Nightfall #34: “The Book of Hell”

Lynne DeragonWell, here it is. Another episode that I know many of you have been waiting for me to post on: Mavor Moore's "The Book of Hell".

On fans' lists of favorite episodes, this one often vies for the top spot with "Welcome to Homerville" and "The Repossession", and for good reason: it's Creep Factor builds pretty much from the beginning.

Two editors (Nonnie Griffin, Patrick Young) and the president (Budd Knapp) of a failing publishing house find themselves in over their heads when they receive a bizarre manuscript from a reclusive author…who's been dead for two years. The book appears to be a first-person account of a soul's experiences in Hell: an account which could make millions and revive the company. But there's only one problem: the book can't be printed. It can't be photocopied. It can't even be recorded.

As the widow of the now-deceased author A. J. Yanovsky, actress Lynne Deragon [photo left] (Falling Skies, Queer As Folk) manages to fully establish the mood for the rest of the episode. Her character calmly makes startling revelations in a soft, gentle voice with a Spanish accent: an effect which makes the listener all the more uneasy, especially with this particular little gem: "That book will never be published…because it is probably true."

In one scene, passages from the book are read aloud. Now I'm sure most people will have a certain expectation of what a first-person description of hell might be like, but mine certainly didn't come anywhere close to the one Moore lays out in this script. It is just chilling. And Bill Howell's choice in background music (some of which was used to the same effect in "The Willoughby Obsession") only adds to the feeling of despair.

An interesting note about this episode: Mavor Moore was not at all happy with the final production. Between an e-mail exchange we had in 2004 and my subsequent research trip to Toronto, it seems the entire script was rewritten. But it wasn't that anything was changed in terms of story. The changes were all cosmetic. The dialog seemed to have been revised to make it more "accessible" to the average listener. In Mavor Moore's archives at York University, there are copies of both the production script and his original (the production script has a snarky little caveat on the front cover: something to the effect of "Rewritten (poorly) by the hand of another." The original script might be described as more "high-brow", but I felt it was just was effective as the one that was produced.


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The Book of Hell

Air Date: 3/27/81
Writer(s): Mavor Moore
Production Location: CBC Toronto
Producer: Bill Howell
Featuring: Budd Knapp, Nonnie Griffin, Patrick Young, Lynne Deragon, Hugh Webster, Allen Doremus
Commercial Synopsis: A mysterious manuscript purporting to be a first-person account of what it's like in Hell has the editors of a publishing house in an uproar.

If you like what you hear, please contact the CBC Shop and encourage them to release the series!

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March 2012
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