Synopses & Reviews
Seven o'clock on a Monday morning, five hundred years after the end of the world, and goblins had been at the cellar again...
Not that anyone would admit it was goblins. In Maddy Smith's world, order rules. Chaos, old gods, fairies, goblins, magic, glamours all of these were supposedly vanquished centuries ago. But Maddy knows that a small bit of magic has survived. The "ruinmark" she was born with on her palm proves it and makes the other villagers fearful that she is a witch (though helpful in dealing with the goblins-in-the-cellar problem).
But the mysterious traveler One-Eye sees Maddy's mark not as a defect, but as a destiny. And Maddy will need every scrap of forbidden magic One-Eye can teach her if she is to survive that destiny.
Joanne Harris has created an epic romp into the heart of the old Norse tales, imagining a world after the end of all things, and the ancient forces that must be unleashed in order to remake the world yet again.
"[Harris] brings a lot of wit and scholarship to this endeavor and delivers an adventure that will please a wide array of readers, especially those who appreciate a fantasy saga that actually resolves itself satisfyingly in a single volume." San Francisco Chronicle
"This epic-strength novel may bring as much attention to Norse legends as Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series has to their Greek neighbors, and fantasy enthusiasts will find much to enjoy in this complex tale." School Library Journal
"The Lightning Thief meets The Sea of Trolls in this well-executed, if rather plodding children's debut....A mini-course in Norse mythology for the tween set." Kirkus Reviews
"Harris keeps it all spinning with luscious detail and a firm grasp of the mythic implications of all the shifting relationships....So my advice to Harry Potter addicts is: Give yourself over to other books....Runemarks wouldn't be a bad place to start." Newsday
"What will appeal is Harris' down-to-earth portrayal of the deities, whose peevish squabbling and casual, sometimes profane language could have been lifted straight from a high-school cafeteria." Booklist
"Novelist of Chocolat fame, Joanne Harris is a fine storyteller. Runemarks...is her first novel for kids; some passages may be too disturbing for very young children, but what makes this novel special and appealing to readers young and old is its retelling of classic Norse tales, its gifted prose and captivating dialogue." Danielle Marshall, Powells.com (read the entire Powells.com review)
This major fantasy debut from bestselling author Joanne Harris is a magical and epic romp a fresh, funny, and wonderfully irreverent new take on the old Norse tales.
Seven oclock on a Monday morning, five hundred years after the end of the world, and goblins had been at the cellar again. . . . Not that anyone would admit it was goblins. In Maddy Smiths world, order rules. Chaos, old gods, fairies, goblins, magic, glamours-all of these were supposedly vanquished centuries ago. But Maddy knows that a small bit of magic has survived. The “ruinmark” she was born with on her palm proves it-and makes the other villagers fearful that she is a witch (though helpful in dealing with the goblins-in-the-cellar problem). But the mysterious traveler One-Eye sees Maddys mark not as a defect, but as a destiny. And Maddy will need every scrap of forbidden magic One-Eye can teach her if she is to survive that destiny.
About the Author
Joanne Harris's books, which include Chocolat and Five Quarters of the Orange, have been published in over 40 countries and have won numerous international awards. She lives in England with her husband and daughter.
Reading Group Guide
1. Reread the last two paragraphs on page 19 that describe how the Malbry townsfolk regard Maddy. What does it mean that Maddy showed “signs of being clever,” and why would this be “disastrous for a girl”? Do you think this holds true for girls and women in our society? Does this same notion apply to boys and men?
2. Discuss negative examples of chaos that are affecting the world today (war, environmental degradation, gun proliferation, etc.).
3. The Whisperer tells Maddy, “The Folk have remarkable minds, you know— rivaling the gods in ambition and pride.” (p. 463) Discuss examples of ambition and pride in the text. Do you think it is positive to be ambitious and proud? How do ambition and pride affect many characters in the story?
4. The character of Loki fears little, but he greatly fears the fanaticism of the Order. (p. 109) What is fanaticism? What are some examples of it in the text? Why is it so dangerous? What are some examples of 20th century and early 21st century fanaticism?
5. Discuss the character of Nat Parsons and what he symbolizes. What is he after in the story and how does he go about getting it? What is his tragic flaw? Do you think he deserves his fate and ultimately his redemption in the river Dream? (p. 511)
6. Discuss the proverb “Not kings but historians rule the world.” (p. 151 and p. 161) What do you think it means? Do you agree with this idea? Throughout Runemarks, the Vanir and Aesir shift from one “Aspect” to another. (p. 166) How is this notion of ones Aspect related to identity and truth? Although Maddy discovers she is not human, how is her “humanity” revealed throughout the story? What character traits does she possess that make her heroic?
7. Reread pages 186 and 187 that describe the Word. What does the Word symbolize? What is the significance of the golden key? How can power be an addiction?
8. Do you think One-Eye was justified in withholding information from Maddy about her life? Why do you think he experiences a feeling of “deep and undeniable relief” after the Examiner says to him, “Your time is over?” (p. 238) Why do you think the author chose to fully blind him at the end? (p. 353)
9. What error in judgment does Skadi make in forming an alliance with Nat? Why do you think one who has such keen instincts would make such a poor decision? Why does she feel justified in double-crossing the Vanir?
10. Discuss the character of Ethelberta. What is meant by the following description of Ethelbertas realization that her “inner voice, once heard, was difficult to ignore”? (p. 321) How are Ethel and Maddy alike?
11. How do Ethelbertas values, disregarded by the Folk, serve her in the end? Heimdell looks in awe upon Odin in his true Aspect: “To Heimdell he looked as if he were made of light, and if any of the Folk had dared to look, they would have seen it.” (p. 323) Discuss this observation. How can it apply to your own interactions with people who are different from you in some way?
12. Place students in small groups to discuss each of the novels major themes: power/ambition, deception, intolerance, revenge, acceptance, identity, and destiny. What other threads or themes can students identify in the story?
13. Loki is known as “the trickster” and symbolizes chaos. The Aesir mistrust Loki, but know that they need him for change to occur. (pp. 34—35) Discuss examples of chaos that have been catalysts for positive change.
14. The reader learns that Maddy wants to “free all the people in Malbry and beyond, to free them from sleep and into dream.” (p. 526) What does the author mean by freeing people from sleep? Why have—and do—dictatorial regimes use tactics such as book-burning to gain or keep control over people?
15. On the last page, the author concludes with this thought: “The river Dream, like the World Tree, has many branches, many routes.” Discuss this idea. What branches will you climb or routes will you follow to realize your dreams?
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly (circ: 34,456), November 19, 2007:
"[Harris] creates a glorious and complex world replete with rune-based magical spells, bickering gods, exciting adventures and difficult moral issues."