The OF Blog: Walter Moers, Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Walter Moers, Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures

Conversational novels, particularly those of a speculative nature, are difficult to achieve a good balance of wit, action,characterization, and prose.  Too often, the breeziness of the early sections ends up becoming laborious to read, as the author may over-indulge and end up repeating him or herself too much.  The oft-comic interplay may become too worn and played out, leaving readers to wonder if the novel should have ended much sooner.  The jokes may be too forced and the prose could fail to rise to the level of the author's ambitions.  Characters may seem too flat and forgettable after a while, once the magic of the first few chapters fades away and the reader wants more story and less banter.

German author Walter Moer's second Zamonia novel, Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures largely avoids these excesses and deficiencies.  Although the novel is nearly 700 pages long, only in a few places does it feel stretched out.  Perhaps part of the reason why Moers has written an entertaining long novel lies within its first paragraphs:

Rumo was good at fighting.

At the beginning of his story, however, he still had no inkling of this, nor did he know that he was a Wolperting and would one day become Zamonia's most illustrious hero.  He had no name, no did he have the faintest recollection of his parents. He didn't know where he came from or where he would go.  All he knew was that the farmyard where he grew up was his kingdom. (p. 12)
Right way, Moers reveals that this novel will be a Bildungsroman, a tale that will explore the life of the hero from confused youth to the time of his greatest exploits.  There is no confusion about what will transpire; the narrative will be told in a narrative fashion and the reader will get to experience Rumo's growth.  But there is much more to this novel than just that.  Even though the brief passage seems to hint at a story type that has been told innumerable times, such a story will depend upon how well it is told rather than on any narrative wrinkles that the author may introduce.

If the devil is in the details, then Moers' details set this book apart.  Take for instance the description of an early enemy, the one-eyed, monstrous Demonocles:

It mattered little what form of prey they ate - Demonocles weren't choosy.  They would even have devoured a Spiderwitch provided it was still twitching nicely.  Liveliness was the main criterion by which the one-eyed giants judged the quality of their fare.

They had developed some ingenious ways of keeping their victims alive for as long as possible while gobbling them up.  They saved vital organs such as the heart, brain and lungs till last, but eventually devoured those too, together with toenails, bones, scales, claws, eyelashes and tentacles.  The Demonocles thought it particularly important to keep any sound-producing organs and innards intact to the end:  the tongue, larynx and vocal cords were regarded as special delicacies to be reserved for the culmination of a meal.  Screams, groans or whimpers took the place of a pinch of salt, a hint of garlic, or the scent of a bay leaf.  The Demonocles were gourmets of the ear as well as the eye. (p. 22)
Moers' descriptive prose not only tells us what these creatures are, but the way he lays out what they are and what they enjoy to do allows the reader to form not just a visual picture of what is going on (helped, I should note, with Moers' vivid, playful illustrations) but also to "hear" the scene and to fill in the cadences and subtle wordplay that can go missing when a story is translated from the spoken word (or one's thoughts) to the printed page.

The above quote serves as an excellent example of how Moers' approaches this tale.  Rumo is but a dog/deer hybrid pup, oblivious to much of the world.  By use of passages such as the one provided above, Moers allows the reader to see what is transpiring through Rumo's head, without ever allowing us to get comfortable enough to be able to predict wholly what happens next.  As for what happens over the course of this novel, well, that is a dual exploration of what it means to grow up and to feel love and anguish, as well as the parallel development of Rumo and several of his companions into the heroes/adults they will become.

The pacing for the most part is well done, although there were a few times toward the end of the novel that it seemed to take just a few pages too long to transition from one scene to the next.  However, this is a minor complaint, as for the most part Rumo and his later companions are shown to have developed in nice, sometimes amusing, sometimes touching fashions.  The end result is a pleasantly-told tale with interesting, well-rounded characters.  What more would one want in a coming of age tale other than to be both entertained and to have reflective thoughts afterward?  Highly recommended.


Gerard said...

I haven't read Rumo yet, but both The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear and especially The City of Dreaming Books were both incredibly enjoyable and also very much recommended.

Lsrry said...

The City of Dreaming Books was outstanding for me; need to read the first book sometime, once I get around to purchasing it.

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