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Author Topic: PC219: The Circle Harp  (Read 5533 times)
Talia
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« on: August 01, 2012, 07:38:31 AM »

PodCastle 219: The Circle Harp

by Donna Glee Williams.

Read by Rashida Smith

Originally published in Psychological Perspectives.


I climbed Harper’s Mountain in my fifty-seventh year.

I didn’t really believe that I was ready, but the old tunes had grown stale and my right knee pained me worse each year. The old music wasn’t enough anymore and the door to newness was closing. Wouldn’t it be better to try and be refused than to live out my life untested, still playing the same harp I had been given as a girl? Now or never, now or never, now or never—the words niggled at me like a song stuck in my head.

So when the long days of summer came and the weather promised fine, I gave in. I bagged up my harp and some food and I latched the door on my cabin before daybreak, with my walking stick to help me on the way and a water-skin hanging heavy on my shoulder. The early start would give me the whole long day’s sunlight for the trip and—more important—it would get me out of town without having to answer questions. My neighbors know my skills. They would think me silly to travel the long hard way to ask for a circle harp. I’m not a master. I’m just a village musician, good enough for weddings and birthdays. I never took the road to learn from great teachers in distant lands and I never played for high folk or saw my music work on subtle ears.

After I failed, I could always pass off the trip as a whim, a summer jaunt without meaning. But when I was just starting out…? I didn’t think I could bear their questions and opinions following me up the road.

Rated PG.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: August 22, 2012, 10:03:04 AM by Talia » Logged
Kaa
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« Reply #1 on: August 02, 2012, 12:04:35 PM »

Not a fan of this one. I saw what was going on when she noticed all the other dead harps. And I knew what all the other harpists had done. I thought maybe there was some sort of magic involved.

So I knew what she was going to do. Could see it coming. Which is why I hoped when she went back, she was going to leave the circle harp behind instead of Heart. I thought maybe the whole thing was a test, and all those others had failed it...but then she did, too.

So: I am disappoint.
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ebethbikes
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« Reply #2 on: August 02, 2012, 02:42:54 PM »

I've read several short stories by Donna Glee Williams and have always been surprised and delighted by her characters' wit and charm. However, I will read "The Circle Harp" rather than listen to this podcast. I found the reader's cadence to be annoyingly slow and strangely syncopated. The fake accent was unbearable.
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Lee
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« Reply #3 on: August 02, 2012, 03:12:49 PM »

I have to admit, I was easily drawn into the story due to the fact that I've actually played the harp, as well as the mystery of the abandoned harps along the way.  I'm not sure what impressed me the most about this story.  Was it the fact, that the traveler had chosen to set out on a journey that was not going to be easy or the fact that she ultimately, left what she knew behind?  Either way, I thought it spoke volumes about the choices we make and the risks we take.  I will admit, part of me wanted her to take heart home, but I think it was a much more difficult decision to leave heart behind.  After all, the circle harp wasn't something she was going to be able to play anytime soon.  Personally, I think she chose correctly, because heart was always going to be part of her life, maybe not physically, but certainly heart would remain in the traveler's heart.  The knowledge and memories gained from her past, helped to shape the person the traveler had become.  On the other hand, the circle harp represents a risk that could result in an amazing future. Perhaps she will never be able to fix the circle harp, but there certainly would be many new adventures each time she tried.
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dreamophelia
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« Reply #4 on: August 03, 2012, 12:13:09 AM »

I have to agree with ebethbikes, I might have enjoyed this story if I had read it, but the narration was bad enough that I stopped listening about halfway through... something about the rhythm reminded me of Forrest Gump, which is fine in small doses, but not so good for a whole story.
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #5 on: August 03, 2012, 01:08:44 PM »

Wow. The narration for this... I don't usually like to be so critical, and I apologize for any hurt feelings, but I almost stopped because of the ... well, it wasn't precisely monotone, but its regular up-and-down cadence was hypnotizing. And not in a good way. Maybe the editors wanted a "country" voice to go with the character, but it could use a bit of enlivening. Maybe Diane Severson and her singing.

