Cohagan and The Lost Children

Found this one browsing the Library shelves with the daughter.

Was caught by the title and the ominous looking building.

And then there were the 387 pairs of gloves.

The Lost Children by Carolyn Cohagan

Aladdin (Simon&Schuster) 2010.

313 pages (hardback).

Josephine Russing owns 387 pairs of gloves. She’s given a new pair every week by her father, a sullen man known best for his insistence that the citizens in town wear gloves at all times.

A world away, the children of Gulm have been taken. No one knows where they might be, except the mysterious and terrifying leader of the land: The Master. He rules with an iron fist, using two grotesque creatures to enforce his terrible reign.

When a peculiar boy named Fargus shows up on Josephine’s property and then disappears soon afterward, she follows him without a second thought and finds herself magically transported to Gulm.

After Fargus introduces her to his tough-as-nails friend Ida, the three of them set off on an adventure that will test everything Josephine has ever thought about the rules of the universe, leading to a revelation about the truth of the land of Gulm, and of Josephine’s own life back home.~publisher’s comments.

I was fairly certain The Lost Children, the debut novel by Carolyn Cohagan, was going to have the charming ridiculousness that I enjoy in a Children’s book—well, actually any book. I was right. To my continual delight there are plenty of strange quirks to keep me transported.

The narrative is third person, and limited based on whichever character point-of-view the story requires. A change in chapter marks the change in point-of-view. It isn’t difficult.  Josephine is the protagonist, but the other characters lift from the page via their own turns at story-telling. Cohagan carries the movement of the novel off smoothly.

Cohagan writes a fairly dark and perilous tale and I am thinking of putting her villains up in the top ten of the Most Creepy and Chillingly Invented Villains in Juvenile Literature; a high honor to be sure. The Master has me in mind of the Ironic Gentleman from Alex and the Ironic Gentleman by Adrienne Kress. The Brothers, the aforementioned “grotesque creatures,” are marvelous creations!

It is not just the villains are wonderfully realized, but the others in the cast are engaging as well. Most interesting is how the protagonist Josephine comes out as the least concrete character of them all; not saying she is flat by any means, just that the others are so much more the draw. Josephine is so much in the “becoming” stage that she is hard to anticipate—not a bad thing, just notable. Indeed, much of the story is about Josephine coming into herself, drawn away from the negligence of her own reality.

Josephine falls through a “crack,” a moment that reads like a bit of a Lucy Pevensie, Dorothy, Alice concoction. From here, there is no realization that family and friendship is important, we already know this from before falling through the “crack,” but Josephine gets to participate in the actualization of this idea. If anything, she understands that she has to be more assertive, that she needs to fight for what she needs and wants. This other place equips her in a sense, at the very least it rescues her.

I won’t read much more into themes or meanings. The adventure is entertaining, creepy and daring, and holds a nice turn at the end. One of those you don’t think about until the author shows you and you say, “of course. How nicely done, the way you sneaked up on me.”

***

Cohagan has a definite voice of her own that fans of Kress and Roald Dahl will appreciate; yet the dark edges to her tale is more Cornelia Funke or Kate DiCamillo. The Lost Children favors the darkling humor not at all and the baldly unpleasant realities of Tales and real life more. A sense of whimsy still pervades. And a sense of the theatrical. I was not surprised to read that Cohagan grew up in Theatre, and continues to.  By theatrical, I am inferring that guarantee of brilliant chapter endings and characters with presence (very expressive) and well-timed entrances and exits.

The Lost children is an engaging story that is wonderfully imaginative, decisively original. The 313 pages are light and easy to turn. And the voice begs a read-aloud, even if the reader is alone in a room. There is a lot of sadness but hope as well; a sense of healing in the relationships we do have, even as we linger over the ones lost. There is great deal of humor and a sweetness to balance out the less glittery elements of the story. The proposed audience is 8-12 and the novel seems to keep that younger end in mind. The Lost Children is a welcome book for those anticipating the slightly more perilous adventures found in works by Adrienne Kress, Francis Hardinge, Cornelia Funke… If past 8, still include this one in the to-be-read pile. I’m am adding it to the daughter’s already and was glad to have enjoyed it myself.

