“Nothing is gained without suffering,’ said Thorgil.
‘I think that’s a Northman trick to squeeze pain out of a perfectly decent situation.” (Nancy Farmer, The Sea of Trolls)
Creativity grows out of limitations. If I’m given a blank page and told to do anything I want, I am much more likely to be dumbfounded by the sheer amount of possibilities than to be instantly inspired. However, when given a set of constraints, our minds try to overcome the adversity and what results is often unique. While reading The Sea of Trolls, it felt to me as if Nancy Farmer was using this exact principle to let her work reach all of the depth of truth and the height of humor it could.
Her three constraints, if you will, are a common wizard/apprentice beginning (very much like what is found in A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin), Norse mythology and the Jack and Jill nursery rhyme. Within these limits Nancy Farmer sets up a glorious world where fantastical events flourish while the characters manage to remain true to life.
Another aspect of Nancy Farmer’s writing in which I relished was her unrushed sense of pacing. It seems to me that I’m constantly reading suspenseful YA or children’s novels that leave me simultaneously loving and hating them. I passionately read works like The Hunger Games because they suck me entirely into their world, but after putting down the book I often find that the ultra-fast pacing disguises serious faults such as holes in the plot or sub-par writing. On the other hand, Sea of Trolls was well written, had a lovely original plot and was good enough that you could put it down for a few days and then still want to come back to it.
Beverage: I found myself wanting a nice cup of hot coffee while reading this book, but the absurdly hot weather prevented me from indulging. If you are fortunate enough to have a nice spot of cool weather or to read this book in the winter, that’s exactly what I’d recommend.
Reminds me… of, as I already mentioned, A Wizard of Earthsea. Really the resemblance is uncanny. I almost wonder if Nancy farmer began this book as a writing exercise where she used Ursula Le Guin’s first few chapters as a springing board for other ideas. Then, of course, she went back and changed a few details.