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Book Review: Rainbow, by Michael Tolkien

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Rainbow, by Michael Tolkien
Grace is fascinated by the natural world. To increase this precious sense of wonder she is chosen by Nature’s spirit guides and guardians to travel on a funny sometimes fearful journey’ with an amethyst stone as her guide and promise of help along the way. Creatures she expects to assist her are too self-important. Her allies are small, often overlooked plants, flowers and insects. Her main goal seems to be discovering what lies in and beyond the rainbow, but her adventures bring her only slowly nearer to its mysterious garden, bridge and palace. Everything appears to be a long way round. She decides to assist a lost, bitter boy – Downcast Don – to rediscover ‘wonder’ by obtaining for him a specially made silver spade. This takes her through strange and fearful forests, down a well to find an underground forge, and into an overwhelming encounter with an ancient giantess in a bleak desert. Her chief guide, Heartsease, assures her that it’s all part of a search for rainbow wisdom, to recognize the importance of all things and people and to accept ‘not knowing’. She can then ascend the ‘Shining Stairway’ to a stranger country beyond.

Up here Grace is nearer the rainbow but time and distance play tricks and she is in danger of being sidetracked. A knight, Sir Cloudy, a kind dreamer who lives in a time warp, invites her to his ‘Castle in the Air’. Just short of the rainbow garden she is deceived by a Menace and his monstrous Mother, and only just escapes their clutches. The promised places are beautiful and intriguing but she must learn about what lies under the surface. The palace that crowns the bow bridge is where the guides and guardians weave their many-coloured tapestries that reveal perspectives and choices about the future. When Grace descends the vanishing rainbow steps she meets characters who have made her journey so instructive, and once back in the everyday world she is still herself but somehow more so because she can see and understand more acutely.

Hardcover: 182 pages
Publisher: Thames River Press (March 1, 2013)

My Review:
In a market overrun with fast-paced page turners full of action and heart-stopping romance, Michael Tolkien weaves a blissful escape from the norm.  Rainbow is the story of Grace, a young girl that embarks on a journey of wonder.  Her travels fill her with knowledge and prove just how beautiful her heart truly is.  She can never leave a downcast soul without doing something to help.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book when I picked it up.  I was surprised and pleased to see that it is written in narrative verse.  It was so different from everything else out there.  While Tolkien followed the popular movement of rewriting an old fairy tale, he did not choose a Grimm tale, but a lesser known story from Florence Bone.

There was no question as to Tolkien’s writing ability.  The story was beautifully wrapped up in delicious descriptions and polished off with a splash of adventure.  Grace did not encounter much by way of suspense or danger, but her journey was one of learning.  It was a nice change of pace.  While it is considered a children’s book, I honestly felt like it was aimed more at an older audience.  It might be too slow and meandering to hold a young child’s interest for long.

If you are looking for another Percy Jackson, Twilight, or Harry Potter, you aren’t going to find that here.  This is a thoughtful journey that is full of whimsy and magic.  It’s not for everyone, but I definitely enjoyed it.

The Illustrations: I can’t decide what to think about the artwork.  While it went well with the throw-back style of writing, I couldn’t help but think that it was old fashioned.   I am not the biggest fan of most computer generated illustrations, but I did feel like this artwork could have been more current.

About the Author:
Born in Birmingham in 1943, Michael Tolkien grew up in South Oxfordshire and North Yorkshire. He studied classics and English at St Andrews and Oxford. He has lived in Rutland since 1968 and was a secondary school teacher until early retirement in 1994. Since 1998 his verse has been published in two booklets and five full collections, most recently in 2012. His work has been widely and favourably reviewed. Two of his major themes are deceptive appearances and the conflict of active and contemplative approaches to life. This is also apparent in his recent narrative verse adaptations of Florence Bone’s now largely forgotten fantasy fiction for children.

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