September 29, 2005


Thor’s Wedding Day. By Thialfi, the Goat Boy, as told to and translated by Bruce Coville. Illustrations by Matthew Cogswell. Harcourt. $15.

Chet’s Gecko’s Detective Handbook (and Cookbook). As decoded by Bruce Hale. Harcourt. $9.95.

     Norse mythology is dark, dark.  It is the gloomiest of all major mythologies, with its expectation of the eventual destruction of the gods themselves, and with the only afterlife worth noting being eternal feasting in Valhalla for those who die nobly in battle.  But there is one Norse mythological comedy that has come down to us, and it is this brief and rough-hewn story that Bruce Coville vastly expands and turns into scene after scene of hilarity in Thor’s Wedding Day.  The mythic tale says that Thor’s hammer was once stolen by a giant who demanded Freya, loveliest of all the goddesses, as his bride in exchange for the hammer’s return.  Thor himself dressed as Freya, journeyed to the giants’ realm, recovered his hammer and destroyed the giant who had stolen it – and many others.  This is the basis of Coville’s story, which is written in the voice of a human goatherd working for Thor in Asgard to atone for an earthly mistake.  Coville gives the goat boy, Thialfi, a pleasant and playful disposition; introduces various new characters and concepts (the goats talk, often sarcastically); and gives the gods themselves a great deal of personality: Freya is prone to temper tantrums, and when Thor gets angry – a frequent occurrence – a thunderstorm forms above his head.  The comic elements here are wonderfully highlighted at the expense of some of the darker ones – Loki, for example, is more than the mere mischief-maker into which Coville turns him.  Matthew Cogswell’s illustrations are not at Coville’s level: Thor is sometimes foreshortened, Loki is fey, Thialfi often looks more like a puppet than a person, and the giants seem more silly than threatening.  Nevertheless, Thor’s Wedding Day is a delight, a modern take on an old tale that is told with Coville’s trademark humor and bounce.

     Bruce Hale’s trademark is more of the bad-pun variety.  Chet Gecko’s Detective Handbook (and Cookbook) fits in nicely with Hale’s elementary-school mystery series featuring Chet and his faithful, punful mockingbird companion, Natalie Attired.  This is an unusually designed book – the cover opens the usual way, but the inside pages are spiral-bound at the top, so they flip upwards – in which offbeat detective tips are mixed with real, honest-to-goodness recipes.  Example of the former: “Once in a rare while, you actually want to get spotted.  (Of course, if you’re a leopard, you’re always spotted, but never mind that….).”  Example of the latter: “Mothcake Shortbread” is made with butter, brown sugar, flour and moth wings – or oatmeal, if you prefer.  The food recipes really work; the detective ideas will be fun for devotees of the Chet Gecko series (try “wandering around like a doodlebug hoping to get lucky,” one of Chet’s best methods); and the book as a whole makes a nicely offbeat addition to Hale’s tales.  Just don’t follow all the recommendations, such as “eat until bloated.”

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