Friday, 6 April 2007

SHADOWPLAY

Good Friday is as good a day as any - and better than most - for the BBC to begin broadcasting a reading of Shadowlands, my book about love, life, faith and death.

Written in 1985, Shadowlands tells the story of Professor C S Lewis, Christian apologist and writer of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the other ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ and his late flowering love for Joy Davidman, a Jewish American convert to Christianity who, after a lengthy struggle, died from cancer.

The story - with ever-widening departures from fact - became a TV drama, a stage play and a film written by William Nicholson. The book, which has happily remained in print, gives a rather more accurate account of these two fascinating people and of their beautiful, but painfully fated, love affair.


The challenge of abridging the book for radio was considerable because the book explores the lives of first C S Lewis and then Joy Davidman before charting the their all too brief time together. For a serialised reading that was simply not a workable structure, so I adapted and restructured the material to focus on their relationship with a few interpolated backward glances to their earlier lives and the experiences that made them the people that they were.

I was thrilled when I heard that Ian Richardson had agreed to read the book and, as I noted on this blog, was devastated by the news of his death just a few weeks after having completed the recording.

However, with the kind permission of Ian’s widow, Shadowlands begins its eight-week broadcast on Radio 2 tonight at 9.15 pm.

Following transmission, episodes can be heard on-line at the BBC2 website (go to the right-hand column, LISTEN, then click on ‘More Shows’).

The website also has a competition to win copies of my book and an opportunity to listen to a moving two-part interview which Ian Richardson gave the series’ producer, Malcolm Prince, and myself when we recorded the reading.

The Sunday Times wrote of Ian’s performance that he reads the book “with grace and quiet authority”, which pretty much sums it up and I am extremely proud that the last piece of work of this very fine actor should have been a reading of my book…


Aslan stooped his golden head and licked Lucy’s forehead.

The warmth of his breath and a rich sort of smell that seemed to hang about his hair came over her.


“Oh you’re real, you’re real! Oh Aslan!” cried Lucy, and both girls flung themselves upon him and covered him with kisses.

“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan.

“It means”, said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who has committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, Death itself would start working backwards . . .”


[Images: Aslan's head from film posters for Walt Disney Productions and Walden Films The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Aslan in Narnia by Pauline Baynes]

9 comments:

Scrooge said...

As we said at the time of his death, Richardson was a brilliant reader - its a big shame his version of LW & W was so heavily abridged.
Regarding the constant changing of history in the Shadowlands saga, it is a shame (as it always is when one sees Dickens heavily edited or adapted) that the editors involved, invariably fail to grasp the very things that made the work popular initially. On its own, the book is a very powerful and immensely moving testimony, the more so because it is true. Whatever standpoint the reader approaches from, one cannot fail to be in awe of the inner strength of Lewis and Davidman and this comes out all the way through the book. A shame then, that merely forty years after the event, we are judged to be incapable of understanding such feelings and instead are offered a superficial, if poignant, adaptation on celluloid. One could almost feel that it got to film only because the setting and the opportunity of an American lead made it a potential box office draw overseas. If so, to turn it into some kind of Hugh Grant English exploitation movie is poor return indeed for the original writer who told a story ultimately too challenging to be risked on the viewing public without conversion to a stereotypical fairytale.

Good Dog said...

Missed the Radio 2 broadcast earlier so just listened to it on the website. Ian Richardson read it brilliantly. Too brilliantly at times because, on a couple of occasions, I got caught up in the sound of his voice and stopped paying attention to the words.

Good Dog said...

...so what I'm doing now is listening again. Although, for a moment, it was touch and go that I would find it again on the BBC Radio 2 website.

Again, the minute's worth of applause at the beginning of the podcast - the end of Friday Night is Music Night? - threw me.

And then the voice arrived through the speakers... magical!

Brian Sibley said...

Thanks SCROOGE and GOOD DOG for your nice comments on book and broadcast...

Mike Crowl said...

We have a video copy of the original tv version of Shadowlands (far superior to the movie version, in my opinion). Now that you've talked about it again, I must have another look at it.

Mike Crowl said...

Brian, I've only just cottoned on to the fact that you wrote Shadowlands. Well, well, that is a surprise!

Brian Sibley said...

Actually, Mike, I DIDN'T write SHADOWLANDS - at least not the version on TV or film that you know... I wrote the script for an earlier version for ITV that was never filmed and then sold to the BBC who sacked me and gave the project to William Nicholson...

The book is based on my original, unfilmed, script.

Shirley Jacobs said...

I was very interested to read your comments about the history of this story. I have not read the book, but my memory of seeing earlier versions is of feeling disappointed and rather let-down. Both stage and TV versions had excellent casts, but I was aware that just at the point when I should be feeling most deeply, I somehow withdrew from it, and I wondered what was wrong with me. Why I am responding so strongly to the radio adaptation is now seen to be not only Ian Richardson's superb reading, but a different writer. I think that in the earlier versions, the writing actually got in the way of the most moving moments and left me feeling dissatisfied. That certainly is not happening this time.

Brian Sibley said...

Shirley, Thank you so much... Your response to a story that I tried to tell (as far as possible) in the words of the central characters is greatly appreciated...