There was a time when home technology did not allow viewers to watch their favorite shows via DVD’s, VHS cassettes, video streams, or even 8 or 16 mm film. Instead, one read “tie-in” novels which were extended adventures of favorite TV characters. Comedies such as “Happy Days,” sci-fi programs such as “Star Trek,” and comic supernatural series such as “Bewitched” all produced tie-in novels. Oasis Family Media has now taken some of these long out-of-print, tie-in works and produced a series called “Paperback Classics,” re-issuing these short novels as audio books.
These are highly effective and evocative audio performances…
The main series produced so far (and on which work is on-going) is a refined, highly cultured “Dark Shadows” set. These are highly effective and evocative audio performances of the tie-in novels, read by gifted voice artist Kathryn Leigh Scott, who expresses an impressive range of emotions, accents, and moods while performing, Significantly for listeners, she portrayed Maggie Evans, a key role in the original TV daytime serial. Each audio chapter is recorded with the original haunting theme music of the television program. Fans of “Dark Shadows” will recall the supernatural plots of the series and its focus on Barnabas Collins who was turned into a vampire by the witch Angelique. While sometimes forced to kill mortals, Barnabas is also urbane, sensitive, and fiercely devoted to his eccentric family. In an interview with this reviewer, the actress from the original “Dark Shadows” noted that between acting a part on a television drama and an audio book performance there is “a huge difference. You are living in the moment in acting a role, whereas in performing an audio book, you are telling a story and personally responsible for all characters in the readers’ imagination.”
The first five books do not feature vampire Barnabas. Instead they center around the governess, Victoria Winters, hired by the family matriarch, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, to tutor her troubled nephew, David, at the mysterious Collinwood mansion. The first novel, “Dark Shadows,” has plot twists regarding madness, love, and hate reminiscent of Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” and Daphne Du Maurier’s “Rebecca.” This initial book introduces Victoria and the troubled Ernest Collins, a classical violinist. Occasional discussions of Mahler’s symphonies, Prokofiev and Barber’s violin concertos, and Baroque composers enhance the dialogue significantly. Indeed, all this acts as a catalyst for romance between Victoria and Ernest. Yet is this young man the portrait of the complicated artist? Or is his malady rather the madness — or curse — of the Collins’ family?
The author of the “Dark Shadows” novel series is Marilyn Ross, actually the pen name of Canadian author William Edward Daniel Ross. Ross penned other popular Gothic novels (“Mistress of Ravenswood”) which Oasis Family Media has likewise turned into audio books. Written in 1966 just before Ross began working on the “Dark Shadows” tie-ins, “Mistress of Ravenwood” is set, à la “Dark Shadows,” in New England in the late 1800s. Here a romantic, young governess is living in a spooky, stately mansion when she is awakened in the middle of the night by a mysterious, ghost-like visitor in her room. This and other Gothic tropes would appear in the “Dark Shadows” book series. “Mistress” is performed with great zest by Romy Nordlinger, who also reads several other non-Dark Shadows Ross books released by Oasis Family Media. The voice artist, who recently appeared locally (she wrote and performed a one-woman show, “Places,” last year at the Kennedy Center), aptly described the work as having “a particular style, a flourish, a feeling of the time” and with a “slightly elevated style…The mood is delicious, a little bigger than life, and creepily fun!”
In a previous Maryland Theatre Guide article, we covered the “Dark Shadows” audio plays of Big Finish productions with cast and sound effects as well as a heavy focus on horror and the demonic. The Oasis productions go to the opposite end of the audio “Dark Shadows” perspective, focusing on the romantic, the Gothic heroine Victoria Winters (who appears in the early works of the series), and the intimacy of one-person narration. Scott reminds us that the “Dark Shadows” novels are “young adult fiction about people in love,” and thus the focus is much less on the paranormal. Nonetheless, these Paperback Classics do occasionally include the horror and vampiric aspect of the original series, especially with the eventual appearance of Barnabas Collins.
“The Demon of Barnabas Collins” presents a familiar storyline from the series. The reluctant vampire attempts to quell his vampiric needs medically through use of a special serum. As actors, crew members, and a director come to Collinwood to make a Hollywood movie, we witness Barnabas in love with stage and film actress, Rita Glenn. In another high culture moment we come to expect in the book series, Barnabas is presented here as a sort of a “Shakespearean scholar who seemed to have seen or known about all of the greatest performances of the bard in the last century [the 1800s].” Yet while in London, he politely declines Rita’s urgings “to make a daylight excursion to Stratford upon Avon. ” The vampire is avoiding daylight for reasons obvious to the listener. Two other excellent productions which each bear the influence of great literature are “Barnabas Collins and the Warlock,” a nicely handled homage to Henry James’ ghost story, “The Turn of the Screw,” and “Barnabas, Quentin, and the Crystal Coffin,” which owes a debt to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Premature Burial” (recently enacted by Baltimore’s “Poe Theatre on the Air” and covered by this reviewer).
“The Mystery of Barnabas Collins” is worthy of special listen. Victoria Winters has left the series (as she did the television serial), and Maggie Evans has replaced her as the heroine. It is delightful to hear the original actress reprise her original role from the television series. This novel also exemplifies “Dark Shadows” oft-used time travel element, for Maggie goes back from the 1960s to 1880.
An excellent companion to listening to these Gothic/Dark Shadows-themed audio books is Kathryn Leigh Scott’s own novel “Dark Passages.” Published by Pomegranate Press and available through Amazon.com, this work is her own fictionalized, autobiographical account of “Dark Shadows,” including a female vampire protagonist. Actress-turned-novelist Scott told us that this provided her with a way to contribute to the “Dark Shadows” universe while maintaining her creative independence by not using the original names of characters and actors, yet still with a “Dark Shadows” backdrop.
The various Paperback Classics performances of the “Dark Shadows” series and related Marilyn Ross works are highly recommended (especially entertaining for long trips by car) and can be ordered on CD or downloaded directly from Oasis Family Media here.