Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My favorite books: “Expecting Someone Taller”

     Here's another of my favorite books that didn't seem to make much of a splash: “Expecting Someone Taller” by Tom Holt.
     It begins like this:
     “After a particularly unrewarding interview with his beloved, Malcolm was driving home along a dark, winding country lane when he ran over a badger. He got out to inspect the damage to his paintwork and (largely from curiosity) to the badger. It was, he decided, all he needed for there was a small but noticeable dent in his wing, and he had been hoping to sell the car.
     “Damn,” he said aloud.
     “So how do you think I feel?” said the badger.

     Yes, this is no ordinary badger, and your degree of familiarity with and affection for Norse mythology, particularly as adapted by Richard Wagner for “The Ring of the Nibelung,” will doubtless affect your enjoyment of the book; if you’re a fan of Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy” science fiction series, so much the better.
     Basically, the dying badger was really a disguised frost giant, who possessed the Ring of the Nibelung and the Tarnhelm, which make him rich (he has free access to limitless gold reserves), powerful (he can transform into anyone or anything he likes, or turn invisible, or teleport anywhere he wants) and the putative ruler of the world.
     Now that Malcolm has “bested him in combat,” Malcolm is all those things, but doesn’t really want any of it. However, he discovers he’s very good at it, and initiates a bit of a golden age because he’s the first “nice” guy to ever possess the ring.
     Unfortunately, the Norse gods, especially Wotan, the king of the gods, the remaining Nibelungs and the Rhinemaidens (who believe the Ring really belongs to them anyway) all want the Ring, and will stop at nothing to get it.
     What I enjoy about the book is that, to me at least, it is laugh-out-loud funny. Malcolm’s initial attempts to turn the Nibelung’s gold into spending cash, his conversations with birds (Malcolm gains this ability after the badger/frost giant insists he drink a small amount of his blood; don’t blame Holt, it’s in Wagner’s “Ring”), the attempts by Logi to intimidate Malcolm and by the Rhinemaidens to seduce him, and the mundane uses to which Malcolm puts his new wealth and powers are amusing, particularly since almost everyone and thing speaks with a sort of exaggerated British politeness.
     (The title is something the badger says to Malcolm. You see, he thought the “hero” who would slay him and win the ring would be more heroic, have more presence, be … “taller.”)
     The book is currently available through Barnes and Noble.com in “Tall Stories: Omnibus 5” (along with another Holt novel, “Ye Gods!”), and second-hand in hardcover and paperback. There doesn’t seem to be an e-book version available.
     Unfortunately, “Expecting Someone Taller” is about the only Holt book I really enjoyed. I liked “Goatsong” and its sequel “The Walled Garden” -- the life story of a dwarf Greek playwright and contemporary of Aristophanes -- and “Flying Dutch” -- a retelling of the “Flying Dutchman” legend, in which the captain and crew of the ship are not ghosts but immortals who stay at sea because the alchemist’s potion that made them immortal also makes them unbearably smelly most of the time — has its moments. The others I’ve read, including “Ye Gods!,” seemed more labored than funny. However I’m curious about some of his other titles, such as “Snow White and the Seven Samurai” …
     What are some of your favorite books? Tell me about them.


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