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Literature / The Marvellous Land of Snergs

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"I should like to record my own love and my children's love of E. A. Wyke-Smith's Marvellous Land of Snergs."

The Marvellous Land of Snergs is a children's British fantasy book written by Edward Augustine Wyke-Smith (pen name, E. A. Wyke Smith). The original edition was published in UK in 1927 and illustrated by George Morrow.

The two main characters, Joe and Sylvia live in Miss Watkins' colony/shelter for abandoned or mistreated children, located on a remote island hidden somewhere in the world. In addition to Miss Watkins, her employees and the rescued children, the island is inhabited by strange fantasy creatures and is home to the Snergs, a tribe of short, party-loving people.

The action starts when Joe is grounded after playing a bad prank. Sylvia breaks Joe out of confinement, and both children decide to run off and visit the Land of Snergs. Unfortunately, Joe and Sylvia get lost in the woods, but they are found by Gorbo, who takes them to the capital city of the Snergs.

And that is only the beginning of their adventure.

Given the similarities between Snergs and Hobbits, it is speculated the book provided inspiration for The Hobbit, a thesis supported for J. R. R. Tolkien's own statements of loving the book.

Tropes founds in this work:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Sir Percival, a foppish and cowardly knight in oversized armor is infatuated with Lady Gwendolyne, who is not interested in him in the slightest. With the purpose of getting rid of him, Lady Gwendolyne suggested him to go out and commit some heroic deeds while wandering around the countryside.
  • Abusive Parents: Joe's father was a violent drunkard who did beat Joe every time he got himself hammered. Which he did every day.
  • Adults Are Useless: Unusually for a children's story, averted. Joe and Sylvia get constantly into trouble which they have to be bailed out of by Gorbo or another adult.
  • Aliens Speaking English: Justified in the case of the Snergs and the Dutch seamen who could have learned English to communicate with the colony. Though, it is not explained how the inhabitants of King Keul's realm, who have apparently spent a long time in isolation, can speak modern English fluidly.
  • All Witches Have Cats: Mother Meldrum owns seven black cats.
  • Alliterative Name: King Keul and Mother Meldrum.
  • Annoying Arrows: Averted. Three arrows is all Gorbo needs to kill Golithos.
  • Archer Archetype: Gorbo's main weapon is his bow. Although he is short and stout, he is brawny enough to wield it properly. And his sharp-shooting skills are something he is definitely confident about.
  • Bat Deduction: After searching Joe, Sylvia and Gorbo for two days, Merse II and Vanderdecken have concluded that the trio have somehow crossed over the river. It is not an implausible conclusion, but it is not clear how it was reached, since no one knew how to cross the gorge, and the trio were nowhere near of it when they vanished.
  • Bat Out of Hell: The bats inhabiting the Black Woods are large, noisy beasts with beaked snouts and a wingspan of two meters. Fortunately, they are very loud but not aggressive.
  • Beary Friendly: The Cinnamon Bears, so called because they smell like cinnamon, are peaceful, amicable and like playing with human children. One of them happens upon Joe and Sylvia when they get lost in the woods and protects and keeps both children warmth until they are found by Gorbo.
  • Bedsheet Ladder: Joe, Sylvia and Baldry escape from the witch's cottage by tearing and knotting the bed sheets, and then lowering Sylvia to the ground. Afterwards, Joe and the buffoon climb down the vines clinging to the wall.
  • Bigger on the Inside: On the outside, Mother Meldrum's cottage looks like a weather-beaten, thatch-topped single-story, one-room shack. On the inside, narrow staircases and twisted hallways connect many rooms. Before entering, the main characters have the feeling it is larger than it looks.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Gorbo kills Golithos by embedding three arrows in his head.
  • Bully Hunter: Miss Gribblestone bludgeoned Joe's father in punishment for beating his son.
  • Call to Agriculture:
    • After the adventure is over, Lord Bevis -the border guard whose kitchens had been sacked twice by the heroes- decides to dedicate himself to his true passion: gardening.
    • Sir Percival also opts for pursuing a career in pig-rearing instead of going on being a knight and pursuing Lady Gwendolyne.
  • Catapult to Glory: In order to cross over the river, the Snergs and the Dutch sailors build a giant ballista and shoot the anchor tied to a long rope across the gorge. It worked, but if they had failed to secure the anchor, Vanderdecken's Plan B was to wrap a Snerg in a straw bale and catapult him across the river.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Lady Gwendolyne's paramour would like nothing better than to find Sir Percival and beating him for courting his lover, even though -as his squire points out- Gwendolyne already found an effective, non-violent way to dissuade Percival.
  • Deadly Euphemism: When Baldry explains all who challenge Lord Gunthorn have gone away, Sir Percival asks where to. Baldry unflappably answers they went to the nearest graveyard.
  • Determinator: Miss Watkins managed to find the Land of Snergs, located on an uncharted island surrounded by insurmountable natural barriers, and she discovered a method to get there without a hitch, which the narrator deems to be the height of stubbornness and cunning. And then she talked several high-society women into funding and setting up a secret colony for abandoned children. And then she oversaw the foundation of the colony and set up the whole system to retrieve and raise children properly.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Joe escapes from seclusion and talks Sylvia into going to the Land of Snergs, assuring he knows how to find the way. So, they head into unknown woods with no supplies, no equipment, no food-gathering and water-finding abilities, and no idea of how far their goal is. Before long they are hungry, thirsty, cold and hopelessly lost.
