Adventures Are Good For You, By Robert Valentine
As the second episode of The Strange Case of Springheel’d Jack finally comes to an mp3 player near you, it seems like a good time to wonder what on earth you could possibly get out of listening to it. Does the world honestly need another old-school adventure serial with heroes, villains, monsters, mysteries, chase-scenes and cliffhangers? Surely we’ve been through every permutation of that tired old formula by now, right? So why the hell are those people at the Wireless Theatre Company making this stuff, and – more importantly – why the hell are we listening to it? Well, might I suggest two possible reasons for this: number 1) Because The Strange Case of Springheel’d Jack is fun. It’s very, very fun. And number 2) Because adventures are good for you.
I must interrupt myself right away and make clear that I’m not endorsing The Strange Case of Springheel’d Jack as one of your recommended five a day. It won’t stimulate hair-growth on that worrisome bald-spot and it doesn’t cure hemorrhoids. But we need adventure stories. We always have and we always will. You may consider them to be ‘serious’ drama’s good-natured but mentally-impaired siblings, or think that they don’t matter beyond their entertainment value because they don’t reflect pressing social issues or address the problems you’re facing at home or at work, but they do. And they do. The Epic of Gilgamesh and Homer’s Odyssey don’t walk the same side of the street as Ibsen and Chekhov despite their antiquity; they roll with Superman and Star Wars, thank you very much, and its why they’re still with us.
The second episode of ‘The Springheel Saga’ is called THE CRYPT OF EVIL and it sees our hero – the dogged Victorian police constable Jonah Smith – escape death and follow clues in his obsessive search for the ghost/monster/devil that crashed into his life and shaped his destiny. Along for the ride are his plucky sidekick, Toby, and a brave and rather well-armed young lady called Charlotte, and opposing him is a diabolical mastermind with his own plans for Springheel Jack. It’s great stuff, full of intrigue and danger, and has Julian Glover in fine villainous form. But what the hell does it have to do with anything?
Okay, now the science. Whilst it’s unlikely that your week is going to involve much in the way of gunfire, speeding horse-drawn coaches, lurking henchmen and spooky MacGuffins, it’s reasonable to assume that it might include one or more situations involving work-related stress, financial concerns, familial strife, health issues, romantic interludes, the contemplation of risk versus reward when the traffic light turns amber, etc. All the noise, clamour and hectic detail of real life. The business of living, let’s say. Naturally it’s good to forget about your problems, dilemmas and to-do lists from time to time and put your mind to something else, such as thirty minutes of exciting, funny and fast-paced audio drama, for example. And in choosing what to listen to, you might pick The Strange Case of Springheel’d Jack because you think adventure stories are ‘escapist’, that they have nothing at all to do with your life or how you choose to live it; that they’re comfortably unchallenging and inherently obscure. Fair enough, maybe, since unlike Jonah Smith you’re not facing daunting opposition, experiencing fear or fighting demons any time this week, are you? Or are you?
I’d suggest that when you listen to an escapist adventure story you’re not escaping at all; you’re rising to a vantage point that gives you a clearer perspective on the problems you think you’re not thinking about. The trials of the archetypal hero in an overblown and exaggerated action-melodrama are the same problems and conflicts rattling around inside your head every day but stripped of their specific, local and often mundane detail, making them easier to examine, explore and – if you’re lucky – resolve. True, you may find solace or gain insight about a specific issue from experiencing a drama or work of fiction that is specifically about that issue, but then again, you might not. The values at stake in a tale of high-adventure tend towards the universal, and within them are encoded the universal truths that can be applied to all human experience. Or, to put the case for adventure over specific-issue or ‘mature’ drama another way; if you want to get a better view of the world, fly to the moon and look back.
So, as the closing cliffhanger fast approaches, it’s the adventure story that I’ll always go to on a dark and stormy night. A wise man once said that stories are equipment for living, and a good adventure is – for me anyway – something I couldn’t live without.