Allan Wolf, narrators Bahni Turpin, Whitney Dykhouse, and Teri Schnaubelt

Do you know the story of the Donner Party and the 19th-century disaster that ended their efforts to cross into California? Chances are, what you have heard about them has been based on accounts by white men who either survived the events or heard about them from rescue party members. THE SNOW FELL THREE GRAVES DEEP: Voices from the Donner Party, by Allan Wolf, adds welcome nuance and texture to this modern epic through the diverse accounts performed by a full cast of excellent narrators. Listen to these revelations in verses performed by Bahni Turpin, Whitney Dykhouse, Teri Schnaubelt, Tim Gerard Reynolds, Lauren Ezzo, Eric G. Dove, Ramón de Ocampo, and Shaun Taylor-Corbett. Sometimes they speak in chorus as well as each performing the roles of such also-members of the Donner Party epic as the original inhabitants of the land being crossed by the pioneer party, the oxen driven by them, and, taking the lead role, Hunger itself.

Snow Fell Three Graves Deep narrators
From left: Tim Gerard Reynolds, Lauren Ezzo, Eric G. Dove, Ramón de Ocampo, and Shaun Taylor-Corbett

This week’s pair of free audiobooks should be downloaded now. However, you might want to plan a month or two ahead, after everyone in your potential discussion group has had the opportunity to hear them both, to gather together (in person or online!) and take up an exchange of reflections on surprising points of view, the merits of single and full-cast performances, and how each group member would want to have their own epic told.

Allan Wolf photo by Charley Akers, Simon Vance photo by David Zaugh, Shaun Taylor Corbett photo by Ashley Garrett, Ramón de Ocampo photo by Elsie Rose Photography, all other photos courtesy of the narrators

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