Like other productions from Heirloom Audio Productions, In the Reign of Terror is an audio dramatization, not simply an audiobook. The original story by G.A. Henty is brought to life with voice actors playing each role, sound effects, and dramatic music.
In the Reign of Terror begins with a young boy asserting the similarity between the American Revolution and the French Revolution. An older gentleman corrects him and offers to tell a story about the French Revolution to illustrate the differences between the two. At this point, I probably should have looked at the study guide materials (available to download) and learned a bit more about the French Revolution. I was in the car, though, and eager to hear the older gentleman's story. In our story, a young British boy named Harry is sent to France to live with an aristocratic family who wanted a tutor or companion for their son. He then follows the family over the course of several years while the violence associated with the Reign of Terror spreads through France.
My first thoughts about this audio drama was that it was interesting to hear a different perspective on the events of the French Revolution. I'm not sure that I've ever truly studied this time period, and if I had, I was very fuzzy on the details. Brennan studied A Tale of Two Cities last year, and I remember it as a rich story primarily about peasants during this time period. I also mistakenly thought that Les Miserables took place during the French Revolution; again, it is a story primarily about the struggles of the peasant class. In contrast, the action in In the Reign of Terror centers around an aristocratic family. I grew to love the family and saw them struggle to remain safe during the Reign of Terror.
Since Addison has recently returned home after studying European History while living in Europe this summer, she was able to help me understand much of the history that I had forgotten (or never learned). The French Revolution was actually a rather brief event, but was followed by years of unrest, including the Reign of Terror, the rule of Napoleon, and finally the establishment of the current style of government. (She also explained that Les Miserables took places years after the French Revolution and was based on a rather unimportant historical event that likely would have been forgotten if Victor Hugo hadn't written a novel about it and if that novel hadn't later been turned into an acclaimed musical.)
Addison also echoed the thoughts of G.A. Henty's work in that there are vast differences between the French Revolution and the American Revolution. The Americans sought freedom from oppression, and it can be argued that the French peasants sought much more than the liberty, equality, and fraternity that they proclaimed. I found a particular line in the audio drama summed it up quite well: "The marquis himself has said that the English way fosters independence and self-respect across all classes, while ours breeds resentment. His complaint is not about change, but about too much of it too quickly. It is not égalité, equality, the canaille -- that is, the common people, desire, but a reversal of roles."
Addison and I also discussed the differences in how the Americans viewed God at that time versus the way the French Revolutionaries did. I could base my part of the discussion on the information I learned while listening to In the Reign of Terror, and she based hers on what she studied this summer. Heirloom Audio Productions prides itself on producing quality, wholesome entertainment that shares the stories of "Christian Heroes for Kids of All Ages." This drama is no exception to the rule. Several of the main characters share verses that they rely on for strength in the face of challenges or danger, and the narrator clearly points out the way many Americans in the Revolutionary Days were looking towards God while French Revolutionaries such as Maximillien Robespierre relied heavily on the Enlightenment philosophies which discounted the role of God in everyday life and fought against the opulence of many European churches prior to that time.
In addition to receiving the audio CD, Heirloom Audio also granted me access to their new Live the Adventure Club online community and resources. From there, I was able to download the study guide materials that correspond to the In the Reign of Terror drama. After listening to the audio drama myself, I decided that Lauren would struggle to keep the names and action straight, especially if I simply played it in the car while driving to an appointment. When I am ready to use this (or other Heirloom Audio Productions) with Lauren, I will rely heavily on the study guide materials. My favorite part is the lengthy lists of questions for each chapter of the book. Approximately half of the questions are "listening well" questions -- factual questions designed to make sure the listener understands and remembers the characters and action in the chapter. The other half are "Thinking Further" questions that require the student to remember other historical events, to apply a situation in the story to their own life, to make predictions about the story they are hearing, and more. These questions would be great discussion starters.
While I was looking on the Live the Adventure Club website, I found online multiple choice quizzes covering each chapter of the story. There is also a selection of downloadable scripts, the story in its original novel form (as an ebook), movie posters, and other fun bonuses that correspond with this story.
I truly enjoyed listening to the In the Reign of Terror audio dramatization. Once again, Heirloom Audio Productions has bought an amazing story from G.A. Henty to life so children (and adults) can enjoy it today. Perhaps even more enjoyable than the time I spent listening to the story was the time I spent discussing European history with Addison. I was able to hold my own in the conversation as she discussed the timeline of the French Revolution, the way it differed from the American Revolution, and the way both of those events affected other countries throughout Europe. I'm certain I learned more about European History through my time spent listening to and discussing In the Reign of Terror than I would have if I had listened to a professor lecture about the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror.