Olaf the Viking by Martin Conway
|Olaf the Viking by Martin Conway|
|Genre: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: To those wishing to inspire a look at the Norse world, with a dollop of silly levity and zany diversions from what we know and like about it, this book is recommended by the Bookbag.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 256||Date: July 2008|
|Publisher: Oxford University Press|
Olaf has a habit of losing things. He's lost his mother, his father is missing abroad after sailing away six years ago, and he's letting supper, in the shape of a pig, run away from himself. Also finding things missing, elsewhere, is Thor no less, who seems to have mislaid his magical war-hammer. This wouldn't have anything to do with a certain Loki, would it? - a Loki who is actually living as a slave in Olaf's village.
With an unlikely contrivance, Olaf and Loki set sail on their expedition, even though they have differing ideas of what they should be searching for - an expedition that will take the young lad Olaf deep into the heart of mystical Norse fantasy and mythology. And cross-dressing.
This is a book that will divide the target audience from the adult previewing it before handing it down - although there are no real reasons to do so, as the publisher's reckoning of it being for the 8-12 year olds is spot on. The adult, such as me, might find the sense of humour a bit inappropriate and base, set as it is on scoffing the less intelligent members of the cast, including one of Odin’s crow familiars with a dreadful lack of memory. She or he would also question the educational value – although the book may raise some interest in Norse mythology, if not quite fit in with the family encyclopaedia's view of it. Mjolnir is never given its name.
The young reader is a lot more important, however, but I am not sure they would find the book a complete success. The jumps in scene, from Scandinavia to Viking England, and especially to the world of the gods, help provide a sense of mystery (obvious to us grown-ups) to the early scenes, but really do allow for confusion. The naming of Olaf's father as Kveld-Ulf, but sometimes Kveld, and sometimes Ulf, does not help. And most crucially, while the plot rollicks towards the completely magical ending, there were great gaps in my mental images, with the description pared back for pace and leaving holes in what I could work out as to what things looked like.
The pictorial sense of the writing then could be improved, but the plot as I say is spritely enough, and joined with the sense of humour I wasn't entirely enamoured with but would go down well with the younger reader, there is still a book worth considering here. Insincere as it may be, droll in its comedy and approach to the myths, and replete with unlikely circumstances, contrivances, and a whopping great covering over what exactly Loki was doing kicking around there after all, there is still a little charm. I could have preferred a better authorial voice, and some greater sense of the sagas of old coming through (this in fact goes great guns to scoff the sagas), but the young reader will find much more novelty, in the setting, humour, strong characterisation (in parts), and plotting.
To those wishing to inspire a look at the Norse world, with a dollop of silly levity and zany diversions from what we know and like about it, this book is recommended by the Bookbag. We thank OUP's children's section for sending us a copy to review. Those enjoying this, and seeking a book with a similar spirit, jollity and fantasy, could do worse than exploring the world of The Seventh Tide by Joan Lennon, which also has young protagonists entering a world of mythology gone oddball.
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