Presentation Matters, or The Ludicrous Dr. Fu-Manchu

Castalia House has a good post up about The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu.

I first heard the story as a book on tape (real cassette tapes) many, many years ago.  I think it was from the library and might have been something that my dad got out to listen to because he had a long commute back then but I don’t remember.  I just remember listening to it while building things with legos.

It was dreadful.

No, not the story.  The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu is a fun book and you should read it.  That audio version of it, however… The narrator used strange inflections and a weird cadence for some characters.  I wish it were possible to convey in writing how that man pronounced things because there’s no one who speaks like that.  No, actually, I take that back.  There is one person I’ve spoken to who comes close but he’s one of those mentally special people so no, no normal, non-brain-damaged person talks like that.

It made the story come across as absurd, a joke.  I liked it as a kid but even back then I recognized something wrong with how it was being told.  When I listened to it again on LibriVox the difference was amazing.  Half the characters were no longer brain damaged.  Dr. Petrie wasn’t an idiot.  I was sure Dr. Petrie was an idiot.  Even the part where he drops his revolver in the river didn’t seem so dumb.  (It’s still dumb, just not so much.  What did you do, doctor, leave it hanging halfway out your pocket?  Seriously.)

I’ve often wondered at writing advice that says things like “don’t ever use any adverbs to describe how the character said things; just use said” because there’s a lot of different ways to say something.  Not that it saved the story in this case. The narrator made a bunch of the characters sound like they were retarded.

I do kind of wish I could get a hold of that terrible audio book, just to hear a bit of it again.  It left lasting bit of damage on my psyche so that that close to two decades later I still occasionally burst out in imitations of it.  But were anyone to come unsuspecting on this thing, they’d get a first impression which would likely turn them off of this book and others like it.



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