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Beyond the Deepwoods

Style: Good

Attitude: Take Care

This review was contributed by Portico Books

In Brief: While most fantasy introduces the unusual, this book borders on strange. The myriad of bizarre characters would be bearable if they actually took the story somewhere, but by the end you feel like you’ve been bounced and splattered and sloshed all over the place only to reach an unsatisfactory conclusion. The only underlying (and over-emphasised) “value” is that the main character does the unthinkable… he strays from the path.

Cover of Beyond the Deepwoods

Author: Paul Stewart

Series: The Edge Chronicles

Publisher: David Fickling

Published in: 1999

Age Range: Pre Teens

Period: Indeterminate

Genres:  AdventureFantasyMagic


Synopsis:

The Edge is the land that borders on the emptiness beyond. It is filled with strange peoples and terrifying creatures. Abandoned at birth in the dangerous Deepwoods, young Twig has been brought up by a family of woodtrolls. He has always thought he was one of them, until he finds out he’s not. He sets off to find out who he really is, and strays from the path. Along the journey he meets some very weird characters.

Notes:

Twig is ridiculed for being small and weedy and not able to defend himself, and he is coached to be tough and hand it back to the bullies. But those who coach him lose their credibility because of their nastiness.

Some examples of the strange characters Twig meets:

The slaughterers: the bottom of the pot, no one wanted to associate with the folk who had blood not only on their hands, but all over their bodies. They are very kind to Twig after he saves their son but mock him towards the end of his stay to make sure he doesn’t spend too long with them.

The Grossmother is described by Twig as “the biggest, fattest, most monstrously obese creature Twig had ever seen”. Her voice sounds like bubbling mud. She is the feeder and carer of the goblins, a nasty group of spoiled creature-children. When Twig falls into (and sours) the honey she had prepared for them, the goblins think she has tried to poison them and decide to do her in. They drag her over to the disposal chute and ram her head down it, “they jump up and down on her massive bulk, squeezing, pummelling and pounding her until with a squelchy plopff, the immense wobbling body of fat disappeared.” Not satisfied, they turned their anger on the kitchen itself, smashing the sink, trashing the stove… etc etc.

The reader is possibly supposed to be relieved when they feel remorse once they are hungry and tired and need someone to look after them.

The most offensive character is Mag, a trog girl who finds Twig and wants to keep him as a pet. She brings him home to her mother, who has rippling forearms and a neck as broad as her head, with every bit of exposed skin covered with iridescent tattoos. Mag treats Twig like a doll, doing up his hair, pulling him along like a puppy, and not allowing him to talk.

But the strangest part is when Mag goes through her ‘initiation’ ceremony and drinks the ‘spigot’; she begins to expand, developing massive shoulders, bulging biceps, tree-trunk legs… with a tattoo on her back of ‘herself’ as a termagant: legs apart, hands on hips, and with a ferocious expression on her face. Needless to say she no longer likes Twig and tries to kill him.

As part of this strange parody of feminism, the trogs make the males – “horrible, scrawny, sneaky, weedy, weasely individuals” – do all the cooking and cleaning.

In addition to the characters, the general descriptions are not exactly edifying… “Twig felt her warm breath on the back of his neck, and smelled the pickled tripweed she had eaten for lunch” … “With their bloodied appearance, the slaughterers looked – and sounded – ferocious. It was said that the generations of spilt blood had seeped through their pores and down into the follicles of their hair.”

What becomes of Twig? He ends up being reunited with his father who is an air-pirate captain who had abandoned him twice before because of the inconvenience of having a child aboard his air-ship…

You do begin to wonder what connotations to draw from the justification of “leaving the path” and the implied contempt for “staying on the straight and narrow.”

Saturday 13th October 2007