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The Elfin Ship (1982)

The Elfin Ship (1982)

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3.83 of 5 Votes: 2
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0345294912 (ISBN13: 9780345294913)
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About book The Elfin Ship (1982)

Originally posted at Fantasy Literature: has recently put several of James P. Blaylock’s novels in audio format, so I’m giving a few of them a try. The Elfin Ship, first published in 1982, is the first book in Blaylock’s BALUMNIA trilogy about a whimsical fantasy world filled with elves, goblins, dwarves, wizards, and (because it’s Blaylock), a few steampunk elements such as submarines and airships.In The Elfin Ship we meet Jonathan Bing, a cheesemaker who lives in a quaint little village with his dog Ahab. It’s just before Christmas, a time when Bing should be selling his famous cheeses to neighboring towns. However, something is afoot in the outside world and trade is drying up. Not only is Bing’s business in danger, but all of the villagers will have a dreary holiday if they are unable to buy their traditional toys and treats. Somebody must be sent to investigate what’s happening outside the village and it’s obvious that Master Cheeser Bing is just the right person to go. Bing is reluctant — he’s just an ordinary stay-at-home kind of guy — but he’s single and his lifestyle depends on successful trade relations. So, accompanied by his dog Ahab, Professor Wurzle, and a simple boy named Dooly, Bing sets out on a quest that he hopes will uncover the mystery and save his village’s Christmas. Along the way they meet strange folks, have frightening adventures, encounter magical items, and discover secrets.The Elfin Ship has an appealing setting. Twombly Town, Bing’s comfy village, feels like the shire — it’s a warm friendly place where everyone knows each other and life is sweet. When Bing and his friends leave for their quest, I was eager and ready for an adventure, but by the time the characters have been hazarding the wilds for a while, I found myself understanding why they were anxious to return to their friends and the comforts of Twombly Town. I liked this homey feel.The characters are also likable. The Master Cheeser and the Professor are good people who are clever and witty. Dooly is sweet and there’s more to him than meets the eye. And, of course, there’s Ahab — who doesn’t love a loyal and friendly dog? There are no women in the story, unfortunately.Many readers, including children and teens, will absolutely adore The Elfin Ship. There are a few dark moments, but mostly the novel is charming, light-hearted and funny, and there are bits of wisdom and important life lessons included. Its wholesome hominess feels a little like The Hobbit or The Wind in the Willows. The Elfin Ship stands alone, but there are two more BALUMNIA novels set in the same world with overlapping characters: The Disappearing Dwarf and The Stone Giant.Malk Williams did a great job with the narration of Audible’s version (sample). He has a British accent and his warm voice fit perfectly with the cozy feel. I could imagine him sitting in a quaint inn, drinking a beer, smoking a pipe, and telling us this story.

Before I begin, I should note that I like The Hobbit better than The Lord of the Rings, but I liked The Earthsea Trilogy better than either. If you're a fantasy fan, that tells you a lot about my tastes.That being said, The Elfin Ship reads a great deal like The Hobbit -- from a protagonist who would rather sleep in his bed at home than on the road, to a roguish magical character of uncertain power. The book reads like a fantastic journey, like a children's fantasy novel that can be appreciated by adults.This is not a book that reads like a modern fantasy novel. Instead, it has a thoroughly dream-like quality; some of the items make more dream-sense than not. The world is still richly imagined, with little details that give you a feel of actually being there.James P. Blaylock has written two sequels (The Disappearing Dwarf and The Stone Giant), but I've not read them yet. My understanding is they are less like direct sequels, and more along the lines of "further adventures," which suits me just fine. I read this decades ago, and to try to pick up the thread again after the time would be folly. I enjoyed this thoroughly as a teenager, and am not sure whether my tastes have remained such that I would enjoy the book the same way again.I will note that, this book suffers the same fate as several books illustrated in the 1980s by Darrell K. Sweet, namely the cover bares only the most superficial resemblance to a scene in the book. It's exactly as if the publisher gave the illustrator a three-sentence brief of the scene's content, and then no-one reviewed the painting to make suggestions for correction, or no one cared how close it hewed to the story. I am certain this is what happened, but it's unfortunately since the scene depicted would, indeed, be the best scene for the cover in the book, but is completely misleading.

Do You like book The Elfin Ship (1982)?

This is my second Blaylock novel. Though his The Last Coin is one of my very favorite books, and I've certainly enjoyed several of his short stories, I find that I didn't care for the more flowery writing style here in The Elfin Ship. However, it may be that I am simply of the wrong demographic for this story... the target audience is possibly early-teen.I did love the characters, especially the humble and contemplative protagonist, "The Cheeser," a hero true to Blaylock style. I also absolutely love the whimsical, hopeful nature of Blaylock's writing, always! However, this novel was all-together too wordy. The writing style is a little like Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, patient, proper and polite. But, while that one resonated with me, this one was not nearly as effective. Struck me as flowery and downright verbose; took me down constantly meandering paths 'til I couldn't quite remember where I was in the action.Many of the goblin, troll and monster descriptions felt overboard as well--but, again, I'm probably just the wrong audience. I personally prefer magic realism, like The Last Coin, over standard fantasy. Regardless, in the right reader's hands, I could definitely see The Elfin Ship being worth 4 or 5 stars.

I'll not deny this was cute and mildly funny but it just seemed to wander about so much and rely upon so much that was either laid out by someone of power or just powerful coincidence. Clearly it is lighthearted and thus I didn't get annoyed by the illogic of certain bits of story and characterization but it still shouldn't have been such a meander. Though, it may have been a lighthearted fantastical attempt at a play on Three Men in a Boat, To Say Nothing of the Dog. If that was the case I'd call it successful. But it is quite slow and ponderous and may not appeal to action junkies.

Blaylock offers a very whimsical and domestic approach to fantasy, with a regular guy central character accompanied by a pretentious but mostly clueless professor, an excitable village idiot, and a dog whose eating and sleeping Blaylock finds endlessly interesting. Goblins and trolls are horrific but can actually be vanquished with a blow from a stout tree limb. There's some original inventive thought here, but the tone is as unheroic as it could be; it's like all Pratchett's silliness without any real laughs.
—Nev Percy

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