Acquired in open submission by Pushkin Press, this is a rather extraordinary little story. Gribblebob’s Book of Unpleasant Goblins by David Ashby is a quirky tale with short chapters and a plethora of weird and wonderful characters.
On an ordinary Wednesday, siblings Nils and Anna come across a goblin called Gribblebob. He is walking an invisible dog (who becomes visible upon being fed), and chasing after a book. As the book’s text magically transfers to Nils’ hand (rather like a Kindle on the skin), Gribblebob explains to the children that he comes from the other side of the veil, where magical creatures prevail, including goblins, fairies and more. But other characters have also broken the veil, and the children must race against time to clear Nils’ hand and save some books from an evil witch.
At first the adventure feels rather as if Enid Blyton had come back to life and penned another tale in her Magic Faraway Tree stories. The characters bear the same irritabilities and undergo strange unbelievable happenings. In fact, the goblin Gribblebob is hugely Blyton-esque, and enjoyable, mixing up his words and inventing new ones, or slightly mishearing old ones. My favourite is his description of humans as ‘thumbjammers’, jabbing at their phones constantly, or ‘pre-slicely’ for ‘precisely’.
But before long it becomes apparent that there is more than one influence to this story. It goes rather dark at times, despite the easy to read text, and the dangerous and scary ‘ripriders’ feel like Harry Potter dementors – screeching spirits that are overcome only by love. More allusions to folk and children’s literature abound, including a librarian who isn’t as she seems, binding names in a book, and the veil – the conceit of two different worlds that meet in an ordinary place (a playground here), but which can’t be seen by the naked eye.
But for many readers, and writers, the trope of having books as the essential magical element gives a whole other layer of meaning to the reading experience, and with the book-decorated cover, the action in the library, language and attributing names being so important, and the magic of books inside, this is a lovely little paean to children’s literature.
However, there’s more to it, as David Ashby explains – it certainly isn’t just English literature heritage that oozes throughout the story:
“Somewhat surprisingly, I find myself living in Sweden these days. I’ve been here since 2002, and I suppose I should be used to it, but some mornings I wake up, turn on the radio and wonder why people are talking in that strange language before I remember, “Oh yeah, I live here now.”
In lots of ways Sweden and the UK are very similar, just very subtle differences. In Brighton I would cross my fingers for luck, here in Stockholm I have to hold my thumbs. So the luck remains in the hands, but just different areas. Back in the UK I would have let a sleeping dog lie, but here in Sweden it’s the bear that I don’t wake up. So, very similar.
It’s the same with the fairy tales and legends and myths. A lot of them are the same, but some have their own special Nordic twist, and some of them were new to me. In Gribblebob’s Book of Unpleasant Goblins the big villain is the Queen of Nightmares, Mara, The Rider. Now, I had never heard of her, but it’s fascinating that the English word “nightmare” relates so strongly to her. She comes along and rides your chest while you dream, and makes sure that the dreams are less than pleasant. The “mare” in “nightmare” is obviously linked to the Swedish “mara”, and the Swedish word for “nightmare” is “mardröm”, literally a “mara dream”. I love all these little links and connections! It really makes you realise how much we all have in common, and how we share a heritage of tales and myths.
Another one of my favourite Nordic fairy tale characters is “Kykogrim” which translates as “Church Grim”, a guardian spirit that keeps watch over a church. I’d love to write something around that sometime.
There’s a fantastic set of books by Johan Egerkrans where he has collected and illustrated loads of Scandinavian monsters, spirits, gods and so on. Well worth a look!”
It seems that influences lie everywhere. To buy yourself a copy of Gribblebob’s Book of Unpleasant Goblins by David Ashby, click here.