Poor Joe Jefferson. He has a noisy family, not enough time and an assignment to write an essay on "My Amazing Adventure." Given his boring life, he's not even sure what to write about --- but soon he'll have enough adventures to fill a whole book, not just a term paper.
Joe is about to be whisked away to the land of Muddle Earth by Randalf, a truly inept wizard who knows exactly one spell. Randalf and his sidekicks --- the ogre known as Norbert the Not-Very-Big and the bird named Veronica --- have summoned Joe (and his own sidekick, his dog Harry) to Muddle Earth in order to save the kingdom from the horrid ogre known as Engelbert the Enormous.
Joe is a reluctant warrior at best, and despite his new name of Joe the Barbarian, all he really wants is to fulfill his duties and get back home again. Before Joe can even approach the fearsome Engelbert, however, he has to be outfitted with the appropriate warrior garb: the Woolly Gloves of Determination, the Wellies of Power, the War-bonnet of Sarcasm and the Trident of Trickery (which, given Randalf's pitiful budget, are actually old gloves and boots, a saucepan and a toasting-fork).
Nevertheless, despite his apprehension, Joe turns out to be a most capable hero, even when confronted not only with fearsome ogres and trolls but even by dragons, rogue cutlery and the fiercest villain of all --- Doctor Cuddles of Giggle Glade, who vows to become Lord and Master of Muddle Earth. But will Randalf, whose only spell involves bringing questionable heroes to Muddle Earth, be able to return Joe to the place he wants to be most of all --- home?
Originally published in Great Britain in 2003 by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, the duo responsible for the hugely successful Edge Chronicles series, MUDDLE EARTH is now available to American readers for the first time. It is probably obvious from the title that MUDDLE EARTH is, in many ways, a parody of J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. From its three-part structure to its detailed maps at the novel's opening to the names of its characters (Randalf = Gandalf, Joe = Frodo, Musty Mountains = Misty Mountains, etc.), it's clear that Stewart and Riddell are having a great deal of fun at the expense of Tolkien's enduringly popular series.
It is fortunate, however, that MUDDLE EARTH has much to recommend it beyond being simply a funny parody. Its humor will appeal to all fans of light-hearted, satirical fantasy, particularly those who enjoy the works of Terry Pratchett. The book manages to combine inventive storylines with tongue-in-cheek humor: "The following day dawned bright and early --- unlike the day before, when it had been an hour late, and the previous Wednesday when it hadn't dawned until one-twenty in the afternoon."
It's hard to say which aspect will hook readers first --- Joe's "Amazing Adventures" or the antics of Muddle Earth's achingly funny characters. Regardless, this is one fantasy destination that kids won't soon want to come home from.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 10, 2009
- Publication Date: March 10, 2009
- Paperback: 464 pages
- Publisher: Yearling
- ISBN-10: 0440421055
- ISBN-13: 9780440421054