RogerBW's Blog

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward 14 December 2018

2018 audio drama, adapted in ten parts by Julian Simpson from the story by H. P. Lovecraft. On 6 March 2017, Charles Ward vanished from a secure psychiatric hospital in Providence. Two podcasters, looking for mysterious stories, dig into what happened.

This is, of course, based on the story from 1927 (first published in 1941); but not only has it been updated both to a modern setting and to a format of podcast narration and audio recordings from various sources, it's been expanded. The original story starts with Ward and goes as far as his ancestor Joseph Curwen, but that's about it. This iteration makes Curwen a coven and cult leader in the 1960s and 1970s; but more importantly, even though it's converting 50,000 words into about four hours of audio which one would expect to have very roughly the same spoken word count, it expands the cast as well as the scope of the esoteric events. There are connections in all directions, and as the investigators follow them it becomes increasingly apparent that this is a much bigger story than they're equipped to cope with.

That kind of environment tends to make any ending unsatisfying, and it's the weakest thing here too. Without going into details, while it's certainly more downbeat than Lovecraft's straightforward approach that all is dealt with and life can return to normal, it's unfortunately open-ended. Still, given what had gone before (which does work rather well), it's hard to see how this could have been corrected.

The key points of the story are here: the things in the pits, the incantation and the dust, Charles's last conversation. The essential saltes as such are missing, perhaps because that would have pulled the story too far in the direction of Herbert West. This is a related story, but not the same, as the original, and since we still have the original I don't regard this as a problem; indeed, it's good to get some surprises rather than a straight adaptation.

Production is very effective, in particular with the leads gradually sounding less confident and more fraught as matters progress. Everyone does a good job of having a distinctive voice; there's never significant doubt about who's who, even with a much larger cast than the original story. Audio effects are played with a light touch, though occasional bursts of music – reasonable as part of the podcast format at the start of the series – sound inappropriately cheerful towards the end.

If like me you're a fan of the original story but don't mind seeing what other minds can do with the core idea, I highly recommend this production. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is available via the BBC. (If you don't have get_iplayer, you can apparently download it via the BBC Sounds app.)

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