**********

note: some would consider this in relation to their child (if not themselves): a character’s parents are shot and killed, another’s father drowns himself out of grief, The Master’s mother’s death is quite hideously imagined. A part of a tale, a fact but not dwelt upon. I suppose there is a moment of torture, just remembered that. There are terrifying figures, Cohagan sets a fine mood of fear and impending doom. I would still uphold the as-young-as-eight age, but I am aware that some would distrust me for not adding a few “warnings.”

For boys and girls alike. There are plenty of things to delightfully gross a body out : snot, refuse-filled moat, and pigeon droppings to name a few.

If you like Alex and the Ironic Gentleman you will like this… and if you haven’t read Alex than you are missing out; it has a bit of an Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll) feel that even those who don’t actually care for Alice might still enjoy.

skimming the surface

Note: This post will read more like notes than they usually do…though it should be spoiler-free (which is not usual).

***

The daughter and I are a huge fan of Cornelia Funke stories. Inkheart was the first thick book Natalya inhaled (wow, some years back now). Igraine the Brave is a long-held favorite. Hearing about Reckless, I was quick to request it, and was excited to get it so quickly. Oh, but we do love fairytales in our house, especially the daughter, and Funke is a great imaginer of tales.

As per usual (ever behind), I did not realize Reckless was one of a series right away.  And really, it doesn’t disappoint as some Book Ones that don’t say Book One on the cover; here, you just read and say, ‘ah yes, the author could continue with this one’—which is refreshing. It could stand alone (although I would have preferred it were longer). Nevertheless, Reckless is Book One of a Series of the same name.

7823592Reckless written and illustrated by Cornelia Funke

A story found and told by Cornelia Funke and Lionel Wigram

Translated by Oliver Latsch (as Funke is German even if she does presently live in L.A.)

Little, Brown and Company, 2010.

(hardback) 394 pages.

Inspired by the Brothers Grimm, Funke twists fairy lore into a dark incarnation. A prologue introduces Jacob Reckless, 12, heartsick over his father’s disappearance. The story then jumps ahead 12 years; Jacob, having figured out how to follow his father through a mirror, has made a name as a finder of magical items–seven-league boots, locks of ‘Rapunzel-hair’–in war-torn Mirrorworld, ruled by fairies and ‘Goyl,’ humans whose skin has turned to stone. Jacob’s brother, Will, however, is mauled by a Goyl, and his skin begins to turn to jade; the plot is a race for a cure. The rich re-imagining of familiar fairy tale details is the best part, as there is little character development. There are few child characters, and veiled sexual innuendo and violence make this edgier fare. The writing is beautiful on one page, clunky on another (‘But there always comes a time when a man wants to sense the same mortality that dwells in his flesh also in the skin he caresses’). Planned sequels will give Funke a chance to fill in the missing back-story that makes this a frustrating read. Ages 10 — up. (Sept.) Publishers Weekly

I wasn’t terribly far into Reckless when I met confusion. The book was in Children’s, not Teen. While the writing style is certainly Children’s, some of the content I would put with Teen, and yet there is not enough angst or panting. Jacob and Will are only children in the first chapter. The rest of the novel they are adult men with occasional flashbacks. Jacob is an Indiana Jones figure, a hunter of artifacts (though for profit) and a ladies’ man. The “veiled sexual innuendo” as Publishers Weekly puts it is not upon a singular occasion. The implied sex would probably be initially overlooked by the naive reader, and it isn’t gratuitous. However, some understanding of Sexual Desire and less the Romantic Love helps add depth and meaning to the Larks’ Water angst and the conflict-ridden relationship between the Dark Fairy and the Goyle King. Just the same, said understanding is not necessary–so concerned adults, please take that deep cleansing breath.  –and when I said “initially” the sentence before, I think the implications that this is not about chaste kissing becomes increasingly evident. However,  it is not sexy or pornographic or whatever parents tend to fear their children getting a hold of. I did mention the book is written in a style of and for Children (not even YA really).

