The Gogamagog Circus by Garry Kilworth (book review).

Almost every culture has a myth or legend that involves giants. Although, originally, the term referred to a being, not necessarily human in appearance, that was considerably larger than normal, modern usage does not necessarily relate to physical size or living beings. In this collection of stories, ‘The Gogamagog Circus’, Garry Kilworth is exploring the nature of giants and their relation to the society they occur in.

‘The Head’ draws on Polynesian myth. During a challenge voyage to sail from Australia to Hawaii using only traditional methods of navigation, Pete wrecks his boat on a reef. On the isolated island, while awaiting rescue, he encounters a giant head, which legend says will pursue and kill intruders.

Closer to home, but 300 years in the past, ‘A Tale Of Two Giants’ sees a journalist sent to cover the fight between the Cornish and Shropshire giants on Salisbury Plain. It’s one explanation for the current appearance of Stonehenge.

Many fairy tales feature giants. In ‘The Sleeping Giants’, the daughter of a miller decides she isn’t going to follow tradition and sets out on her own to find a place to build her own mill. The spot she chooses is beside a sleeping giant whose breath turns the sails. A community builds up with the poorer side on the windy side of the giant and the wealthy homes on the other side of the body. Nothing is static. The biggest change is when the giant awakes and leaves. The story is a parable for the rise and fall of civilisation. These are not the only sleeping giants.

In ‘The Goatboy And The Giant’, the goatboy comes across a giant sleeping and wakes him up. He has the idea of using the giant as an attraction and making money from him. He finds it is not as easy a task as he anticipated.

In contrast, ‘The World’s Smallest Giant’ puts a contemporary twist to the ‘Jack And The Beanstalk’ story. Jill buys five bricks which overnight grow into a skyscraper. At the top is a Giant-of–Industry, who meets a similar fate to the giant in the original fairy tale.

Giant killers also come in a variety of forms. The giant in ‘The Ice Giant’ is actually an insubstantial demon who creates a shell of ice around himself in order to become more powerful and create havoc. Kallik defeats the giant by applying science.

Interactions between giants and the ordinary person can be frustrating and rewarding. ‘Rübezahl’ tells of a giant who wants to learn to write so that he can produce his life story. Franz Kopke is chosen by the giant to teach him to write. The problem is that Rübezahl has a very short-term memory for such things and each day, Franz has to teach him the same things again. Though Franz eventually gives up, there is an uplifting end to the story.

Norse mythology contains a number of giant races. One of these is Rán, goddess of the sea. In the story ‘Rán’, a sailor is captured by the goddess and one of her nine daughters takes a fancy to him. There is a belief in some quarters than gods can only exist if they are believed in. He manages to escape by converting temporarily to Christianity.

Humans have a way of meddling with nature for the sake of it. In ‘God’s Cold Lips’, an experiment transmutes a man into a tiger which is released to fend for itself in the jungle. The giant in this story is a stone idol the tiger encounters in a ruined temple.

Not all giants are humanoid. ‘The Mountain’ is told from the perspective of a Himalayan peak which describes itself as a giant. ‘The Grootslang’ is set at the time of the Zulu wars in Africa. An ex-soldier has heard of giant snake in whose cave there was a fortune in gems. He goes in search of it with mixed fortunes

Known giants in the form of dinosaurs have definitely roamed the Earth, and most readers will be familiar with ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ and his visit to Brobdingnag, a land where everything was gigantic. In ‘Brobdingnag II’, a scouting team looking for suitable planets for mining encounters a world supporting giant animals.

‘Giant’ takes its inspiration from the Bible. While most are familiar with the story of David and Goliath and, like most similar tales, it is usually told from the point of view of the victor. In this case, Kilworth looks at the other side and the life of Goliath.

In all these stories, Kilworth shows his ingenuity as a writer and skill as a storyteller. Some of them are published here for the first time. Buy, read, enjoy.

For those wondering about the title of this collection, Gogamagog was a giant from Welsh folklore.

Pauline Morgan

September 2023

(pub: Alchemy Press, 2023. 171 page paperback. Price: £12.67 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-911034-16-2)

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