  • The Edwardian Era: The story is set at the early 1900s, and the parts set in England give no sign that World War I has started.
  • Enchanted Forest: The Black Woods is a vast, gloomy, swampy forest where tall, thick, dark trees grow among the pools of black, muddy water until blotting out the sun. There are no living beings there but sinister plants, giant bats and a wicked witch.
  • Evil Gloating: Mother Meldrum has climbed up a cliff and begins gloating and taunting the royal soldiers instead of retreating to her secret cave, feeling safe because she knows she is out of their arrows' range. Unfortunately for her, Vanderdecken's men brought muskets (to be fair, she could not know about the existence of firearms).
  • Evil Laugh: Mother Meldrum cackles raucously after tricking Gorbo into assaulting King Kiul.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: Mother Meldrum's body gets blown apart by a hailstorm of musket bullets.
  • Fantastic Racism: Subverted. For ages, King Keul and his subjects had believed that the Snergs were a ferocious, barbarian tribe who wanted to invade and pillage the realm. Then Joe and Sylvia come along and describe the Snergs as an eccentric but peaceful and friend people, Keul is willing to reconsider his old opinions, and visibly thrilled with the prospect of establishing diplomatic relations with the Snergs.
  • Flying Dutchman: Before the beginning of the proper story, Vanderdecken -said to be the Flying Dutchman himself- and his crew disembark on the island completely by accident, and since they had been wandering the seas since they sailed from Holland in the seventeenth century, they don't really mind. Usually the strong sea winds and ocean currents keep all unwanted visitors out of the island, but because Vanderdecken had vowed to round the Cape of Good Hope even if he had to sail till the Judgment Day, his ship couldn't be stopped or diverted from its route.
  • Fungus Humongous: During their subterranean wanderings, Gorbo and the kids arrive in a cavern full of monstrous, towering wild mushrooms.
  • The Gadfly: Baldry, a jester, loves playing pranks and messing up with people. It almost got him executed by his king.
  • The Good King:
    • Merse II is constantly throwing parties for his subjects. When Joe and Sylvia go missing for the second time, he undertakes their search in person.
    • On the eve of his birthdays, King Kiul walks through Banrive's streets to talk to the common people and pat children's heads affectionately. It is said his kingdom has thrived during his rule.
  • Heroes Love Dogs: Joe owns a pet dog, Tiger, which follows him everywhere.
  • Hobbits: Snergs are round-faced, short and stout people. They also are good archers and love partying and building eccentric architecture.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Golithos is a -supposedly- reformed ogre who does not eat children anymore, but the sight of Joe and Sylvia makes him relapse.
  • It Only Works Once: Subverted. Gorbo is given one invisibility cap, one stick which transforms into a sword capable of cutting anything, and a pair of shoes which grant super-running speed. The cap loses power after ten minutes, and the stick and the shoes after one use. The subversion comes when it is revealed that those objects were not magic at all.
  • Kick the Dog: When the kids see Golithos for the second time, he is gnawing on the bones of the cow that he used to produce fresh milk. Then they know Golithos has abandoned his attempts to become a peaceful ogre.
  • Lord Error-Prone: Sir Percival introduces himself as a knight in shining armor on a grand crusade to fight and/or slay rival knights, wicked men, dragons and monsters for his beloved's sake, who promised to say some unspecified words to him if he committed some undetermined number of knightly deeds. It doesn't occur to him that nobody wants to meet his challenge because they regard him as a big coward who wears an oversized, cumbersome armor, and is too clueless to realize "his" lady was clearly looking for an excuse to get him off her back.
  • The Lost Lenore: Joe's mother got sick and died some while ago. Her death drove her husband to drink heavily, which in turn led to him abusing his son until Joe was rescued and brought to the colony.
  • Magical Land: Joe and Syilvia, together with other children, are taken to the Land of the Snergs, inhabited by a race of hobbit-like people. Beyond the gorge bordering their lands, there is a kingdom locked in the Middle Ages and populated by witches, ogres, knights and court jesters (and there used to be dragons, apparently).
  • Mama Didn't Raise No Criminal: Joe and Sylvia tend to get into mischief together. Sylvia's caretaker Miss Scadging swears that Sylvia is a little angel and Joe is a terrible influence, whereas Joe's caretaker Miss Gribblestone argues that Joe is a good guy who is always goaded by Sylvia. The reality is that Joe is a mischief-maker, and Sylvia does encourage his antics.
  • Matriarchy: The colony is run by an all-female association managed by Miss Watkins. All members are presented as good-natured, compassionate women, and competent at their jobs.
  • The Maze: A large underground network of caverns and passageways links the Land of Snergs with the monster-filled country across the river.
  • Medieval Stasis: The story is set in the early twentieth century, but the realm of Kiul I beyond the river remains stuck in the High Middle Ages.
