“A modesty of appetite represents a paucity of heart”: a sometimes bibulous, occasionally violent, well thought through modern take on folkloric storytelling.
Lucien Minor isn’t a hobbit, but he’s fond of pipes all the same. Or at least the idea of a pipe, the object on which deWitt’s (The Sisters Brothers, 2011) opening paragraphs rest and that Lucy, as he’s called, hopes will become a suitable extension of his person, something that will contribute to his odd comeliness—for though sickly and pasty-faced, “there was something pretty about him, too.” Lucy’s prettiness and gender-hopping name has bearing on this odd tale, which has other hobbit-y aspects but, though a fairy tale for adults, not much of Tolkien’s world-embracing earnestness. Lucy isn’t long for the teeny town of Bury (a hobbit-y Anglo-Saxon word, that, meaning “fortified place”): unable to bear his mother’s seeming conviction that, unintentionally or no, he’s sent his poor dad to an early grave, 17-year-old Lucy finds employment in the castle of a certain Baron Von Aux. There the tale shifts, subtly, from Tolkien to Stoker with a dash of Conan Doyle, but with plenty of humorous touches. The Baron isn’t much seen, for, as another member of the household instructs Lucy, “it’ll be months before you lay eyes on the man, if you lay eyes on him.” But is that really because the Baron is locked away brooding, or are more sinister forces in play? DeWitt’s yarn is playful and pleasing, though decidedly minor; we’ve seen some of it in Brigadoon, some in The Princess Bride, some in the collected works of Douglas Adams, and it seems something of a throwaway in light of the author’s proven abilities. Still, it’s a sometimes-subversive and smart entertainment that blends lighthearted moments with more thoughtful reckonings of the human condition: “I have suffered through an era of unluckiness,” indeed.
For fans of the books of Neil Gaiman, the films of M. Night Shyamalan, and similar fabulisms.