Image Credit: Spotify Studios
Fiction podcasts are on the rise. They are a new and exciting medium for narrative that allows creators to create ideas and formats that are completely unique to an audio space. Some stories really shine most in the form of an audio drama, as the different capabilities and restrictions of the medium create some ingenious ideas. The Magnus Archives is one such podcast. With an extensive online fanbase and multiple awards to its name, it is one of the most popular British fiction podcasts and is a must-listen for anyone interested in audio drama and storytelling.
The Magnus Archives is a horror anthology fiction podcast that follows the staff of the archives of the (fictional) Magnus Institute, a research organisation that documents the supernatural and the paranormal. Each episode takes the form of a member of the public’s statement, recorded on tape by the head archivist (and writer of the show) Jonathan Sims, who tells the subject’s story of their encounter with the strange and supernatural. Each statement is then followed by the archivist’s comments on the further research the team have conducted, which serves to add chilling detail to the story. As the archivist records more and more tapes, we begin to get a sense of both the cast of characters in the Institute, and the unfolding mystery of what lies behind each statement.
Individually, the episodes are incredible short horror stories exploring fears ranging from spiders to scopophobia (the fear of being stared at). The atmosphere created is cinematic – it’s easy to forget you’re listening to a podcast rather than watching it. While there is a regular format to the statements, at no point does it become stale or predictable as each is uniquely interesting and (for the most part) disturbing. The stories maintain their imaginative originality through the sheer scope of topics that they cover. So, whatever it is that scares you, it has almost certainly been covered in the statements.
While it is certainly a podcast that you can enjoy as individual episodes to dip in and out of, the real enjoyment for me comes from the overarching metaplots that are built into the statements and out of the archivist’s following commentary. The more you listen, the more you start to recognise various people, places and objects that populate more than one statement, and these all begin to weave together to create an absorbing and incredibly satisfying mystery that is slowly uncovered as the episodes progress. What I find particularly refreshing about the mystery is that it has been constructed so meticulously that you can theorise and guess at what is going to happen. It does a great job at balancing not being completely unguessable and not being super obvious.
Beyond the mystery plot, the cast of characters is a real strong point. The audio format allows us to listen in on the conversations of the archival team, and the personalities that develop are organic, showcasing three dimensional people that you really grow to care about (bonus points for excellent LGBTQ+ representation throughout the podcast, and a diverse and representative cast of voice actors).
The Magnus Archives is an excellent gateway into the world of fiction podcasts, with thought-provoking and enthralling individual stories, exciting and complex mysteries, and a dynamic cast of recurring characters. It’s a podcast for fans of horror, for people who like conspiracy theories, and for anyone looking for an innovative form of storytelling.