Editor’s note: See our interview with Lars Walker here.
Troll Valley is not your grandmother’s fairy tale, though it might be your great-great-great-grandmother’s fairy tale. From the official synopsis:
Chris Anderson has everything. He’s the son of the richest family in town. He lives in a beautiful, loving home. He even has a fairy godmother. Chris Anderson also has nothing. He was born with a deformed arm, and when he gets angry he sees visions that terrify him. At the turn of the Twentieth Century, in a nation wrestling with faith and science, tradition and change, Chris will be forced to confront his own nature, and learn the meanings of freedom, love, and the grace of God.
If that sounds like a bold vision for a simple and relatively short work of fiction, it is. But Lars Walker pulls off what few authors can. Especially for an essentially Christian story. Most of what occupies the Christian Fiction shelf of your local bookstore is sappy, awkward, or just poorly written (like the screenplay of some shmaltzy Hallmark Channel movie). The “Christian Fiction” of Lars Walker is anything but that. His series of novels about the conversion of the Vikings in the 11th-century is dark, gritty, and often bloody. Troll Valley is a bit tamer (which makes sense, given the lack of Vikings), but it packs the same deep emotional punch. You will be instantly drawn in, and you won’t want to stop until the story’s resolution.
Part of that is due to Walker’s writing ability. He spends a good chunk of the first third of the book describing life and work on a farm in Minnesota, including extended passages just describing food, without ever losing the reader’s interest. Walker also has the fascinating ability to be witty, even humorous, while dealing with the darker aspects of life and the human condition.
And then of course there’s the fairy part of the tale. As in his previous novels, Walker grounds the fantastic elements of the story in such solid realism that he can suddenly blindside you with the supernatural without ever pulling you out of the story or inviting your disbelief. Walker also draws his fantasy from ages past, especially the Norse traditions, rather than the post-Andrew Lang and post-Disney fairy tales that most modern folk now think of. Early in the story, Christian’s fairy godmother (yes, fairy godmother) tells him the tale of “Snow White Rose Red” (a retelling of Snow White, of course), which is as hilarious as it is twisted. Not even Santa Claus is safe from Walker, whose true nature as a powerful Norse spirit is revealed. Finally, the book’s primary antagonists are a group of tiny bearded creatures in red hats (called “red caps”). While that description doesn’t sound particularly frightening, I’m sure, Walker manages to create several intensely menacing scenes with these odd characters (ruining my childhood at the same time).
Near the end of the novel, a character stands up in front of his church and delivers what amounts to a mini sermon on the relationship of faith and works, the Law and the Gospel. In any other work of Christian fiction, this sort of thing would be forced and awkward, quite literally preachy. Not so in Troll Valley. Not only did Walker fully earn this moment, but executed it perfectly. For a Christian reader, it was a powerful and satisfying moment.
At this point you might be asking, “How can a book filled with fairy godmothers and evil little Norse spirits also have powerfully Biblical and evangelical themes?” Excellent question!