Hordes of the Things

Just as the penultimate series of Game of Thrones ends, I want to give a shout out to another, vaguely similar but very different fantasy series from long ago, Hordes of the Things. GoT wasn't a gleam in anyone's eye when this was created, in 1980, but The Lord of the Rings definitely was. Hordes of the Things was a direct parody, in four half hour episodes. It never made much of an impact, partly because a few months later BBC Radio embarked on an ambitious and very successful straight adaptation of Tolkien's saga.

As you can see, because here is its cover design, the BBC did release the series on cd, but this had to wait until 2009. Hypocritically, I'm going to recommend it. If you like parodies, humour which is sort of in the same ball park as Hitch-hiker, and scenery chewing of a high order, then this will entertain you.

My hypocrisy relates to the fact that I've just recorded it on cd myself. I'm in the middle of another bout of throwing things out, and one area I've been wanting to tackle for ages is cassette tapes. True, what I have doesn't take up a huge amount of space, but having to accommodate another format, of poor quality, just seems untidy. And recently, I finally figured out what I needed, to sort out what I wanted to keep, namely a certain type of connector and a copy of the Audacity software. No, I'm not re-recording everything on to cd or digital, but there are a few pieces of audio and music which I did want to keep, and Hordes of the Things was one of them. To be honest, it's a terrible recording, taken from the radio, and for some reason only on mono in one section. What makes this worse is that as a radio show there's a great use made of sound effects, distortion, echo etc., and furthermore I mainly listen to cds in the car, where there are all sorts of ambient problems. Frankly there are certain characters like the Sibyl(?) who I can tell is mystical but I can't hear a bloody word, not that it really matters plotwise, for the very little that our heroes understand of her prophecies. But my reason for not trying to buy the cd (I did actually look for it) isn't penny-pinching (I've probably paid more for the disks and printing) but a weird kind of nostalgia. These awful recordings are the way I originally listened to the show, and I don't mind leaving it that way.

I hope no one with any brains would ask what the point of radio drama is. No, it isn't to save on costumes, nor is it to provide employment for actors who aren't pretty enough for tv. It's a very literate medium, in that just like reading your mind creates all the visuals. Best of all, you can play around with sound and sometimes achieve things impossible elsewhere. This is highly pertinent to this show, because (just like The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy which to my mind is the shining example) there's so much humour you can wring out of expectations and other audio trickery. And with the nature of this fantasy, there are so many names and notions which your imagination boggles with. I still wonder what exactly were the 'Swirling Killer Loons of Dath'.

Not to mention the skills of the very best voice artists. Hordes of the Things features some excellent actors, including Simon Callow, Paul  Eddington, Miriam Margolyes, Frank Middlemass, Maggie Steed and Patrick Magee. I particularly relish Magee's part, that of the 'Chronicler', with his lugubrious and portentous expression. The writers were Andrew Marshall and John Lloyd, and you will find their names all across the British comedy of that era.

Were they on top form for this? In places, yes, but I can sort of see why the show failed to stick in the public consciousness, and not just for its timing vis-a-vis the big Tolkien adaptation. It's funny, but not laugh out loud all the way through. And you kind of had to appreciate the tropes of Tolkienish fantasy which wasn't quite as widely familiar at that time. Is it dated, in other words does it suffer from any early Thatcher references etc.? I would say not; if anything, there are themes which might resonate strongly these days, like the tendency of those in power to ignore the creeping takeover of power by outside forces, and the willingness of authorities to make more and more compromises of principle in the name of 'understanding' of the ways of other cultures. If I'm honest, a fair amount of the targets of the humour are rather predictable, but that doesn't mean you can't find it funny. There are plenty of 'bits', plenty of lines which raise a smile with me, even if there aren't any other fans I know of, to share them with. "The Flesh-Eating Lord of Kraarn is NOT a cannibal!!" Spoiler alert: he is :)


  1. As you say - I missed it completely despite an addiction to radio 4, though I heard most of the Lord of the Rings on the radio...will give it a listen...

  2. I hope you do manage to track it down. I suspect you'll realise it's not actually the 'best thing ever', but there's lots of good material here and there, and you'll at least enjoy that first listen. Btw, don't expect it to relate too much to 'The Lord of the Rings', it deviates quite a bit.


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