Title: A Giant Comes
Author: AJ Saxsma
A Giant Comes is the story of a child, known only as “the boy,” trying to support his ill father with his job as a courier. As the boy is clearly struggling, his kind boss tasks him with a high-paying delivery in a rich part of the city. The boy solemnly takes on the task but finds that the recipient simply will not accept the package. Determined to complete the job, he returns that night to insist, but the old man still refuses.
In an attempt to explain himself, the old man tells a story from when he was a young orphan, when he befriended a traveler on the road to a village. The traveler brings terrible news to the people there—a murderous giant is rampaging its way through the valley toward them. Over the next few days, the village becomes split between those who believe the traveler and prepare to fight the giant and those who don’t believe him and want everything to go on as it had been.
As might be expected, those whose lives are comfortable are more inclined to maintain what they have, while those whose lives are not so comfortable are ready for the disruption that is caused—especially as agreeing to help the traveler gets them fed and cared for. These people make clear they are prepared to fight for their town, even though they first need to fight for the right to fight for their town, which is also to say, to matter.
The exact time and place of this story within a story is unclear. But there are hints at a Christian, British, pre-industrial, revolution setting (pre-1760), a time when shillings, carts, smiths, and swords were common. Curious readers—and those interested in British history—will note the presence of coffee, which suggests sometime after 1650. But, of course, neither the time nor place really matters all that much, as the focus is on human, social behavior.
Told in the style of a parable, and much like a Brothers Grimm folktale, it reads like a mixture of magical realism and satire, with a good dose of biting social commentary. The author excels at both depicting emotion and eliciting it in the reader, who may feel confused at the behavior of the traveler and moved by the earnestness of the boy. Doubtlessly they will feel familiar with the all-too-human reactions of the villagers and shocked by the absolute depravity and undeserved righteousness of those characters who have put themselves in positions of power.
Though the boy is a sympathetic protagonist, the story centers on the elusive enigmatic character of the traveler, whose true nature and motivations are difficult to detect. He seems to have a plan and very definite ideas but refuses to share much, even with the boy, who therefore vacillates between faith in him and skepticism.
Nobody in the story is given a name but is referred to by their role: the traveler, the boy, the elder, and the priest. The author is deft at this, so it doesn’t cause as much confusion as might be expected. There are only a couple of isolated cases where there is both an elder and an old man, who are very different characters. One of the reasons for this may be the distinctness of each character’s behavior. There is a lot of contrast between the traveler, the village leaders, the villagers, the merchants, and the laborers.
Some readers may find this lack of names confusing or repetitive, as the author can’t rely on “he’s” or “she’s” as much. But others may find it creates a universality to their actions and reactions. In some ways, the characters become more like caricatures.
This book is highly recommended to those who love observation of human nature, especially in response to upheaval. It would be great for a book club, as they could discuss the different motives and agendas at work, and how they’re depicted, or pull apart the references to modern social issues.
In all, A Giant Comes offers biting insights into such societal issues as the absurdities of the class system and arbitrariness of the wealth gap, the destructive force of unchecked greed, the use of fear as a weapon, and the destructive power of desperate people. It is also a warning to be careful about who to trust and where to place your faith.
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