05 October 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 68

Who says a book club can't branch out into radio once in a while? Let's think of these classic plays as the first audiobooks and dive right in! =)

If you haven't listened to The Thing on the Fourble Board yet, here's your last chance before the discussion!

This was an interesting first experience for me!

As I had expected, relying only on my ears was a real challenge. I'm so used to a visual medium that I even think like a screen director: when the main character was explaining how a drill works, I imagined how the same information could be given in a TV or movie adaptation. I also felt that most of the technical stuff was flying over my head and wondered whether the original audiences would have picked everything up much more easily, being used to radio, or would have already been familiar with the oil industry, through some quirk of the decade. (By the way, did you know that when you look for online images of a "fourble board," you get mostly stuff related to this show?) It wasn't until the first death of the plot that I really settled into the narrative.

But how to begin writing about the story??? I can't compare it to any others, because it's my first; and I don't want to do a mere play-by-play of my emotions as they developed along with the plot. So I'll just indulge the one point I've been dying to talk about for the past few days . . .

It was a love story after all . . . I did not see that coming . . . The idea the main character, such a reasonable, likeable Everyman sort, could fall in love with a creature whose body resembles that of a black widow spider, is actually more horrifying than a "traditional" ending which would have kept everything black-and-white. As a creature from another world, the "Thing" is a threat to be eliminated before it eliminates us. As someone's beloved wife, her status is at once more respectable and more insidious.

And oh, yes . . . The use of the second person--the conceit of the narrator and "I" being in the same room--is incredibly effective.

I love to say that Horror is the most moral genre there is, but I confess that the main takeaway I got from this episode is reassurance that if the Thing can attract a devoted husband, then there's still hope for me!

What are your thoughts on The Thing on the Fourble Board?

1) If you found out that the Thing lived in your neighbourhood and had eaten some people who had been reported missing, would you recommend that she be killed immediately, like other animals which have attacked humans . . . or treated humanely and introduced to alternative food sources?
2) Have you ever thought that it would explain everything if a neighbour of yours were revealed to be a monster? =P
3) What do you remember about your first radio play experience?

Our next discussion will be on "The Dark" from the radio show Lights Out. It's a lot shorter than this one, and is considered only a "partial" episode, but it also gets raves. You can listen to it on YouTube or on the Internet Archive (where it's Track 19).


Brandon said...

This is one of those episodes that is even better the second time around. The roughnecking details help make the contrast of the story, which starts out so normal, as if you were really just hearing a roughneck talk about this thing that happened once, with all the oil terms flying around. And the thing that happened once turns out to be very, very unnatural. The ending is so different that I'm half-tempted to think that it might have started as an allegorical idea about the human psyche; but the story is so richly detailed that, if so, it has long since sunk into the background. And it's always tricky with horror, too, since practically anything in it can be taken allegorically, even if it isn't intended to be.

On your first question, I confess that my first reaction is to hunt the Thing down. At the same time, the reason it's there at all is that we harmed unintentionally ourselves. And creepy as its appearance may be, in a weird way it's just trying to survive -- the really creepy thing here is our reasonable, good-natured roughneck.

My first radio play experience was a long time ago; I think it was an Adventures in Odyssey episode having to do with the Fourth of July or something like that, and I must have been twelve. That was on cassette tape. I also vaguely remember listening on the radio in Albuquerque or Santa Fe to some comedy about which I don't remember anything except a weird joke about the narrator's girlfriend, one of whose minor flaws was every so often accidentally sticking spaghetti up her nose; that might have been earlier, but I don't know. Weird what sticks in the mind.

I don't think I've come across the next episode before; looking forward to it!

Angie Tusa said...

I too had a lot of trouble with the technical details being described in the early part of the story. Even when I got to the end, I had a hard time believing they were truly necessary.

When the cries of the creature started, I found myself with a new type of annoyance. While I think they may have been going for something sounding pitiable, in fact it was just grating on me. It also sounded so very young, and his descriptions of her also made her sound like a young thing, that the idea that he decided to make her his wife was disturbing on an extra level for me.

That said, I appreciate it for the twist, and the fact that the hints are right there at the beginning of the story but seem so natural that you forget about them until they are brought up again.

So basically I like the story idea but not the execution of it. :)

1) I would say she and her husband need to be arrested straight away, and if she cannot be tamed, then a death sentence may be required.

2) I think it's highly more likely that my neighbors are aliens rather than monsters. They're not evil, but they're definitely strange! :)

3)I feel like at some point at school we listened to a radio play, but I'm not certain. The first I really do remember is listening to the recordings of the original Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio program, and I enjoyed that a lot.

love the girls said...

"1) If you found out that the Thing lived in your neighbourhood and had eaten some people . . ."

Killed and eaten?? If only he was that lucky. Because the luck in store for him is just a bit more horrifying than simple death and consumption.

