Santa Claus, trolls, reindeer, a magic fish, and other characters have Scandinavian adventures in this illustrated children’s book.
A Laplander troll named Gorgi takes Santa’s reindeer to their winter pasturage via the Trans-Siberian Railway. Although some trolls are gigantic, Gorgi is only turnip-sized; nevertheless, he bravely attacks five angry Russian bears trying to stop the train, even biting one bear’s toe off. The reindeer arrive at Lake Baikal, where Gorgi goes fishing. He hooks a beautiful, magic fish, which heals the bear and later turns into an oven that provides a wonderful holiday dinner that even includes Christmas cookies. The smell attracts Santa, who’s traveling nearby; he stuffs himself and then falls asleep. Upon waking, he notices that his bag of toys is missing. Gorgi discovers that the sack has been taken to an impenetrable cave belonging to Gunlord, a huge, gawky giantess who’s “really a squealy little girl.” To lure Gunlord out, Gorgi’s mother dresses up as a traveling beautician named Miss Helena Rubinstern and offers her a free makeover. Not only does Gunlord become outwardly pretty, she also offers to help Santa and sings Christmas carols. Finally, Gunlord, Gorgi, and Santa help to rescue a tiny reindeer stuck in an ice crevasse; Gunlord sings him a soothing lullaby. Holley (Tangled Tales 2, 2017, etc.) plunges readers into a Christmas fever dream, mixing up figures from legend with modern creations, such as Clement Clarke Moore’s reindeer. The story transitions abruptly from one emotional register to another—fear, celebration, disgust, humor—and leaves off at a seemingly random moment. How the injured bear suddenly acquires a name (“Griselda”) and shows up at Lake Baikal and why Gorgi becomes sympathetic to her remain unexplained. Some allusions will probably be lost on younger readers, such as “the bears in Stravinsky’s FIREBIRD” or the play on cosmetics mogul Helena Rubinstein’s name. Although the beautician scheme is amusing, it’s a shame that Holley makes such a direct link between beauty and good character. These matters aside, the story has wit, energy, child-friendly silliness, and vivid images in Holley’s color-washed, lively illustrations.
Distinctly odd, but despite its flaws, there’s a touch of magic here.