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Synopses & Reviews
Jack was eleven when the berserkers loomed out of the fog and nabbed him. "It seems that things are stirring across the water," the Bard had warned. "Ships are being built, swords are being forged."
"Is that bad?" Jack had asked, for his Saxon village had never before seen berserkers.
"Of course. People don't make ships and swords unless they intend to use them."
The year is A.D. 793. In the next months, Jack and his little sister, Lucy, are enslaved by Olaf One-Brow and his fierce young shipmate, Thorgil. With a crow named Bold Heart for mysterious company, they are swept up into an adventure-quest in the spirit of The Lord of the Rings.
Award-winner Nancy Farmer has never told a richer, funnier tale, nor offered more timeless encouragement to young seekers than "Just say no to pillaging."
"Readers will want to sail through these nearly 500 pages to find out what happens to young Jack and his sister, Lucy, kidnapped from their homeland by a Viking crew led by Olaf One-Brow. The two then travel across the sea where Ivar the Boneless, king of the Northmen, reigns with his half-troll wife, Queen Frith. The Bard, who fled from Queen Frith and has taken refuge on the boy's small island ('Nowhere in the nine worlds is safe for me as long as she is abroad,' the Bard explains) takes in 12-year-old Jack as an apprentice. The old man manages to teach Jack some magic and some of the complex history of the Northmen and their enemies, the Jotuns or trolls, before Olaf and his men invade. The book brims with delectable details. Ivar the Boneless, for instance, 'wears a cloak made from the beards of his defeated enemies' and Queen Frith's beauty dissolves when Jack begins to sing a tribute to her ('Her features rippled and twisted like the beasts carved on the walls'). Her rage at reverting back to her troll-like appearance prompts Jack's quest to seek Mimir's Well, in the heart of Jotunheim (troll country) in order to reverse the spell and save his sister, whom Queen Frith threatens to sacrifice if her beauty is not restored. Plotting and incidental players such as dragons and giant spiders in Jotunheim take precedence over character development here. But if the relationships are not as fully fleshed out as in Farmer's previous books, fans of Viking and adventure tales will still be up late nights to discover Jack's fate. Ages 10-13." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Allusions to Beowulf, the destruction of the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne, and the Norse legend of Jack and Jill offer a rich backdrop for a hugely entertaining story sure to appeal to fans of The Lord of the Rings." Kirkus Reviews
"Farmer brilliantly marries historic details about life in England, Scotland and Scandinavia in A.D. 793 with the magic of runes, trolls and bards. This story will send readers on a quest to read more about this bloody but fascinating era." USA Today
"[A]n engaging tale....[T]here are plenty of lighthearted moments, and the characters never seem stiff or contrived. This exciting and original fantasy will capture the hearts and imaginations of readers." School Library Journal
"[S]hould instantly be added to the list of those books which leave an indelible mark on the imagination....[A] hair-raising, spine-tingling, heart-stopping adventure which really does bear comparison to The Hobbit....[T]he best children's novel of 2004." Amanda Craig, The Times (London)
"The book is effectively sparing in its use of fantasy elements, but when Farmer pulls out all the stops such as Jack's encounter with the three Norns she does so with aplomb and assurance." The Horn Book
"Farmer...has outdone herself in this rich and satisfying fantasy....The characters are memorable, her images of nature are lyrical, and legend, history, horror and humor are cleverly intermingled..." KLIATT
"The Sea of Trolls conveys, more vividly than any textbook, the vikings' storied fatalism....Hearing the Northmen talk rapturously about the glories of being slaughtered in battle, the sensitive Jack can't understand it, but the reader will." Lawrence Downes, The New York Times Book Review
"Farmer uses sensory detail to breathe reality into every segment of this book....[A] spectacular story of magical adventure." Children's Literature
"Readers captivated by slash-'em-up Viking culture will happily plunge into this celebrated author's sixth novel, but many members of Farmer's traditional audience will emerge from the experience feeling alternately dazzled and dazed." Booklist
The three-time Newbery Honor-winning author and National Book Award recipient pens a new adventure set in A.D. 793 in the land of the Vikings, where two children are soon swept up in a quest on which they encounter a dragon, a giant spider, and trolls.
After Jack becomes apprenticed to a Druid bard, he and his little sister Lucy are captured by Viking Berserkers and taken to the home of King Ivar the Boneless and his half-troll queen, leading Jack to undertake a vital quest to Jotunheim, home of the trolls.
