Saturday, January 18, 2020

Book Reviews: Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures

Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures
by Walter Moers
There are some programming languages in which before you even begin the program you are required to list and define every variable that the program uses. Every last one. No exceptions. 

If you don't do this the program won't compile and can't be used. This can be slow and monotonous work but it also is a good way to idiot proof some programming work. 

In other programming languages the coder doesn't have to do anything as old fashioned as all that tedious listing and defining. He just names the variable and defines it on the fly. In short he makes it up as he goes along. 

The book Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures would definitely fall into the 2nd category were it a programming language. It is a gloriously chaotic novel. It's the second book I've read by Walter Moers.

It's only near the novel's midpoint that the reader may realize (well smarter readers than I likely saw this much earlier) that for all of the insane breakneck pacing, interminable asides, farcical and fanciful creatures that pop up for seemingly no reason, and unrelenting silliness, that the author has pretty methodically followed the steps from the classic Hero's Journey, as popularized by Joseph Campbell. 

So I don't want to discuss the plot too much. In a world like our own in times long gone, there is a continent named Zamonia, which contains a bewildering number of non-human creatures, along with a few humans.  

A nameless orphaned puppy like creature who is the beloved pet of a kind dwarf family discovers that he can walk on two legs and talk. Unfortunately, soon afterwards he and his entire family are kidnapped by a nomadic group of mentally slow one eyed giants known as Demonocles, whose greatest pleasure involves eating other creatures alive, preferably kicking and screaming. 


Unceremoniously thrown into a larder until he matures and fattens up, this puppy befriends a Shark Grub named Smyke, who names the puppy Rumo. Rumo learns that he's not a dog, although he looks like one. 

Rumo is a Wolpterting, a race of creatures renowned for their speed and unmatched skill with weapons. Smyke thinks that Rumo might, provided he survives, listens and grows, hold the key to helping everyone escape their predicament. 

Smyke tells the curious and occasionally credulous Rumo many stories. This initial adventure starts in the first few pages of a five hundred page book. This story will have you furiously turning pages to see what happens next. 

I ignored some sports events and films in order to finish this book. The characters leave an impression. Moers created a fascinating story that was by turns sarcastic, tragic, funny, and silly. Although some people may be reminded of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, The Beatles' Yellow Submarine, or of course The Princess Bride, I think I also detected some Deathstalker, Lord of The Rings, The Phantom Tollbooth, Arabian Nights, and even Orpheus.

The silliness and self-conscious behavior of some characters will certainly appeal to children or those in touch with their inner child. Still, I wouldn't describe this as a children's book.  Moers doesn't shirk from describing the bad guys or their motivations. Moers writes in language that is by turns comic and lyrical.
"For Rumo, each day began when the farmer's entire family, seven Hackonian dwarfs, formed a doting circle around the sleeping puppy's basket and woke him with a melodious Hackonian song...Whenever Rumo tottered on his four clumsy little legs, he instantly became the center of attention....He was even fondled and tickled for tripping over his own paws."
"Smyke outlined his plan. It was outrageous. It was totally insane. It sounded like a grisly fairy tale, a bloodthirsty dream of revenge-- and it had absolutely no prospect of success. 'Well,' he said, 'what do you think?'  'I'll try it,' Rumo replied."
This is the best book I've read in a while. I wish I had read it earlier. If you're looking for a fairy tale that is equally inventive, cynical, hopeful, funny, and traditional you should read this book. The author also did the illustrations. The author is German. I wonder if some puns and jokes were even funnier in German.
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