The Nargun and the Stars won a Hans Christian Andersen medal, I’m assuming sometime in the seventies when it first came out. My copy is the 1988 reprint and you can really tell based on the cover. I can’t remember at all why and where I picked this up, but I’d bet it was because of the title, not the cover art. Post-reading, I am, as usual, mostly bugged by the inaccuracies. Oh well.
So, based on the title, I’d have guessed this book would include either aliens or folklore, and I’d have been correct. The Nargun is a fictitious primordial immortal creature in Australia. I only have a few books that take place in Australia, so I was pretty happy with that premise. The author, Wrightson, really loves the land, and it’s obvious in her long descriptions of someplace called Wongadilla. I have the impression it’s basically the Australian version of Terry Pratchett’s Chalk, where Granny Weatherwax and Tiffany Aching live.
The protagonist, a boy who has just lost his parents in a car accident, goes to live with a brother-sister pair of coat-tail relatives. Of course, they live so far up the mountain, there’s no one around except a couple of teams clearing forest for whatever reason. Wow, what an original premise. The boy then meets a few different nature spirits, though his guardians treat it fairly casually. He also meets the Nargun one night, and everyone rather quickly decides that they don’t want it around. Somehow, the book manages to be fairly straight-forward and difficult to describe at the same time. So, I won’t go into the action of the plot any more.
The beings in the book are interesting in that they do not react just like humans. I read a lot of fantasy and science-fiction and, to my ever-lasting frustration, so many creatures and aliens and beings act pretty much like people. I can accept that there are times when it makes sense-you can’t satirize a society without mimicking it, after all. I can even accept that popular stories-especially films-have to cater to the masses, usually by going with the lowest common denominator. That doesn’t mean it’s not a relief when I come across a story where the inhuman characters act inhuman.
I honestly don’t really know what I want to rate this book. I can see why it won the award, and it definitely wasn’t a bad read. It’s one of those books that part of me wants to pass on, and part of me wants to keep in case I want to reread it someday. The human characters were bland as anything, but the non-humans had enough personality to almost make up for it. Of course, part of the reason I liked them was that they reminded me of the nature spirits in Studio Ghibli films. I could actually see this making a really good Studio Ghibli film, though they’d probably shove a war and flying machines into it. I would absolutely watch this multiple times if it were a SG film, either way.