Reckless is “edgier fare” for contemporary American readers, but reminiscent of the edge of children’s stories of old, especially with regards to the violence. While the child-eating witches are more abstract, The Tailor is a horror—fantastically scary. And the dismemberment and aggression to kill, the shooting and stabbing and kidnapping… You know, along the lines of Star Wars…though perhaps with a bit more actual blood. And really, Funke doesn’t go too far, in my estimation–and I am fairly sensitive on the point of violence. Natalya wasn’t allowed to see a Star Wars episode for a long time (was it just last year?). Violence in Tales/Lore seemed to translate differently–is it the matter-of-fact way of it being related?It incites fear, rather than excitement…is that an accurate statement?  Hmm, now I am having to think on this one. [input welcome]

***

Funke builds a great deal into the Mirrorworld while keeping a fast pace. The chapters are fairly short, as are the sentences. It feels rushed at moments, and not just because we are racing to save Will. The story skims so many surfaces (back-stories, present-depth). And the character development suffers in the hurry.  (Are we to understand Will as the opposite of the much more developed Jacob, therefore developing Will as a character?) Just the same, Funke puts so much into such a fast-paced read and keeps the Tale accessible to more than just the avid reader. I would like to test this on the non-reader who could be tantalized by strange worlds, but who would be put-off by 600+ pages of hard-wrought prose writing. The Inkheart Series is incredible, but it is also daunting, a massive (however worthy) endeavor.

I think the backstories, Jacob’s earlier adventures may come, but it was difficult enough to keep the brother’s relationship in the forefront of the Reader’s minds in Reckless: Reckless Series Book One. There are so many wonderful creatures, places, and integrated Tales/Lore…  There are so many authors who dabble in Lore, would revise, re-imagine… I say dabble because after reading Funke, others’ effort begins to show.  And that Funke can actually keep twists in her stories is a reason I look forward to her reads. The adventurous turn isn’t always anticipated—it’s lovely. Could Reckless have been a tighter weave, yes…though I don’t care to think about which scenes would have had to go. I really do think Length was a consideration in the rendering of this book. 400 pages, but with margins and not the tiny print. And there are illustrations at every chapter start (by Cornelia Funke). I think Funke could do a good, dark version of Reckless for adults; she wouldn’t have to have been so careful.

***

“Fox has her fur, your brother has a skin of stone, and now you have a pair of wings” (293). The Empresses daughter has her masklike visage, her “dollface.”  There is a lot of masking and hiding in Reckless. Even Clara begins to change, becomes less the brave, modern woman, and more the helpless and emotive girl of Hero Lore. Outward presence sinks inward, affecting the human inhabiting therein. Will doesn’t just wear stone, he becomes a Goyle. Fox/Celeste doesn’t just shift shape, but mien as well, “Why do you prefer being a fox? Does it make the world easier to understand?” “Foxes don’t try to understand it” (256). But Jacob…his Fearlessness is a mask that doesn’t quite follow, not as it should. But then, there is a chink in all their armor.

In Tales, characters, whether human or some other creature, are like masks. They facilitate some aspect familiar to the human world or condition. The Mask, the Simulation, in Reckless is an interesting conversation considering the setting, the medium.

***

The Mirrorworld is not just a romp through a melding of old Tales amongst an equally old landscape. The Mirrorworld has experienced an Industrial Revolution. There is a shifting of power in the Hierarchies. Magic is being superseded by a new form of wonder: Engineering.  And yet, as the Dark Fairy’s involvement suggest, Current Events are not yet carried forth without a supernatural element. There is still a heavy reliance on magic—otherwise, where would be the fun without all the magical gadgetry. Just the same, the Mirrorworld is still yet behind the Real world, and the threat of eradication of Old Ways looms.  Already Jacob is collecting Artifacts of some past tale to be placed in a Collection (a museum), if not use them as weapons.

We have read many stories where the Magical world affects the Real. But what of the Real world’s affect on the Magical Realm—the place where the Tales live. It is a lovely idea…and Funke is a more than capable writer of it.

***

Reckless: Book One sets up several avenues of adventure. The search for the lost father is an arch that will maintain its furthest reach, but the smaller arcs are promising. I look forward to Book Two, hoping for a more patient pace and more haunting characters;looking forward to more of her dark imagination, and her ability to see the conflicts and wonder about them.