Thursday, March 4, 2010

Local Author Provides Sassy and Legendary Read

Finn the Half-Great, by Theo Caldwell, Tundra Book, hardcover $24.99.

It’s listed as juvenile fiction, but take that in the same way that Tolkien’s tales of hobbits might also be. Theo Caldwell’s easy-going epic of giants, elves, cyclopes, dragons, sea creatures, humans and other monsters who once ruled Albion (the British Isles) has an appeal for all ages.

First, the title keeps cracking me up. Pythonesque. Next we’ll have tales of Peter the Passable and Hank the Has-His-Moments.

ALL GREAT: Theo Caldwell’s book Finn the Half-Great recounts the tale of a small giant and his adventures in the world of his larger kith and kin.

But Finn the Half-Great is called such for physical reasons: he’s a giant compared to most of us, but not a really big Jack-and-the-Beanstock giant. Only about half that big. So when he leaves his home on Eire to fight real giants and other legendary creatures — usually in what we now call Scotland and England — he has to use his wits. Oh yeah, and a magic thumb. Long story how he got this power, but sucking his thumb gives this small giant some big ideas and tall courage. He becomes quite the trickster in bringing down fearsome foes.

And at crucial moments when he is completely outmatched, his even more clever wife Oonagh comes up with successful stratagems.

Celtic mythology really does feature a large figure variably named Find McCuhuill, Fionn mac Cumail, or Finn McCool (to us English bowdlerizers) who fought demons, was saved by his wife’s wits, and built a stepping-stone causeway from Ireland to Scotland.

But this re-imagining of the fairy tales presents a story much more human (if I may use that word) than found in any old texts. Finn and his friends are quite delightful and occasionally touching in their simple beliefs and drives that get them through the rollicking adventures in Finn the Half-Great.

The reading is easy but not dumb, charming without being sweet. They’re stories into which we can read deeper meanings but don’t have to. Still it’s a dangerous title for an author’s first novel — tempts one to title a review only “half-good”.

But no such fears here. It’s all great fun.