About the Author
Nancy Farmer has written three Newbery Honor Books: The Ear the Eye and the Arm; A Girl Named Disaster; and The House of the Scorpion, which, in 2002, also won the National Book Award. Other books include Do You Know Me, The Warm Place, and three picture books for young children. She grew up on the Arizona-Mexico border, and now lives with her family in Menlo Park, California.
Reading Group Guide
A GUIDE FOR READING GROUPS
THE SEA OF TROLLS
By Nancy Farmer
ABOUT THE BOOK
In A.D. 793, eleven-year-old Jack leaves his family farm to become an apprentice to the Bard, a druid from Ireland, who is assigned to his Saxon village. At first, he is unsure of his duties, and is puzzled when the Bard experiences a nightmare that Jack later learns foreshadows a rollicking and dangerous adventure-quest with the Northmen, led by Ivar the Boneless. Jack and his little sister, Lucy, are snatched by the berserkers and enslaved by Olaf One-Brow and his shipmate, Thorgil. Accompanied by a crow called Bold Heart, the two children encounter a sea of characters: humans and animals, trolls and half-trolls. There are surprises around every corner, and just when doom seems imminent, there is a bit of humor to lighten the suspense. Steeped in Norse mythology and Saxon history, The story brings Jack and Lucy full circle, but with a surprise ending.
Ask students to research the unique elements in Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology and share their findings in class. What are the significant differences? List the most common figures and distinctive characteristics of the Norse myths. Tell students to keep these in mind as they read The Sea of Trolls.
Good vs. evil is a common theme in fantasy novels. Discuss the good and evil forces in The Sea of Trolls.
Describe Jack's family. Contrast Jack's relationship with his mother to his relationship with his father. Lucy, Jack's younger sister, appears to be very spoiled. Why does Jack's father allow her to live in a fantasy world? How does her fantasy world protect her when she encounters Queen Frith?
Giles Crookleg is very religious. How does he convey his religion to his children? Discuss how his religion is in conflict with his wife's practice of magic. Jack learns from his mother how to talk to bees and how to soothe frightened animals with song. What type of magic does he learn from the Bard? What does the Bard mean when he tells Jack "Real magic is dangerous"?
The Bard, a druid from Ireland, is also known as Dragon Tongue. How does he acquire this name? What is the role of the Bard to the village people? Describe Jack's relationship with the Bard. Why does the Bard choose Jack to be his apprentice? Why doesn't Giles Crookleg want his son to go with the Bard? What is Jack's mother's opinion of the Bard? Discuss what Jack learns during his apprenticeship.
The Bard advises Jack, "You should look intelligent even when you aren't." How does this advice serve Jack as he travels on his quest?
Explain the Bard's nightmares. How do his nightmares foreshadow Jack's journey and encounter with the evil forces?
How does the Bard protect the village people from the Jotuns? The Bard tells Jack, "Only a very special kind of warrior can overcome them." Describe the qualities of this kind of warrior. How does listening to the Bard's stories about the Jotuns help Jack see his father differently?
Why does the Bard give Jack the rune of protection? How does the Bard's gift leave him vulnerable to the evil forces? At one point, Jack almost gives the rune to Lucy. Explain why he changes his mind. Why does Jack give the rune to Thorgil?
The Bard tells Jack, "You see, lad, most people live like birds in a cage. It makes them feel safe. The world's a frightening place, full of glory and wonder and danger." Describe the "glory, wonder and danger" that Jack and Lucy face. What do they learn about the world by the end of the novel? How does the Bard's statement to Jack apply to the world we live in, and the way we live our lives?
The Bard teaches Jack about fear, pain, power, magic, and anger. How does the Bard's warning of Ivar the Boneless and Queen Frith leave Jack "dizzy with fear"? At what point does Jack experience the most pain and anger? How does his magic make him feel powerful? What important lesson does he learn about power?
Discuss the significance of Mimir's Well.
RESEARCH and ACTIVITIES
Giles Crookleg can't read, but he has memorized stories from the monks of the Holy Isle. Write and illustrate a story that Giles might have told his children.
When Olaf relates Thorgil's story, Jack thinks that it would make a good poem. Write the poem, and give it a happier ending to please Jack.
Jack's mother fears that Lucy can't tell the difference between fact and fantasy. Research the Vikings. Write a factual and a fanciful story about the Vikings. Share the stories in class. Which type of story creates the most interest?
There are good physical descriptions of the characters, both human and animal. Make an illustrated chart of the novel's characters.