  • Miles Gloriosus: Sir Percival claims to be a great knight, out to defeat rival knights, vanquish wicked men and slay monsters for the sake of winning his lady's heart. But at the very first sign of a real fight, he blanches, runs all the way back to his home, takes off his armor and decides to devote his life to raising pigs from now on.
  • Missing Mom: Joe's mom died several years ago.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The knights were about to give one silver coin to Joe and Sylvia and go on their way when Baldry shows himself. He was recognized immediately and arrested together with the kids.
  • Non-Indicative Name:
    • Joe and Sylvia barely spend a short time in the actual Land of the Snergs, and most of the plot happens in the country beyond theirs.
    • Tiger is Joe's pet dog.
  • Noodle Incident: As trying to convince Gorbo that King Keul is an evil tyrant who must be killed, she tells him he does not want to know what the King did to some preschoolers attending Sunday school.
  • Parental Neglect: Sylvia's mother barely paid attention to her daughter until Sylvia got sick. When Sylvia goes missing, her mother frets for a while, but it is told she got over her loss soon.
  • Pinball Protagonist: After kicking off the plot by running away, Joe and Sylvia become passive characters who must be protected or saved by other characters like Gorbo or Bradley.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Despite being referred to and identify herself as a witch, Mother Meldrum is hardly seen engaging in actual witchcraft.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Despite being portrayed as a tyrant -by a jester and a witch, mind you-, King Kiul is an amicable, fair ruler who is willing to have his mind changed. After calmly listening to Joe and Sylvia's tale, he reconsiders his opinions on the Snergs, and orders the kids are taken care of while they figure out how to send them back home. His fair-mindedness is again demonstrated when Gorbo sneaks into his palace and hits him with a stick: Kiul gets very mad, but he arranges for a proper trial. Realizing Gorbo is a gullible fool who has been taken for a ride, the king decides to forgive him.
  • Revenge: Mother Meldrum plots the death of King Kiul, as well as kidnapping children, to exact revenge for being kicked out of the city.
  • Rule of Three:
    • The book is divided in three parts.
    • Gorbo is given three magic items: an invisibility cap, a stick which turns into a sword, and super-running shoes.
  • Snipe Hunt: Mother Meldrum gets rid of Gorbo by sending him to gather mandragoras on the other side of the wood while she calls Golithos and offers him the kids in exchange for his help.
  • Solitary Sorceress: Mother Meldrum lives alone in the heart of a gloomy, sinister wood.
  • Space Whale Aesop: Invoked. At the end of the story, the author, unsure as to what the moral of the tale is, suggests the message is: "If you run into an ogre who claims to be not a man-eater anymore, pretend to believe him as you search for a weapon; and then aim for the head."
  • Spanner in the Works: Mother Meldrum's scheme to infiltrate Banrive, abduct Joe and Sylvia and flee to a secret shelter while Golithos murders the king fails because Golithos -who she had instructed to take care of her pets in the meantime- accidentally lets her cat Gubbins run away. Gubbins is found recognized by Gorbo, who follows Gubbins as the pet looks for its owner.
  • Speak Friend and Enter: At the end of the subterranean maze, the protagonists stumble upon a locked door. Gorbo tries to push it open but it does not work. Then he charges the door once and again and again until his whole body hurts. Then Sylvia grabs the doorknob, and instead of pushing, she pulls the door open effortlessly.
  • Sprint Shoes: Subverted. Gorbo is given magic shoes which let its bearer running super-fast. Then he tries them and finds out he has been tricked and they are normal shoes.
  • Tears of Joy: Shed by Miss Watkins and Joe and Sylvia's guardians when the kids finally go back home.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Vanderdecken orders all his thirty-three men fire at Mother Meldrum. There are not much of her left after they are done.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Golithos lures Gorbo out of his hiding place and completely ruins his ambush by yelling and waving his axe as charging out of the wood, with the result that Gorbo easily puts three arrows in his head. Underlining his stupid strategy, he knew that his enemy is a bowman, but he still chose to attack from a distance.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Both Jester Bradley and Mother Meldrum paint King Kiul as a terrible tyrant who has done all kind of unspecified but horrific things. When the main characters get to meet him, he turns out to be an incredibly reasonable and fair person, and it becomes clear that he was being slandered by liars with a personal grudge.
  • We Have Become Complacent: It is stated the royal army was ill-suited to find and rescue Joe and Syilvia because the country had been peaceable and secure for a long while.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The King of the Snergs berates Gorbo for bringing Joe and Sylvia to their city instead of taking them back to the colony where they were safe.
  • Wicked Witch: Mother Meldrum is a decrepit, evil witch who lives in the heart of a dark forest, selling curses.
  • Wily Walrus: As making their way through an underground cavern, the protagonist trio happen upon a beast which is described as a bipedal, giant marsupial walrus. The critter is as gluttonous as cowardly, though, and it flees in fear when it spots the kids, even though they are half its size.
  • You Are Grounded!: Joe is grounded after dropping a rock on the meal of one sailor.