The guy isn't being set up to be eaten, but is instead casually being introduced to his bed partner for evening because they're swapping wives. A far more horrifying prospect, and one very much in keeping with that culture.

Enbrethiliel said...


Brandon -- From the Thing's point of view, the roughneck is indeed very creepy! This is like the myth of Hades and Persephone in reverse! Not only has the poor thing been mutilated, but she can also never return home.

Angie -- I'm also not crazy about the Thing's voice. But I think they chose to make her sound so young precisely for the reason you find so disturbing!

Hmmmm. Now that you mention that other possibility, I think that a few of my neighbours might feel gratified if I turned out to be an alien! ;-)

LTG -- Just when I thought the story couldn't get more horrifying . . .

Brandon said...

To some extent it makes me wonder what the Thing's point of view is: torn from your home, mutilated, dependent on this alien creature for food and survival. You could imagine someone doing the story from the obverse side and being told to lots of little Things down below to keep them from messing around with these drills.

Enbrethiliel said...


I can definitely imagine a cautionary tale version of this story, but one in which the captured Thing is trapped in a cage forever. I imagine that the wife twist would be a surprise even on their end!

/dev/null said...

This is just too creepy for me. But did the invisible rock spider ever get her ring back?

I'll just point out that, from a physics point of view, it's actually quite consistent that an invisible thing would have difficulty seeing the things we see (at least, seeing them in the same way). I don't know, on the other hand, how something so heavy and strong could be invisible...

That's all. I don't think I'll drop in for the rest of them. Enjoy!

Enbrethiliel said...


Maybe part of the twist is that she gets a wedding ring in exchange?

Thanks for your examination of the physics of the story. =) I'll see if I can find one with a scientific angle that will tempt you back. ;-) But no pressure, of course!

r said...

I would want to help her get home. But I don't live in the Horror genre.

Enbrethiliel said...


You probably should live in the Horror genre, R, because your suggestion is the most humane response--albeit one that clearly didn't even occur to me.

mrsdarwin said...

The kids and I listened to this, and there was a good deal of suspense and hand-gripping. The image of the abandoned oil derrick was just eerie.

I am not even ready to contemplate a Thing in my neighborhood with all the kids running up and down the street, but I do wonder how realistic it would look. I suppose it doesn't go out much. Also, couldn't it have been sent back down the well? I guess not, since it had just been capped with cement.

Adventures in Odyssey! I listened to that show a few times as a youngster, on the radio. Later on, my siblings and I used to listen to Burns and Allen, and Suspense! (sponsored by Roma Wines) on tape. Suspense! was, as the name implies, a horror show and had a number of creepy and memorable episodes. Nowadays the kids I and have memorized twelve episodes of Sherlock Holmes, featuring Sir John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, that we bought in a box set for some long car trip.

Enbrethiliel said...


Your children made it through all the technical stuff? I'm impressed!

Now that two people have mentioned sending it back down the hole, it's worth wondering whether the cement cap could be removed, and the hole just resealed. We might have to ask someone who has worked on a derrick!

And it occurs to me now the Thing can't be the only one of its kind to be pulled up by a drill. Perhaps this story was inspired by an unusually high number of accidents in the drilling sector one year! Why chalk it up to human carelessness or a lack of safety features, when you can blame it on a vengeful Thing? ;-)

Thanks for recommending Suspense!. I came across it while doing research because it has its share of fans, but there doesn't seem to be a standout episode to feature. Unless you now have one to recommend, that is! =D

PS -- The next show on our schedule, The Dark, may be much too scary for young ones!

mrsdarwin said...

The House in Cypress Canyon, featuring Robert Taylor, is one that my siblings and I quote, and The Too Perfect Alibi with Danny Kaye is also good.

Here's the page with The House on Cypress Canyon and this is page with The Too Perfect Alibi.

Brandon said...

"Three Skeleton Key" with Vincent Price -- and a truly ungodly number of rats -- is a good Suspense! episode with a horror theme. (Actually, there are several versions, at least one for the sister series Escape and, I think, two for Suspense!. I don't know that I've heard them all but the Escape one is usually regarded as the best.) And I concur with MrsD on "The House in Cypress Canyon" -- it's been a long time since I've heard, but I seem to remember it being pretty intense.

Enbrethiliel said...


Mrs. Darwin -- Why am I constantly surprised to learn that another film actor occasionally did radio gigs? Am I a child of my times or what? =P

As you can see from the latest "book" club post, I've already taken your recommendation! Thanks again!

Brandon -- Would you say that an Escape episode should be featured as well?

Brandon said...

There are some good Escape episodes, but I would say that there's really not much overall difference between Escape and Suspense! -- they are similar formats and even share a lot of the same stories. If there's a good Escape horror story, chances are always good that Suspense! did a version of it; just as chances are pretty good that Suspense! adventure thrillers made it over to Escape.

