Steeped in mythology, fairytale, tradition and folklore, William Ritter’s “The Oddmire, Book 1: Changeling” (Algonquin Young Readers) is a fresh hero’s tale worthy of a readership as vast as the Wild Wood it encapsulates.
More, there is magic here. Much magic.
There is the magic of Ritter’s story.
Few are the reviews you’ll find in these pages which offer full marks for a goblin tale, but this is one. With magic fading from the Wild Wood, goblins must perform an ancient ritual of swapping a newborn changeling for a human baby. Except, on the night of the switch, things go wrong and the goblin responsible for the deed is forced to leave behind both babies to be raised as human twins. Those twins, Tinn and Cole, proceed to grow up in the highly superstitious town of Endsborough knowing that one of them is not like the other. One is, in fact, a goblin in human form.
But which one? The boys can’t tell, although each suspects it is him. So, the story is a mystery.
Years later, a dozen years to be exact, the twins receive a nearly incomprehensible message, forcing them to leave their idyllic hamlet to risk life and everything they’ve known about safety and comfort to enter the Wild Wood, cross the Oddmire swamp, travel through the Deep Dark and find both the goblin horde and the secret of their birth. So, the story is a hero’s journey.
There is the magic of Ritter’s writing. Consider a sample of these beautifully wrought, seemingly throwaway comparisons: “All around it, pools of darkness blossomed as if the entire forest floor were a fresh, clean napkin laid over a seeping ink stain.” “A dense forest known by locals as the Wild Wood curled around the town the way a Great Dane might curl around a terrier puppy.” Or, simply, “the door opened with a mewl like a kitten.” So, the story is an adult literary enchantress masquerading as a middle school tale.
And finally, there is the magic of its truths. Hidden between the lines of the best fairy tales are life lessons and secrets children know but dare not speak aloud, and so it is here. “With love came loss.” “Children were the best at fear.” “I did everything wrong … but it’s never too late to do something right.” So, the story is a morality play.
This story, indeed, is many things. And as such, it offers much to attract and tempt a wide audience. Ritter’s brand of magic here is a gift for all readers of the fantastical — young and old alike.