Robot Voice

22 May 2008

I’m sometimes teased, when reading to S. that I don’t pronounce the characters’ names correctly. Partly due to my incompetence this is also because I often join the reading of a book late, cos I have been away for a week or whatever, showing up at a point where the names have long since had an (arguably arbitrary) pronunciation attributed to them. This is esp true for fantasy/other-world parallel universe adventure stories of which S. reads quite a lot. How are you going to pronounce Ffarreijl? First one to tackle that question is bound to be right.

I’m also known at storytime for being the one that doesn’t really do the voices when reading – adopting a blankness (but lots of energy), as a counterpoint to the accents and attitudes other people bring to the job. They do it well! For once I’m not arguing with someone else’s performance style here. This is a bloke that won’t let his ‘experimental theatre monotony-voice’ go, not even for a kids bedtime. Someone should call social services.

This evening though I came across a note on the computer saying simply ‘Robot Voice’. A single phrase in an otherwise comprehensible list of ‘things to do’ or ‘things to write more about’ this was evidently something I’d meant to go back to… but I could not remember what.

Finally it came back to me that when S. and I were reading the other week I’d rather randomly started to do an accent for some character or another… and since that’s far from being my strong point the accent had become more and more like a Robot. Pretty soon S. and I (and D.) were all crying with laughter as every time this poor character spoke he became more and more a robot and every time S. would interrupt to remind me (remonstrating and laughing at the same time) that Mr. XXXX was not a robot. At this the character voice would revert to human. In the end I took the robot thing to the max and was arguing with S. that my interpretation was at least valid. My line was that whilst the book – I can’t even remember what it was, but not too exciting I think –  did not say that Mr XXXX, the protagonist’s uncle, was a robot it did not say either that he was not a robot. The text – I argued – remained ominously silent on the topic of Mr XXXX and his robot-status. If nothing else I’m sure S. will give his English teacher a run for his or her money when the time comes.

Now we are reading Russel Hoban’s The Mouse & His Child. We read it before and now we are reading it again. We don’t need to invent Robots in this one. It’s already got enough ideas and ontology questions for S. and I. We are just at the part where the Muskrat is teaching the mouse child and the mouse the Them Times Tables. He is talking about Much-in-Little Thinking. Beautiful, beautiful. Reading this once again makes me think of his books for younger kids too. We loved those so much – They Came From Argghhhh was one of them. So brilliant. So many sentences and ideas you want to read a second time to S., or where S. himsef would say “that’s brilliant, lets have that again”.