Thursday, October 12, 2006

In the Suicide Mountains by John Gardner


What madness or desperation drives the dwarf Chudu the Goat's Son, the strong and beautiful Armida, and Prince Christopher the Sullen to seek their own deaths? The three meet on the road in In the Suicide Mountains by John Gardner. At nearly 200 years of age, Chudu, who is also a shape-shifter, is much older than the other two; he is tired of being a community scape goat. Armida is tired of pretending to be soft and feminine in a home dominated by her stepmother. The prince is avoiding the King's command to kill the Six-Fingered Man; he might as well commit suicide as face the notorious outlaw. Into the mountains they go, where they meet the abbot of the Ancient Monastery, who tells them three Russian folktales and sends them on a dangerous quest to kill a dragon.

John Gardner, perhaps best known for Grendel, was a very talented writer who died far too young. Many of his works, including In the Suicide Mountains, contained stories inside stories, often evoking medieval atmosphere and drawing on folktales and history. Amid the emotional anguish and uncertainity of these tales, Gardner always inserted comic relief; in In the Suicide Mountains Chudu shifts into some pretty strange objects when he is flustered. Reading and rereading Gardner's books is always entertaining.

In the Suicide Mountains includes fantastic drawings by Joe Servello. The book would look good along side volumes illustrated by Arthur Rackham.

It looks to me like this book is being forgotten. Relatively few libraries have copies. The bookstores and vendors no longer sell it. It is only available through used book dealers. This is sad, as it is such a good book.

Also, there should be a John Champlin Gardner fansite where the fans discuss his books. Someone there would define "larble."

Gardner, John. In the Suicide Mountains. New York: Knopf, 1977. ISBN 0394418808


Amy said...

You're correct in that there should be a fansite for Gardner. He was a good friend to my aunt and uncle, and, it seems to me that my uncle was the basis for the dwarf character in this novel.

I've recently taught Gardner's "Gudgekin The Thistle Girl" fairy tale in my university classes, and it was received well.

Best, Amy

John said...

One -- agreed that there should be a fansite for Gardner. I just read "In the Suicide Mountains" for the first time since Childhood, and I really think a lot of people would enjoy it.

I was thinking of giving a paper on this book, actually, and talking about sources for the dwarf Chudu.