Of all the tales told on these islands, few are as strange as that of William Palmer. Cursed, apparently, on the road to Canterbury in the spring of 1185 for denying the presence of the other world by the king of the grey folk – or Fairy – himself, and compelled to walk from that day to this between the worlds of magic and of men, and subsequently known in all the strange and wonderful lore attributed to the mysterious William Palmer, as Pilgrim.
The problem is that it isn’t on very often, Pilgrim isn’t. The Afternoon Play is one of Radio 4’s long-standing traditions, and one of the best things – although I don’t hear very many of them – that they’ve commissioned is the series Pilgrim, a dark fantasy tale written by Sebastian Baczkiewicz.
The world is mostly this one. The people live in villages and cities, and are sane and rational and cupid and giving and weird and wonderful, but alongside it is the other world from every fairytale in these lands. By fairytale I don’t mean of brothers Grimm and Snow White, though I love those too, I mean of fairies and barrows, of spirits of earth and water, and of promises that made thrice cannot be broken. Though this world walks William Palmer cursed, apparently, as above. Immortal and human, he cuts a very antiheroic protagonist, wanting nothing more than to be allowed to die, and forced to make impossible decisions as well as possible ones, not all of which he makes admirably. A strangely human inhuman protagonist, for all his power.
I love the style. The dialogue – and it’s a play, it’s all dialogue – ebbs and flows, bounces between characters and repeats refrains. The folk from the other world speak strangely, almost archaically but not quite, and with a cadence and style that means you can recognise their origin before they’ve explained it.
A series that couldn’t be made into a visual spectacle, for all I wish it could, and one of the great proofs of the pictures being so much better on radio.
There have been three short series’, roughly yearly, of which the second is available on AudioGo and the third recently finished on Radio 4, and the first series on 4 Extra. I hope the rest will be out on CD soon, but you see it mentioned or available, you should listen to it.
We like it, we do.