The Story’s the Thing: Runemarks
We all know and love the power of story, and there’s nothing better than finding new ones to lose yourself in. Check back on the blog every Wednesday for an eclectic smattering of the blogger’s favorite stories of all kinds. We hope you’ll discover new worlds, friends, and adventures–and maybe get re-acquainted with some old ones! Tell us what you think, and leave your own story suggestions in the comments.
“Seven o’clock on a Monday morning, five hundred years after the End of the World, and goblins had been at the cellar again.”
So begins the rousing tale of Maddy Smith–a wayward, headstrong girl, living in a tiny little village where both of those attributes are considered dangerous to say the least. Shunned and feared by the superstitious villagers because of a strange mark on her hand, Maddy grows up rebellious and surly, and longs more than anything to belong. Tired of being bullied and picked on, she invents her own friends (sound familiar?), pulling them from the old forbidden legends of a time when the old Gods walked the Nine Worlds, and magic was everywhere. But when those very Gods start turning up, things get a bit complicated and Maddy finds herself off on adventures even she couldn’t have imagined.
Runemarks, by Joanne Harris, has been around for a while; but for one reason or another, I’ve only recently discovered it. It’s Harris’ first book for Young Adults (she’s best known for books like Chocolat and Gentlemen and Players), but it is a truly magnificent start. Like all really great books, it is first and foremost a fantastic story–sporting characters right out of Norse Mythology, and a twisting plot that keeps you up all night reading–even after your tea has gone cold. But it’s also the story of finding your place in the world. Like so many of us, Maddy is a little different, and she’s living in a world where difference is feared and often hated. Maddy takes shelter in the world of her imagination, only to find out that that world is more powerful–and real–than most people think.
Now, truth is, I’m a little partial here. I love mythology of all kinds, but the Norse myths have always been a particular favorite. I developed a MASSIVE crush on Loki when I was about seven (yeah, that’s right, my first crush was on a half-Aesirian Frost Giant–go figure), and Tom Hiddleston hasn’t exactly helped. I get a little protective of the myths–and especially their characters. Harris does a magnificent job, however, not only bringing Loki, Odin, Thor, and many others to vibrant, glorious life on the page, but also having tremendous fun playing with all their petty arguments, feuds, factions, and strange alliances. Throughout it all, however, Maddy Smith remains staunchly herself, and adds some much-needed common sense to the antics of the Gods.
If you’re not familiar with the Norse Myths, don’t worry. Harris gives plenty of entertaining explanation as she goes, and hearing the stories told from different points of view keeps them surprising even for those who know the myths quite well. For those of you interested in an introduction, or refresher, in Norse myths, I recommend a quick dip into the delightful D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths–my personal favorite from childhood.
So, what happens when a world ruled by order and narrow-minded superstition is suddenly confronted by a headstrong girl with surprising powers, several hordes of goblins, and a whole passel of contentious ex-Gods? Well, as Loki says, “you may find things getting a just a tiny little bit more complicated…”
One thing for sure, the End of the World in only the beginning.