As for the story itself, it was rather spare, which I have no problem with, but I don't think I really understand the narrator's decision at the end. Is she giving up harping to pay for her greed at taking two harps? Because it doesn't sound like she'd ever get Wheel in tune. I fully expected her to choose Heart to take with her, the whole "be true to your roots" thing. But of course that's not the outcome.
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Kaa
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« Reply #6 on: August 03, 2012, 01:15:09 PM »

I could be entirely wrong on this, but I think what the narrator was trying for was an older-sounding voice. Trying to sound like someone whose entire way of moving has slowed down some over the years. If you've heard the audio version of Mur Lafferty's "Marco and the Red Granny," something similar to what the narrator there used for the Red Granny.

It didn't work for me, either, and it took a while to be able to ignore it and listen to the story itself.
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flashedarling
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« Reply #7 on: August 03, 2012, 05:37:31 PM »

I really liked this one. Even though I could see exactly where the story was going I still found myself unsure of how it was going to end. I could see the benefits of both endings. After she described how needlessly complicated Wheel was and knocked it out of tune I thought that the story was really leaning heavily towards Heart being the right choice. So when she started describing the harp left behind deteriorating I had to rewind to actually catch the fact that she had left Heart and kept Wheel. Which confused me at first given the buildup of the decision.

The central question of the story was strong enough and delivered well enough that it made up for any shortcomings. Do you go with what is beautiful and new, or what is familiar and old? Do you take the chance to strive towards perfection even if you know that you'll never reach it? When you could instead settle the comfortable but mediocre? Are you willing to give up everything familiar to you in order to get something new, even with the knowledge it is going to be difficult and may never pan out? For all the loyalty you think you owe your old instrument, keeping Heart is the easy choice. Taking Wheel is the hard one.

Leaving the old for the new is a leap of faith. If it is a career, a relationship, or a home. It's not a perfect analogy for every transition but it worked well enough that I thought both sides had merit. Enough that couldn't be sure of the ending until it happened.

I think the question is: Would you take the circle harp?
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Frungi
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« Reply #8 on: August 03, 2012, 08:09:35 PM »

Like others, I had trouble listening to this. The reading just feels so slow. But I opened it up in Audacity and sped up the story by 25%, and I find it much more listenable now. I’d upload and link to my sped-up version if not for the no-derivatives license, but it’s pretty simple to do; and if anyone in charge says that it’s okay anyway, I will post it.

And now that I’ve been able to listen to it… The narrator shows a remarkable lack of foresight and planning. What did she think would happen if she got a new harp? I also don’t understand why you wouldn’t just take one home and leave the other secured somewhere, go back up the mountain empty-handed, and then take the other one home too. I mean, if harps are that important in this culture, it would surely be worth the extra time and effort.

As far as choosing between the two if the choice really had to be made, I don’t think she made the wrong choice. She made the journey knowing (supposedly) that, if she was lucky, she would get a new harp that she wouldn’t know how to play. If she were going to leave it behind after going to all this trouble to earn it, and go home with her old Heart, she could have just stayed home from the first.
« Last Edit: August 03, 2012, 09:55:13 PM by Frungi » Logged
Pirvonen
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« Reply #9 on: August 04, 2012, 02:02:50 AM »

After a first few minutes I had grown used to the narrator's voice, but boy, did those first minutes require a lot of concentration. There is a difference between speaking slowly and going to a great effort to speak slowly. It just didn't sound like natural slow speech, and was hard to process. Whether I, then, got used to it or the narrator found her natural rhythm of slower-but-not-dragged-out speech, was a relief. As for the intonation and cadence ... well, English is Foreign to me, so if there is any deviation from "received pronunciation" of BBC radio news, I try to shrug it off. The intonations there were no different to me from Southern, Geordie, Islands, or Aussie accents. A bit of local colour, that's all.

