I have just finished reading Lars Walker's Troll Valley, which is available for the Kindle and for the Nook readers. Since we have the benefit of Mr. Walker's company, I really ought just to suggest that you read it, in the hope that we might have the pleasure of all discussing it together.
The book treats the integration of myth into modern life: both the pagan mythos of Norway and Norwegian immigrants, and Christian myth. That this is meant to be of contemporary interest is demonstrated by the "present day" characters who frame the book, but the action takes place mostly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
In the story, a child with a fairy godmother grows up to lose sight of her, and the myths that guided his childhood. In the process he becomes a vile and unpleasant man, under the guidance of a mother who becomes ever more domineering and destructive to her own family. The mother, actually, is one of the most interesting characters. She embraces the prohibition movement allegedly out of a desire to "do good," but over time we see that her real interest is in control. She uses prohibition to force her husband's father into submission within his own house; then, she moves into new fields of progressive thought -- eugenics, vegetarianism, and the lot -- to force the old man out of the house entirely. Finding sparks of resistance remaining in her eldest son and husband, she cranks up the embrace of these intolerant philosophies until she has driven everyone out, and can bask in her role as a woman who has sacrificed everything for Prohibition and Temperance.
There is a wider lesson to her example. A family home is like a broader human community in that it has rules that establish a way of life, and under that way of life a community is possible. We see in the early chapters how the traditions of Norwegian families at Yuletide sustained a broad community through hard work. It is at that feast that the mother first uses her power to force a change in the rules, in her interest and against the interests of others. It is by forcing continual alterations of the rules of life that she destroys the community within the house, so that finally no one can live with her at all.
Each of these rules is meant to represent moral progress, but each of them destroys the living community in which human kindness is possible. The living spirit of the community is broken by the rules themselves, and in the climax of the book -- when the mother tries to wield her church group to destroy a young woman who dared to taste beer and dance at a wedding -- we find the broader lesson. That part, though, you must read for yourself.
I will say no more at this time, but if you are interested, I would be happy for us to reconvene to discuss it once everyone who wishes to join the discussion has had the time to read it. If you would like to join in, let me know in the comments and we'll arrange a time: hopefully Mr. Walker will be so kind as to join in our discussion as well.
By Grim on Thursday, January 19, 2012