Identify the most humorous scenes in the book. In small groups, select a scene to perform as a one-act play. Create appropriate costumes.
Four of the days of the week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday) are named for Scandinavian gods. Research these days of the week and find out which gods the names represent. Pick one of these days and write or retell the myth that explains the name.
The birth of Norse mythology was pre-Christianity. Research the story of the Norse creation and write a short paper that draws a parallel between this story and the creation story taught in your religion.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nancy Farmer has written three Newbery Honor Books: The Eye, the Ear, and the Arm; A Girl Named Disaster; and The House of the Scorpion, which also won the 2002 National Book Award. Her other books include her most recent novel The Sea of Trolls, Do You Know Me, The Warm Place, and three picture books for young children. She lives with her family in Menlo Park, California.
This reading group guide has been provided by Simon and Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, SC Governor¹s School for Arts and Humanities, Greenville.
Q: How did you decide on the topic for The Sea of Trolls?
A: The idea for the book actually came from the nursery rhyme "Jack and Jill." I wrote part of the novel fifteen years ago, when I still lived in Africa. It was never finished. The original had a bad-tempered cat called Grendelyn who fell into Mimir's Well while trying to catch fish.
Q: Both you and J. R. R. Tolkien have drawn inspiration from Norse mythology. What about Norse folklore makes it such a rich source text?
A: I didn't realize, until I started studying it, how important it was to American culture. Think of movies like Sergeant York or High Noon. Think of To Kill a Mockingbird or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. These are all stories about solitary heroes who would rather die than give up their ideals or individualism. The heroes come straight out of Beowulf.
Q: Have you always been interested in Norse mythology?
A: No. As a child I was immersed in Greek mythology so deeply I would dream about the Greek gods. In comparison, the Norse religion seemed crude. It wasn't until I was an adult that I discovered what a rich, complicated culture the Norsemen had.
Q: Schools today focus on ancient Greek mythology as an introduction to Western civilization. What do you think we can learn from ancient Norse mythology?
A: I have nothing against studying the Greeks. They created logical reasoning. But some of our most important ideas come from elsewhere. The Celts gave us a love of nature and a feeling that we are part of it. The Norsemen gave us a sense of individuality, a love of freedom, and a respect for courage and loyalty.
Q: What classic texts can you recommend to learn more about Norse mythology?
A: Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire's Norse Gods and Giants is a good place to start. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H. R. Ellis Davidson is more difficult, but worth it. Look up The Prose Edda or The Elder Edda in the library. Edda is Icelandic for "epic poem."
Q: How long did you research the historical aspects of The Sea of Trolls?
A: For the entire year and a half it took me to write it.
Q: What made you decide to have the Bard take the form of a crow?
A: I originally wanted to use a raven because it was the sacred bird of Odin, but a raven was much too heavy for a twelve-year-old to carry on his shoulder.
Q: Jack comes from a Christian family, and throughout the book as he is becoming a bard, he seems to maintain a belief in the Christian god and the Isle of the Blessed. How does Jack reconcile his Christian upbringing with the fantastic things he's seen and done on his adventure?
A: Jack lived at a time when the Celtic and Norse religions were giving way to Christianity. Christianity absorbed these other cultures and kept many of their ideas. Early saints talked to animals, fought dragons, and called up fog. Saint Patrick shape-shifted himself and his friends into a herd of deer, to escape danger. Christians renamed pagan holidays and still celebrate them. The fertility festival of the goddess Oestra was changed into Easter. Yule was changed into Christmas and so forth.
Q: What similarities, if any, might you draw between The House of the Scorpion and The Sea of Trolls?
A: Offhand, I can't think of any similarities.
Q: Is the diagram of High Heaven that's illustrated at the front of the book based on folklore, or is it completely original?
A: The tree Yggdrassil, with its branches reaching to the nine worlds, is from Norse mythology, and the drawing is derived from the D'Aulaires' book. Some parts of the Norse religion seem to echo Christianity, and it's difficult to tell whether they're a more recent addition.
Q: What would you like young readers to learn from Jack?
A: I'd rather they made up their own minds about Jack.
Q: How did you discover the recipe for graffisk?
A: Ah, graffisk! It's based on gravlax, a good old Swedish dish that means, literally, "grave salmon." The Icelanders used to pig out on hákarl, or rotten Greenland shark. My favorite in this category is oogruk (seal) flippers from my Eskimo cookbook. Wrap the oogruk flippers in blubber for two weeks until the fur falls off. Then cut into small pieces and eat.