Matching Wits With a Goblin King: The Hollow Kingdom, by Clare Dunkle

In keeping with the main theme for this month, I am reviewing another lesser known fantasy novel that more people should read.  Really.  You should read it.

Last week, I focused on pure fantasy, a story in another world with its own magical system and culture.  This week, my chosen novel is much closer to home.

Fairytales hold a certain fascination for authors who want material for telling stories.  Telling old stories in a new way has been popular for a very long time, of course, but lately, it seems like there are more versions of Cinderella and Snow White than we could ever possibly need. Ever.

One storyline that has come up a few times in various stories and poems is the goblin and the princess, or some variation thereof.  George MacDonald’s book, of course, uses this motif.  The story comes in many forms, but the general idea is that goblins or something similarly wicked living under ground come out at night and try to steal away a child from its parents or a girl for a bride.  One of two endings is expected: either the child/girl is rescued by someone cleverer than the goblins or, in a darker turn of events, the goblins succeed and their quarry is never seen or heard from again.  While not speaking of goblins in this case, I always think of Yeats’s Stolen Child:

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

The dark, unsettling fear of something out in the darkness in the forests and under the hills that can simply creep out and steal the unsuspecting, whether by force and trickery, has haunted more than one culture and inspired more than one story. The Hollow Kingdom is exactly that sort of book, with goblins hunting in the darkness and a heroine trying desperately to outwit them, but this tale is delightfully unexpected in its outcome.

Kate and her sister Emily move in with their great-aunts on family land after the death of their father.  Their uncle, who is in charge of Kate’s inheritance until she comes of age, is an unpleasant individual and their aunts are very mild mannered, but Kate and Emily settle in as well as they can and try to make a life at Hallow Hill.  When strange things start happening and the goblins begin to appear when the sun goes down, Kate discovers that unless she is very, very clever, she will be claimed as a bride for the goblin king, Marak, and locked in his kingdom underground for the rest of her life.

The story that follows is filled with bizarre magic, and, with the trap closing inexorably around her, Kate fights blindly against an enemy she does not understand.  Her only hope is to convince her uncle that goblins are real, but her uncle has an agenda of his own.  And besides, what rational person believes in goblins?

Dunkle draws on old stories to create an ancient world under the wild hills of the 19th century British countryside, and she fills the woods and hollows with goblin magic.  Once Kate is in the goblin king’s sights, she becomes increasingly entangled in his world and out of step with her own.  The landscape above the goblin kingdom becomes only slightly less surreal than the world beneath.

Hollow hills, perhaps?

My favorite thing about this story is not necessarily that it is an unexpected take on the goblin-stealing-girl storyline.  I love the characters.  Kate is plucky and generally a sensible girl.  Her sister Emily is far too curious and fearless for her own good and finds the goblins more interesting than frightening.  Throughout the story, the strange, magical creatures Dunkle introduces as secondary characters are what make the story truly engaging.  Even the doors have character (read it to find out what I mean).

Retelling old tales is not a bad thing, if it’s done well.  Old motifs can be reworked in an endless number of ways.  What makes a book stand out is when it takes a good, old story and leads its readers on a very different road.

Don’t step out the door when the sun goes down…

The Inheritance of Hiram Percy Maxim: Uncovering a Conspiracy of Historic Proportions

Hiram Percy Maxim, the son of the famous inventor, and the man who stumbled upon a dark conspiracy.

I have no intention of explaining how the historical documents which I will soon offer to the public in the form of the narrative of “The Inheritance of Hiram Percy Maxim” fell into my hands.  Lantern Hollow Press will be publishing, for the very first time, the full and complete story of the inventions that led to so much death and destruction in the First World War.  I reveal a conspiracy so deep that it stretches back to the very foundations of modern humanity.

History is filled with hints of what is really happening, but rarely do those inklings rise to the level that even an intelligent reader can see through the fog and into the truth of what is happening.  For me, it all started with The Hobbit.  As we know, according to Tolkien himself, the stories of Middle Earth are in fact the true history of northern Europe and are based on documentary evidence handed down through the years from the actual participants themselves.  (They are recorded for us in such monumental works as The Red Book of Westmarch.)  I was reading “Over Hill and Under Hill” to my daughter, the part where the dwarves are captured by the goblins, when we arrived at the following quote:

  Now goblins are cruel, wicked, and bad hearted.  They make no beautiful things, but they make many clever ones. … Hammers, axes, swords, daggers, pickaxes, tongs, and also instruments of torture, they make very well, or get other people to make to their design….  It is not unlikely that they invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once, for wheels and engines and explosions always delighted them…but in those days and those wild parts they had not advanced (as it is called) so far.

This section had struck me before, but something really clicked this time.  Tolkien seems to be implying that the goblins and orcs never really faded away entirely.  In fact, they are apparently very much alive and with us, though we do not realize it.  Given how subtle and secretive they are today compared to their more boorish ancestors, their culture must have changed quite a bit in the intervening years–refined itself perhaps….  But surely this was all too fantastic to be true!

The Maxim Machine Gun

I decided to investigate Tolkien’s seemingly outlandish claims.  But where to start?  Tolkien’s own involvement in war came in the early twentieth century in World War I, and so that seemed to be the most logical place to start.  If I were looking for the fingerprints of clever goblins, there would be many technological candidates presented in the “war to end all wars” that would fit Tolkien’s description above–chemical warfare, non-line-of-sight artillery, repeating rifles, early tanks, the trenches themselves–but there was one invention that stood out above all others for its body count and mechanical precision:  The Maxim machine gun.

I’ll spare you the details of Hiram Maxim’s life and the story of his invention, since his biography and that of his son, Hiram Percy, are intimately involved with the details revealed in the record that Lantern Hollow will soon provide to you.  Suffice to say that I found corroborating evidence  for the original documents in the hidden corners of such reliable and proven sources as Wikipedia and Yahoo!Answers (not to mention various personal archives that had me traipsing across Europe last summer), I discovered  a trove of manuscripts that pointed to one unalterable conclusion:  Humanity is not alone on this earth; we never have been.  Worse, we are allowing ourselves to be manipulated by forces who have depended on anonymity for an entire age now.

The Maxim Gun at work….

It is high time that we pull back the curtain and shed some light into this den.  So, I invite you to read the All Hallows’ Eve Edition of The Gallery of Worlds, to judge the evidence for yourself.

Next Week:  A return to “Living Your Book” with a post on fighting and the martial arts!