Quick Reviews: The Little People and Kill the Dead

These reviews originally appeared in Scrolls of Legendry #1.

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The Little People by John Christopher
Avon, 1968 (originally published 1966), 224 pp.

This book has a whip-wielding Nazi leprechaun on the cover. I thought this would be one of the trashiest novels I’ve ever read, but hopefully it would be some good dumb fun, too. Neither expectation was met. Instead of the wild, pulpy “novel of pure terror” the cover promises, we get a psychological drama. The tale takes place at an old house in the remote wilds of Ireland. Bridget Chauncey, an Englishwoman, has inherited the place from her uncle. She decides to turn the place into a hotel, to the disappointment of her lusty fiancé, Daniel. Daniel arrives for a visit and meets the other guests: a couple from Germany (Stefan and his Jewish wife Hanni, who he married due to holocaust-guilt) and an American family (Waring, his horrid wife Helen, and their teenage daughter Cherry). Christopher frequently digresses into each character’s backstory and their neuroses, bogging down the pace of the novel.

The day after discussing faerie folk, the group finds a tiny footprint and other evidence of such creatures. That night they lie in wait in the catacombs beneath the tower, and successfully capture one: an emotionless 12-inch tall girl who only speaks German. She goes along willingly and introduces them to the six others of her kind. While the others debate what to do, Stefan investigates the tower and finds documents detailing the creatures’ origin. It turns out (spoiler alert) they are not supernatural beings at all, but Jewish children subjected to Nazi anti-aging experiments during World War II. (Why was Bridget’s uncle in league with National Socialists? Why would he let the children live in his tower? No explanations are given.) What is not detailed in the documents is the fact that as result of these experiments, the “little people” have developed ESP, which they use to psychologically torment the humans. By the end most of the characters are emotionally scarred, but many of them were to begin with, so they weren’t much worse off.

This novel wasn’t as bad as I’m making it seem, but it could have been a lot better if the “pure terror” section was longer than just the penultimate chapter. If you’re looking for the great Nazi leprechaun novel (and who isn’t?), I fear it is yet to be written.

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Kill the Dead by Tanith Lee
DAW, 1980, 172 pp.

Parl Dro is an infamous ghost-killer – not for revenge, honor, or pay (usually), but because it’s his calling. It’s just what he does. Myal Lemyal is an unconfident minstrel, master of a bizarre double-necked string/wind instrument, in search of a subject for a song that will live forever. He believes that Ghyste Mortua, the mythical city of the deadalive, will give him the inspiration he desires, and attaches himself to Dro in the hopes that he will lead him there. As a loner, Dro is not enthusiastic about his new follower. Myal puts up with Dro’s sarcastic verbal abuse because it’s nothing compared to the physical abuse his father dealt out to him. Along the way the pair is tormented by the ghost (?) of Ciddey Soban, a girl whose sister was exorcised by Dro.

The narrative is frequently interrupted by flashbacks that provided more background information on the characters. This seemed somewhat unnecessary to me at first, however, it all became relevant at the book’s shocking conclusion. My only other complaint is that the dialogue is too modern and sarcastic (“You’re not a particularly splendid hero, are you?” “Compared with you?” “Oh well, if you’re going to be offensive.”)

Due to Tanith Lee’s untimely death, interest in her work is bound to rise. Kill the Dead is a good place to start – or revisit.