I was wondering why the harpist might not have walked five minutes with one harp, left it waiting, gone back for the other harp, walk ten minutes with that, left that one and bring the other one ahead... But then the slower rate of progress down the mountains would have forced a choice anyway, and in the desperate need to get home from the driving rain the clarity of the harpist's emotions would not have come through in all their poignancy and stuff. Perhaps better this way, but the old hiker in me wondered for a moment.
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Seekerpilgrim
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« Reply #10 on: August 04, 2012, 05:11:37 PM »

This story is a perfect showcase for starting what you've finished, because I too had an initial dislike for the narration. It just came across too...damn...slow...almost condescending, like trying to explain something to a very slow child or adult. After awhile, however, the atmosphere took over, and I pictured a very old woman telling this tale by a fireplace with a bunch of grandchildren arranged in a semicircle, and the narrator's cadence fit perfectly. The story itself was fine, and I must admit I could have seen it going several ways, but more importantly I found it a metaphor for several decisions in life; abandoning an old romance or friendship for a new, perhaps an old pet, or even leaving an old parent with Alzheimer's at a retirement home or on life support. One of the many magical characteristics of storytelling is that sometimes what's important isn't the story itself, but how it makes you think, feel, or reflect. This is one of those times.
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danooli
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« Reply #11 on: August 05, 2012, 08:05:35 AM »

This story is a perfect showcase for starting what you've finished, because I too had an initial dislike for the narration. It just came across too...damn...slow...almost condescending, like trying to explain something to a very slow child or adult. After awhile, however, the atmosphere took over, and I pictured a very old woman telling this tale by a fireplace with a bunch of grandchildren arranged in a semicircle, and the narrator's cadence fit perfectly. The story itself was fine, and I must admit I could have seen it going several ways, but more importantly I found it a metaphor for several decisions in life; abandoning an old romance or friendship for a new, perhaps an old pet, or even leaving an old parent with Alzheimer's at a retirement home or on life support. One of the many magical characteristics of storytelling is that sometimes what's important isn't the story itself, but how it makes you think, feel, or reflect. This is one of those times.

I am going to take the lazy way out and say I pretty much agree with this. I will add that I was at first a bit surprised she chose Wheel over Heart, but it's had some time to sink in now and I see that Wheel, being the truly hard choice, was probably the best for her.  I liked the story a lot.
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MCWagner
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« Reply #12 on: August 05, 2012, 05:01:56 PM »

Afraid I must add my vote to those who weren't very fond of this story.  I admit that I greatly enjoyed the twist at the end where she left her "heart" behind to take the new harp she couldn't play:  I think it implies a much stronger, more thoughtful thematic reading than implied by the fairly obvious symbology of the story.  When "Wheel" was knocked out of tune, I assumed it was a story cheat to force an easy decision to go with her trusty old "Heart"... a move that would have concluded the story with a toxic "just stay with what you're good at/hold onto those childish/childhood dreams/ hold onto the old ways in spite of the potential of new" message.  That the author went the other way surprised me, and had more to say about the nature of change, aging, and moving forward, leaving behind the things of childhood or adolescence (or at least of an earlier you) in spite of your love for them.  You cannot hold who you were forever and still become something new.

That said, I have to chime in on the criticism that the story's presentation was entirely too slow.  Were this the only story so presented, then I would be willing to give it a pass as an interesting interpretation, but it seems to be a habit that has thorougly infected nearly every Podcastle presentation for months and months.  I'm beginning to dread when podcastle comes up on the rotation in my ipod, as the tooth-grindingly slow presentations frequently drag fairly short stories out to 40 or more minutes.  It's unfair for me to attack this story for the sins of many others, but it's my first post on returning to the forums in quite a while.  This story could have been presented perfectly well in half the time.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #13 on: August 06, 2012, 09:42:37 AM »

Afraid I must add my vote to those who weren't very fond of this story.  I admit that I greatly enjoyed the twist at the end where she left her "heart" behind to take the new harp she couldn't play:  I think it implies a much stronger, more thoughtful thematic reading than implied by the fairly obvious symbology of the story.  When "Wheel" was knocked out of tune, I assumed it was a story cheat to force an easy decision to go with her trusty old "Heart"... a move that would have concluded the story with a toxic "just stay with what you're good at/hold onto those childish/childhood dreams/ hold onto the old ways in spite of the potential of new" message.  That the author went the other way surprised me, and had more to say about the nature of change, aging, and moving forward, leaving behind the things of childhood or adolescence (or at least of an earlier you) in spite of your love for them.  You cannot hold who you were forever and still become something new.

This is definitely one of those stories where reading other's commentary has made me appreciate it more. All the old phrases about having to let go of one breath before you take another can seem cliche, but this presentation of the same concept seems to have more layers than I had originally thought.
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ThomasTheAttoney
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« Reply #14 on: August 06, 2012, 02:15:56 PM »


... I have to chime in on the criticism that the story's presentation was entirely too slow. 

