James Houston’s Treasury of Inuit Legends. By James Houston. Harcourt. $18.
Tales of Deltora. By Emily Rodda. Illustrations by Marc McBride. Scholastic. $14.99.
Rainbow Magic: The Weather Fairies. No. 2: Abigail the Breeze Fairy; No. 3: Pearl the Cloud Fairy; No. 4: Goldie the Sunshine Fairy; No. 5: Evie the Mist Fairy. By Daisy Meadows. Little Apple/Scholastic. $4.99 each.
Magic can be an integral part of life or a gateway to a life outside the mundane. For the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic, magic is everywhere in folklore and, by extension, everywhere in life – if perhaps just out of reach a great deal of the time. James Houston lived among the Inuit for 14 years, starting in 1948, and subsequently produced stories and art inspired by his time with people of great warmth in a land of great cold. James Houston’s Treasury of Inuit Legends collects four stories originally published between 1965 and 1971. All are sensitively told, set with clarity in a land where a single misstep can mean a frozen death, and quite unlike most legends that readers ages eight and up are likely to find elsewhere. The subject matter reflects the everyday life of the people who told Houston these stories. Tiktaliktak is about a young hunter who is carried out to sea on a drifting ice floe. The White Archer is about a youth who trains for years to become a great archer and take revenge on warriors who attacked his family – although the old man who teaches him points out, “A man does not just kill because he is a clever hunter. He succeeds in the hunt only if he is a good man, a wise man, who obeys the rules of life.” Akavak is about a dangerous journey to a distant land, in which a boy accompanies his grandfather (the importance of elders to the Inuit is clear throughout these tales). And Wolf Run is about a desperate hunt for food, in which a young boy succeeds by remembering his grandmother’s lesson – and treating wolves with great respect. This is an unusual and deeply satisfying book.
Tales of Deltora is much more conventional: the magic here is used to establish another world and to cause or stop battles within it. The world of Deltora shows its roots in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth quite clearly: an implacably evil magician, whose sole desire is power and domination, subdues the lands north of a mountain range (called the Shadowlands) and then seeks to conquer all the lands south of the mountains as well. He uses evil flying beasts that he has himself created, and shambling, subhuman warriors who live only to fight and will never retreat. The parallels with Tolkien are almost embarrassingly extensive, but Tales of Deltora proves a much better book for young readers than a brief overview of Emily Rodda’s plot indicates. For one thing, Marc McBride’s illustrations are far better than the words – the book is beautiful to look at and handsomely produced. For another thing, Rodda occasionally creates a chapter of real power, such as one in which the hero, Adin, gets mysterious help when he needs to cross a broad river. And for one more thing, the book’s underlying message is an attractive one: the whole story is about Adin’s dreamed knowledge of the importance of uniting the seven tribes south of the mountains, which cannot stand against the Shadowlands individually but have hope if they can overcome lifelong suspicion and work together. This is a powerful and uplifting message, if scarcely a new one. Rodda works well with it – although the book’s final chapter, which exists only to set up a sequel, is really overdone.
For young readers enamored of magic without darkness, the Rainbow Magic: The Weather Fairies series offers quick reads of very similar books whose plots are super-easy to follow. This series rates (+++) for first and second graders – older kids are unlikely to find it appealing. The series began with friends Rachel and Kirsty helping Crystal the Snow Fairy recover one of the seven feathers stolen by Jack Frost from a magical weathervane. The second through fifth books – there will be seven in all – keep the pattern going, as the girls search for Jack Frost’s non-scary goblin assistants (whose powers involve such things as smelly burps and using fog to spoil a race, and who are vulnerable to such attacks as tickling). There’s nothing serious at all in these mildly magical books, but there’s certainly some fun and a bit of nonthreatening adventure for girls who wish they could see (and help out) a fairy now and then.
November 22, 2006
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