Sheila said...


I am not into horror. Like, at all. But I listened to this while teasing wool (the advantage of audio-only!) and it was okay.

As Porky confronted the monster, all I could think was, "Oh, I hope he doesn't kill it! He should help it back down into the ground!" Bring it home and marry it is about the least credible thing he could do.

Speaking of credibility, why would a creature from inside the earth eat people? Seems she would have starved to death ages ago, unless she likes to drink petroleum. And if she does, she'd be a pretty cheap pet to keep back in the 50's or whenever this was. And if she doesn't eat people, honestly, there's nothing scary about her. She didn't mean to kill those two guys, just blundered into them blindly. I must say, though, the yowling noise would get old after 20 years. And of course our hero is creepy for being into her.

1. Seeing as her people have the artistry to make gold filigree, they're not animals and have to be treated as human.

2. Nah, my neighbors are pretty normal. One's kind of a jerk, but I don't suspect him of anything but being a no-good layabout.

3. When I was a kid we had a tape of War of the Worlds. My brother and I listened to it over and over. I could probably recite big chunks of it.

Enbrethiliel said...


I did wonder that a creature from the bowels of the earth would be a carnivore. The Thing doesn't try to eat the two men she kills, so we have to take the narrator's word for it when he says he has discovered what she likes to eat. This is a weakness in the plot, but if the story has you by the collar at that point, then there's a sense in which it doesn't matter.

Was anyone else reminded of the Eloi and the Morlocks in H.G. Wells's Time Machine? I wonder if it was one inspiration for The Thing on the Fourble Board. Perhaps the Things have their own cattle where they live, which means that humans make a decent substitute. Of course, this begs the question of why the Thing couldn't have learned to like, say, raw beef instead.

In other news, I can't believe that LTG hasn't shown up to argue that a female's having a monstrous body and a taste for human blood has nothing to do with her "babeness"! ;-)

Sheila said...

Heck, he thinks this whole thing is about wife-swapping.

Yes, it very much does remind me of The Time Machine. And also of the Lord of the Rings, with the Balrog. Delving too deep is a dangerous thing -- and it's meant, in both this radio show and LOTR, as a warning against humanity's greed in uncovering the deeps of the earth. All this would have been avoided if people didn't have such an immoderate appetite for petroleum. The Thing could have lived in her own world, without being enslaved (it does seem like slavery to me) by Porky; and all those people would still be alive. In that way I think it's significant that the rig is abandoned .... because it takes absolute disaster to tame man's greed, but fear WILL stop him when nothing else will.

NoelCT said...

Wow, what an incredibly eerie story. I don't mind the technical details. You aren't really meant to understand them so much as they're jargon to establish who these people are, where the story is set, and to bide the listener's time until things go down.

I was confused a bit by how completely nonsensical the Thing was in terms of being an invisible rock spider who can only see us when coated with something that allows us to see it (is this why the other men weren't eaten, because they weren't seen an were killed by accident?). But then we got to the end and I realized the completely fantastical creature was a red herring, as the real monster is our narrator, who took this creature in, forced it to conform to ideal of how a pretty wife should look, feeds it man after man after man, and does who knows what to it in the privacy of their bed chambers. In fact, I have the suspicion that "I found out what she eats" is more his own self justification for the killings he's responsible for, as nothing that eats meat must restrict itself to just one kind of animal source.

This was a great choice for an opening story, and shockingly twisted for the time in which it was made. I've heard quite a few radio dramas from the 40s and 50s, and while many anthology shorts have dour endings, this one was just nasty. But in a good way. :)

NoelCT said...

And yes, I did get a momentary Eloi/Time Machine vibe when he discovered the creature. :)

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila -- Now I want to watch some "killer alien" movies, to check whether outer space is the new Mines of Moria! I do know that the real cause of all the death and destruction in Aliens turns out to be human greed.

NoelCT -- It would be interesting to do a feminist reading of The Thing on the Fourble Board and to argue that the Thing is a monster only inasmuch as she is not properly seen or understood by the men who have wronged her. And the real monster, as everyone has noted, turns out to be her husband/captor. As an artefact from a more "conservative" time, this play would also shed some light on the sexual revolution which followed.

Thanks for listening along, Noel! =)

Bob Wallace said...

I had been meaning to recommend "The Thing on the Fourble Board" to you. Maybe I did already. I don't remember. It's considered to be one of the creepiest radio programs ever.


Bob Wallace said...

You also might want to try "My Son John" and "The Shadow of His Wings." I've been listening to these programs for years.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks for the recommendations, Bob! =) Is the second play you mean "Shadow of the Wings" from Quiet Please?

Bob Wallace said...

Yes, Shadow of the Wings. I know quite a few of these old programs, having listened to the since you had to buy them on cassette tape.