Little People, by Tom Holt – This fantasy story, rather less epic than many of Holt’s works, is narrated by a boy who sees elves in his garden. After being sent away to boarding school by his stepfather, he falls in love with a rather bitter girl, and is kidnapped and taken to Elfland. He learns that every human has an elf counterpart in this alternate world. While they’re normally human-sized, elves who venture into our world are shrunken down with electricity and forced into making shoes for the protagonist’s stepfather. Also, while they’re cheerful and peaceful while in the elf world, they become surly in ours, even when not performing slave labor. There’s plenty of Holt’s typical comic style, with unusual metaphors and such. It’s kind of a dark story, though, both in that the protagonist is forced to work in a sweat shop by his own stepdad, and in that he loses much of his life due to travel between worlds. Even though he does manage to save the elves, the ending is kind of a downer. One thing that kind of struck me is that the hero’s girlfriend’s elf counterpart is named Melissa, which is a weird name in her world. But Melissa WAS the name of a nymph in Greek mythology, and is a nymph that different from an elf?
The Flight to Oz, Book 1: Arrival, by J.W. Krych – The author of this book has commented on my blog a few times as of late, so I thought I should read this. It involves a military spaceship from the future traveling to Oz, where the crew helps Ozma and Glinda fight off creatures that are basically evil thoughts taken physical form. It develops the relationship of Ozma and Dorothy, and has Betsy Bobbin and Trot hook up with some of the newcomers. While they seem like nice enough guys, it does fall into the general trend of an author’s original characters getting together with established denizens of Oz when there doesn’t appear to be that much chemistry. Krych does do a good job of developing the characters of Ozma, Dorothy, Betsy, Trot, and the Glass Cat based on what we know from the original books, which is sometimes a bit contradictory. Betsy’s shyness, pretty much just an informed attribute in Baum, is here much more relevant to the story.
Mr. Funny Pants, by Michael Showalter – This book, by the comedian from The State and Stella, is all over the place, but it works. I’ve seen Showalter perform live, and his routines are a lot like that, switching topics pretty frequently. Indeed, parts of it are pretty much verbatim from live performances. There’s a mixture of autobiographical material (often with a self-deprecating tone), absurd observations, parody, wordplay, and commentary on writing the book itself. I found myself identifying with parts of the book, like Michael and his girlfriend constantly calling each other to see a funny thing the cat was doing, or his dreams about being lost in IKEA.
The Gods of Olympus: A History, by Barbara Graziosi – There are a lot of books about ancient Greek mythology and religion out there. The hook for this one is that it describes how people’s views on the Olympians developed over time. We don’t know exactly when the worship of these gods began, but there are mentions of some of them from as far back as the second millennium BC. Much of what we know about them comes from Homer and Hesiod, who wrote around the seventh or eighth century BC. These early accounts describe the gods as both forces of nature and characters with recognizable human traits, the main Olympians comprising a somewhat dysfunctional family. These gods spread throughout western Asia with the conquests of Alexander the Great, and then to Rome where they were pretty much borrowed wholesale. With the rise of Christianity, the Greek gods fell into disfavor, but over time time they made a resurgence in art, poetry, and allegory. Graziosi details different thoughts on the gods throughout history, including how philosophers often tended to criticize the anthropomorphism of divine beings, and Euripides’ plays that had characters from mythology question its accuracy. Euhemerus and his claims that the gods were deified humans became popular, as did the Christian notion that these deities were actually demons. There were a few bits that seemed to go against what I can recall learning elsewhere, like how Graziosi regards the Homer of Iliad and Odyssey fame as the author of the Homeric Hymns, and how the Jews are reported as regarding Alexander as being predicted in the Book of Daniel when textual analysis suggests this book was written after his time. It’s not like we know either of these things for sure, though.