Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Goblins (Goblins #1) by Philip Reeve

This clever story pokes fun at common fantasy conventions and tropes while appealing to young readers with its scatological humor. If you liked Christopher Healy's satire on fairy tales in "The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom" then you'll enjoy this one. Meet goblin Skarper, a whippersnapper that teaches himself to read and makes the mistake of correcting the King Goblin, Knobbler, about the definition of a pirate. Even though Skarper's right, but no one likes a smartypants, especially a cranky king goblin. Skarper's catapulted off the "bratapult" winding up outside the castle ruins of his home and in the company of Hewyn, a cheesewright, who wants to be a hero instead of taking over his family's cheese business. Hewyn, who is a bit of a cheese brain, is on his way to saving a princess from a giant when Skarper saves his life from a troll. 

Hewyn accidentally blew up his dad's cheese factory and he thinks he can redeem himself by becoming a hero. His cheese disaster reminded me of Big Anthony in Strega Nona. On their way Skarper and Hewyn are intercepted by three sorcerers that capture them and make Skarper lead them back to his home at Blackspike Tower in Clovenstone so they can reclaim the evil Lych Lord's power. A comet is nearing their planet and magic is stirring. Lych Lord has been dead for "years without numbers," sealing up his tower. By the way, lych, means corpse. Between friendly giants, boglins (froggy-goblin hybrids), goblins, a middle-aged princess, dragons, a prophecy, amulets, and more, this action-packed fun ride will satisfy many fantasy lovers.

The play on names pokes fun at a gazillion fantasy conventions. Okay, maybe not a gazillion, but a lot. King Arthur had Excalibar. King Knobbler has Mr. Chop-U-Up. J.R.R. Tolkien had Bilboa Baggins of Bag End where he made Frodo Baggins his heir to the disappointment of the Sackville-Baggins. Here, there is King Lusuenn's daughter, Princess Eluned from Porthstrewy who is to be married to Colvennor of Choon. It's on the Northerly Gate of Colvenstone along the Nibbled Coast by Oeth Moor.  Sounds like Tolkien drunk on Dr. Seuss. Tolkien liked to use "Dor" such-and-such, like Dor-Lomin of Hithlum by the Mountains of Mithrim. Reeve has the plain of Dor Koth and the Battle of Dor Koth by the Bonehill Mountains. Are you laughing yet? Or maybe you are cross-eyed.

When Hewyn finally reaches his princess he is going to rescue, he discovers it's been forty years and she is grey, middle-aged, and very happy living with her friendly giant and on a ship that sits atop the high tower where the battlements of the Westerly Gate arise. Oof. This is one silly tale that I know my students will like. There's the bumwipe heap where the goblins use book papers to wipe their bums. There's the King Knobbler that secretly wears pink undies and is terrified his subjects will discover the fact making him the butt, I mean brunt of jokes. Last month my third graders changed the html code on Follett catalog to "Poop is awesome." Hoorah. They'll love all the poop references. The kindergarteners are into "Booboo butt" thanks to "The Book with No Pictures" by P.J. Novak. It will be a while before those mini goblins can read this chapter book but it will be a hit when they do.

There are several villains, invisible ink, treasure hunters, beserkers, cloud maidens, and creepy batlike men. Skarper, who chooses friendship over power and treasure, is the real hero. He wants treasure but resists the urge when he sees how the person with power lavishes gifts only to turn toward punishment when people disagree with him or her. Power can destroy a person as well as ruin friendships and isolate the person in power - as it does to one of the characters in this tale. 

The plot has a quest and follows the Hero's Journey or monomyth as Skarper sets forth to get into the castle and find the hidden treasure. Skarper encounters obstacles before facing an ultimate challenge that changes him in the end; that being his discovery of true friendship. From the opening sentence the reader is immediately clued in that this is a high fantasy novel with its funny, melodramatic tone,  "In the lands of the west, where men are few and some of the old magic lingers still, there stands the ancient fortress of Clovenstone." The ruins of a castle is described and it sounds quite serious until the second page where Skarper is screaming "Aaaaaah!" as he is catapulted off the tower. Get ready to scream folks. This one is a hoot. The end suggests a sequel as the two adventurers muse over how dull life is once the excitement is over. Get thee to a bookstore to purchase thy grand "Goblins" book.

4 Smileys

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