Terry Pratchett, |
(Doubleday, 1989; Delacorte, 1990)
The first rule for a really good children's book is that it appeals to adults as well as children. The second rule is that it does not wink broadly over the heads of the children at the adults to whom it is appealing. In Truckers, the first of his Bromeliad trilogy, Terry Pratchett succeeds admirably.
Masklin is a nome (not a g-nome), a small person about four inches high who struggles for survival with about nine or ten other nomes. Aware that, apart from himself and the feisty Grimma, most of the nomes are advancing in age, Masklin starts to despair of maintaining the community. But after an incident with a dog fox claims two more nomes, Masklin knows it is time to take desperate measures.
He smuggles everyone aboard a truck, not knowing where they are going but figuring that anywhere has to be better than getting by on nuts and rats and leavings from the nearby diner. But "anywhere" turns out to be quite a surprise indeed.
The truck brings them to the Store -- Arnold Bros. (est. 1905), to be precise, hosts an enormous population of nomes. These nomes are divided into families according to their departments, such as the Ironmongri, the Haberdasher, the Corsetri and so one, with the Stationeri serving as the scribes, lectors, and priests of the community.
The Store nomes treat the "Outsiders" with suspicion and disdain at first. But Masklin and his companions are in possession of a nomic artifact: the Thing, a black box which, when placed near electricity, is able to communicate with the nomes for the first time in 15,000 years. It reveals that the nomes are from another world entirely, descended from a scouting mission gone awry. The Thing also reveals that the Store is on the brink of demolition. It's up to Masklin, assisted by Grimma and an assortment of other nomes, to get them out of there. In order to do that, however, he has to think big -- really big -- along the lines of, say, a Mack truck.
Pratchett plies his usual wry humor deliciously, as in the biblical-sounding chapter and verses of the Book of Nomes which begin each chapter, the Store pantheon which includes the monster Prices Slashed, the goddess Bargains Galore, and the main deity Arnold Bros. (est 1905) or the role of garden gnomes in Store funerary rites.
Masklin takes his rightful place in the spectrum of reluctant, much-put-upon heroes such as Arthur Dent and Richard Mayhew. Grimma is a feisty foil, and the other nomes round out the cast suitably.
There plenty of suspense laced in with the humor, although overall Truckers appeals to a very specific appreciative audience, and it is not for every reader. But if your sense of humor, or that of your favorite young reader, runs to tongue-in-cheek, understated wit, then get truckin' and get yourself a copy of Truckers. You won't regret the trek.
[ by Donna Scanlon ]