"What do you mean? There is no north tower!"

"But when I was walking up the road, up from the bay, I could see the tops rising out of the fog - four distinct towers."

"I assure you. There is no fourth tower of Inverness."

Initially broadcast as a series of fifteen minute episodes in 1972, "The Fourth Tower of Inverness" was the first full-length radio production of ZBS Media and the series that introduced the world to Jack Flanders, the man who seems to hitchhike between dimensions for a living.

The concept behind the Fourth Tower (or behind any Jack Flanders adventure for that matter) is hard to pin down, but here goes: Jack is an adventurer in the old colonial style, just through the astral realms, also known as the invisible world. He starts his travels by accepting an invitation to visit his aunt, the heiress of a massive mansion known as Inverness (not the one in Scotland - its location is indeterminate but it's specifically mentioned that this is a different Inverness). Located on top of a mountain, the mansion is home to a crackpot assortment of eccentrics and social misfits. There's the mildly deranged alchemist trying to catch a dragon with divine flypaper (dragon flypaper, geddit?), a little girl with pigtails who smokes Havana cigars and has no pupils in her eyes and a vampire who lives in the walls and feeds off of the energy of the guests, to name a few. Oh, and Ram Dass lives in a wurlitzer jukebox in the east tower.

It turns out that the fabled fourth tower that Jack insists he saw on the walk up does exist, in a way - over Inverness' two hundred year existence only seven people have claimed to be able to see the tower and all of them vanished without a trace. Jack's Uncle was the seventh; Jack is the eighth. He ends up in the fourth tower in a realm completely disassociated from our reality, trying desperately to rescue his uncle without losing himself in the process.

If the guys behind this project took it at all seriously it would probably be painful to listen to, but they don't. The writer, a man by the name of (I shit you not) Meatball Fulton, made sure the show was loose enough to make fun of its predecessors without insulting them - there's plenty of lightning and hooting owls when the characters say something odd, and there's a fantastic, pseudomystical slant to the whole endeavor that grounds it firmly in the absurd. And the puns. My god, the puns. Even better, the editors decided to throw a wrecking ball into the fourth wall by leaving gaffes and out-takes in the broadcasts. It brings the audience closer somehow, as if being in on the joke makes the serial feel like a group of friends telling stories around a fire. It's endearing, really.

There's also something charming about the fifteen minute scene lengths - since it was designed to be broadcast there had to be a bit of repetition to keep people up to date on what the hell was going on and that format perfectly fits my fractured attention span - I can listen to hours of this stuff without becoming even remotely bored.

The entire series clocks in at seven hours or so and is available on CD or cassette from ZBS Media's website: http://www.zbs.org. There're sound clips housed there as well.

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