As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

September 15, 2011

The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall, 1959

The Gammage Cup: A Novel of the MinnipinsA handful of Minnipins, a sober and sedate people, rise up against the Periods, the leading family of an isolated mountain valley, and are exiled to a mountain where they discover that the ancient enemies of their people are preparing to attack. (Amazon)

Review by Natalie Gorna, Writer for the Fresno Examiner

I remember where I found the first novels that pushed me to expand my literary library.  My local library sold used books everyday for less than a dollar, and what used copies they were.  Battered, old, beaten.  But I found treasures there, despite the not-so-nice-looking conditions of the books I found.  One was Carol Kendall's The Gammage Cup.  If you're a fan of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, you will love this simple take on a similar history of a "Middle-Earth" world.  And if you didn't like Tolkien's bestsellers, you can still appreciate Kendall's creativity and her wit.

The Gammage Cup is set in a seemingly realistic world with certain elements of fantasy.  As each chapter passes your eyes, there are sayings and rhymes by the characters right above the returning text.  I have read this novel countless times, but from the very first time I could not forget the level of humor and direct wisdom that Kendall put into a sentence-long quote.  Anyway, there are human inhabitants, called Minnipins, who live quiet, simple lives in ordinary villages located in a land of plenty, the Land Between the Mountains.  Political conflicts arise in one village, Slipper-on-the-Water, between the town council and five individuals who dare to think and act differently.

There is Muggles, who tries to contain her very simple honesty by not being outspoken all the time; Walter the Earl, a hero-in-the-making who is a little pompous and who always does what he wants; Gummy, who is a seemingly lazy poet with touches of brilliance; Curley Green, the artist; and last but not least, Mingy, a grumpy, stingy bachelor who is more caring, brave, and generous than he lets on. These five boldly defy Minnipin traditions by adhering to their beliefs, and are subsequently "outlawed" by the entire village.  Forced to start new lives away from the established order, the outlaws must learn to be independent from the community that provided for their every need.  Accidentally discovering a hidden threat to the entire valley, they must decide whether to warn the very people who wrongly exiled them.

I was struck by the author's unique commentary on the numerous necessities of human life.  She not only shows the characters' practical solutions to the problems of survival, but also stresses the importance of not taking anything for granted.  I mean, how would you cope if your town expelled you, money was relatively unimportant, and you had almost no clue how to survive on nature and your brain alone without the dependence we humans have on society's inter-workings?  I don't know if I could.  Probably not.  That's how The Gammage Cup makes you think.

Also, aside from all the adventure, words of wisdom, and charming poetry that are skillfully intertwined with the main storyline, you can sympathize with the five main characters' most important decision, to either stick to their opinions or to humbly submit to their "government's" ideas.  When Walter discovers the Minnipins' propagated history is a fluke, he doesn't hesitate from revealing the depth of the lies to everyone he knows. The Gammage Cup is about necessary rebellion against authority, when you have no choice but to adhere to the truth you know to be the real truth.

Kendall also features a hefty handful of battles scenes, the Minnipins versus the Mushrooms (troll-like, carnivorous enemies who literally stink).  Besides, the Minnipins have some very sleek weapons, like swords that light up and scare off the Mushrooms, and they have courage underneath all that conceit and self-proclaimed superiority.  There is even romance in the story, but I'm not saying who gets together with whom.  It's fun to experience how the heroes get forgiven and recognized by…okay, I'm not giving away the ending here.

I know Kendall wrote a sequel to The Gammage Cup, entitled The Whisper of Glocken, but I honestly think it is inferior to its predecessor.  Kendall's rough criticism of the very characters that she praised in her first novel seems unfair and out of place, like she was purposely slandering them for no visible reason when all the characters in The Gammage Cup already have perceptible flaws.  The Gammage Cup is Kendall's best work, having such an interesting perspective on survival, change, and the truth.  I love this book, which is one of my all-time favorites and earns a spot on my comfort-reads shelf.

Market: Middle Grade/Young Adult Fantasy Fiction
Language: Mild
Sensuality: None
Violence: Moderate
Mature Themes: identity, prejudice, exile, death, rebellion

Book formats:


Anonymous said...

I love discovering "old" book treasures! Thank you for this great review, Natalie! I'm off to request a copy of THE GAMMAGE CUP from my library!

Amy Finnegan {} said...

It amazes me how much you read, Natalie! You definitely have a good eye for quality lit :)

As always, thanks for the review!

Natalie Gorna said...

Thank you, Amy and Kim, for deciding to post my review of The Gammage Cup! And yes, I do try to read a LOT, but I think Ms. Jessica Day George has already beaten me for being a prolific reader. ;) The Gammage Cup, however, is one of my childhood favorites and as they say, the classics never die. Not to mention that this particular novel has so much to offer any reader who loves a good unconventional fantasy read.