A Penguin Rolling Down a Hill is a highly entertaining adventure with wink-and-smile humor.
Kevin Tranter’s A Penguin Rolling Down a Hill adeptly mixes Monty Pythonesque surrealism with slapstick humor for a wonderfully crafted young adult fantasy adventure that explores the blurry divide between reality and make-believe.
In the Dream World, Vile, the dream ambassador of nightmares, has seized the Palace of Somnium from Mr. Good, the dream ambassador of tranquil and pleasant dreams.
Mr. Good has developed digital technology called “the Dreamscaper” to create three-dimensional dreamspaces, which Vile covets for malicious purposes. Mr. Good summons sixteen-year-old high school students Lorraine and Melvin into the Dream World, hoping to use the teens’ logical problem-solving skills to reclaim his palace from Vile.
With help from a diverse cast of characters, Lorraine and Melvin must use their smarts—and the code words “penguin rolling downhill”—to maneuver Dream Span’s many psychedelic pathways in order to reach Lord Riddle’s mythical Land of Nod, or risk sacrificing the physical world to Vile’s nightmarish tyranny.
The narrative knits together characters from historical, mythical, and fairy tale genres into a weirdly inventive 1970s-like fantasy that funkily works.
There is the fantastical backstory for the disappearance of real-life Captain Benjamin Briggs and his crew near the Strait of Gibraltar in 1872; a diversionary evil sidekick in the vein of one of the Disney Minions, funny in his ill-fated attempts to please his over-the-top evil boss; a disco-loving wizard by the name of Mugwump (a trippy nod to Harry Potter fans); and the obvious plays on good (Mr. Good) versus evil (Vile).
Tranter riffs on the concept of a holographic world in the form of a dreamspace—similar to a theme park as imagined in Jurassic Park or an episode of Westworld. He also incorporates a Wizard of Oz-like theme: a foursome traveling down a green corridor in search of the mysterious Lord Riddle who will send Lorraine and Melvin home.
Tranter’s witty play on language is at once old-fashioned and reminiscent of the best Monty Python skits, mixing silly and smart, absurdity and common sense, into effective storytelling, as with Mr. Good’s “How fortuitously marvellous and marvellously fortuitous to bump into you, old chum.” The invented language Daftness is itself is a tongue-twisting play of seemingly unsolvable riddles.
This wordsmithing contributes to the psychedelic, fairy-tale aspect of the story and to the flow of the narrative. The only major hiccup Tranter makes is in extending the teens’ wasted wanderings in the middle sections of the book. This has the effect of acting as background music and minimally advances the plot.
A Penguin Rolling Down a Hill is a highly entertaining adventure that will carry equal appeal for old and young with its wink-and-smile brand of slapstick humor.
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