Were this the only story so presented, then I would be willing to give it a pass as an interesting interpretation, but it seems to be a habit that has thoroughly infected nearly every Podcastle presentation for months and months. 

I'm beginning to dread when podcastle comes up on the rotation in my ipod, as the tooth-grindingly slow presentations frequently drag fairly short stories out to 40 or more minutes. 

This story could have been presented perfectly well in half the time.

Thank you MCWagner for writing for me.
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Anarquistador
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« Reply #15 on: August 06, 2012, 02:33:06 PM »

When "Wheel" was knocked out of tune, I assumed it was a story cheat to force an easy decision to go with her trusty old "Heart"... a move that would have concluded the story with a toxic "just stay with what you're good at/hold onto those childish/childhood dreams/ hold onto the old ways in spite of the potential of new" message.  That the author went the other way surprised me, and had more to say about the nature of change, aging, and moving forward, leaving behind the things of childhood or adolescence (or at least of an earlier you) in spite of your love for them.  You cannot hold who you were forever and still become something new.

Although, the ending could also offer an equally toxic alternative message: "New things are better, even if they just sit on a shelf and collect dust because you'll never be able to use them." It's very possible that the narrator may never play the harp again, since the new harp is out of tune and she doesn't think she has the skill to ever get it back in proper tune. Not sure if this was a happy ending or not, really...
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Devoted135
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« Reply #16 on: August 06, 2012, 03:03:28 PM »

When "Wheel" was knocked out of tune, I assumed it was a story cheat to force an easy decision to go with her trusty old "Heart"... a move that would have concluded the story with a toxic "just stay with what you're good at/hold onto those childish/childhood dreams/ hold onto the old ways in spite of the potential of new" message.  That the author went the other way surprised me, and had more to say about the nature of change, aging, and moving forward, leaving behind the things of childhood or adolescence (or at least of an earlier you) in spite of your love for them.  You cannot hold who you were forever and still become something new.

Although, the ending could also offer an equally toxic alternative message: "New things are better, even if they just sit on a shelf and collect dust because you'll never be able to use them." It's very possible that the narrator may never play the harp again, since the new harp is out of tune and she doesn't think she has the skill to ever get it back in proper tune. Not sure if this was a happy ending or not, really...

Yeah, I was wondering about that. The narrator makes the observation that because the tuning of each string is dependent on all of the others, a person could go mad spending a life-time trying to put it back in tune. Since she's obviously still around to tell us this tale, I'm not sure if that means she managed to tune it enough so that it is at least playable, or if she just gave up and hasn't played the harp since.
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Frungi
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« Reply #17 on: August 06, 2012, 03:06:08 PM »

The narrator makes the observation that because the tuning of each string is dependent on all of the others, a person could go mad spending a life-time trying to put it back in tune. Since she's obviously still around to tell us this tale, I'm not sure if that means she managed to tune it enough so that it is at least playable, or if she just gave up and hasn't played the harp since.
Or she’s gone mad, and that explains the slow cadence. Cheesy
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lisavilisa
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« Reply #18 on: August 06, 2012, 10:56:14 PM »

So this is odd.

I liked the narration, and the pacing.

I say this as someone who absolutely cannot stand slow speech. Politicians in particular drive me bonkers because they pause every few lines for applause. If I want to know what the state of the union was I end up reading it.

For this story I was pulled in by the narrator. I found her description of walking up the hill rather hypnotic, so maybe that made me mellow enough to be ok with it.

*shrug*

Who knows?
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #19 on: August 07, 2012, 12:38:26 AM »

So, I'm going to start by admitting that, yes, the narrator's choice of cadence didn't thrill me, either.

That said.

For me, this story was incredibly touching. I saw it as an allegory for moving forward into the uncertain future and leaving the familiar and comfortable behind. I don't really worry about the details - did she ever learn to play the new harp? - because that's not the point. The point is the narrator's moment of choice, when she chose to leave her old life behind.

Did the story have a couple of logical holes? Sure. Did it kind of beat you over the head with its allegory? Yeah. But, it was still a beautiful story - beautifully written, well-paced - and I enjoyed it a lot.
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