In Which I Try to Review
Dance of the Goblins Normally
Dance of the Goblins got a fair bit of publicity in the fall of 2007 because Hawkins managed to get herself on Dragon's Den to ask for funding for a movie based on it. According to the book's fans, DotG is new, fresh, and different, a vivid and potentially life-changing picture of a society very unlike ours, and the movie of it will not only enlighten people, but revolutionize the English film industry. The book is also meant to be something of a spiritual experience: Hawkins is an established author of pagan spirituality books, and the book espouses an earth-based, nonhierarchical spirituality based on, well, dancing.
Take a deep breath, and prepare for spoilers.
I'm currently about 50 pages in, and the story has yet to establish when or where it's set or what the political climate is. We do get hints of some kind of global cataclysm that killed much of the human population, backwards place names set in England, and rare humans who can do magic. Ready, steady, go.
A human stumbles into the goblins' tunnels. The goblins play with him a bit, then dose him with a drug that retroactively scrambles his memory for the past several hours. They plan to leave him on the surface, unharmed but unable to remember the goblins, but a band of human men who are out hunting for him see the goblin who leads him to the surface. They go berserk and start chasing the "demon," who collapses the tunnel behind him. While the other goblins rush to reinforce the tunnel, one of the goblins runs to ask Haghuf, one of the oldest and wisest goblins, whether he has any ideas.
Meanwhile, Haghuf has been wandering the tunnels, giving us a dozen or so pages of flashback about how he met the human Count Anton, who's a magician and a goblin sympathizer. We also get to hear how the humans are murderous, warlike, arrogant, power-hungry, obsessed with domination, superstitious, out of touch with nature, raping the earth, overprocessing and poisoning their own food, and following a sterile and empty religion. Sometimes they even make the celebration of life illegal. Evil, nasty humans. Haghuf can't take more than three steps without turning to kick humans. He spends so much time talking about how bad humans are that the story never gets around to telling us what the supposedly superior goblin culture is like--in fact, after 50 pages we still don't have something as basic as a decent description of a goblin tunnel. Because we have no idea when or where the story is set, we don't know what the human culture is like, either. We just know that an undescribed member of undescribed culture A thinks that undescribed culture B stinks.
Haghuf surfaces from his infodump to suggest that the goblins create a series of circular passages to lead the humans away from the settlement. The goblins run off and do just that, opening a new tunnel to lead the humans to the surface. A female goblin, Talla, puts her glamour on so that she appears to be a beautiful mortal woman, and decoys the humans down the false tunnels. All goes well until signals between the diggers get crossed and the humans split up briefly. Talla is captured by the humans (who think they're rescuing a human captive, of course) and whisked away along the tunnel that leads to the surface.
Meanwhile, Haghuf dons a disguise and goes to see Count Anton. He wants Anton to dose the human raiding party so they'll forget all about the incident. The alternative is to let news of the goblins spread through the human city, creating widespread panic and inviting retribution against the "demons." When Haghuf meets Anton, Anton already knows all about it and invites Haghuf into his car to discuss strategy. A sample of their conversation:
"Why do you take such risks?" asked the Count.
"Because I never want to forget I am alive," answered Haghuf. "That is what makes us different from them. They sink into the decline of routine for the sake of a safe and comfortable life, yet it is one without adventure, one without that spark that makes us what we are. They seek comfort in materialism because they have forgotten what they were meant to be, creatures of magic, who perpetuate the chaos as we do. Now they are nothing. Parasites! They destroy all on the earth without thought for any species but their own because they have sunk into the depression that should have led to their extinction centuries ago, and they refuse to die because they have too much intelligence to let it happen. They invent ways of continuance, and entertainments to give it some meaning, yet waste their potential in everlasting toil and the pursuit of an illusory dream of leisure which they deny themselves for the very sake of working towards its possibility. They haven't worked it out yet, but they have condemned themselves, all of their species, to the perpetual Hell of their own mythology."
It goes on for a page and a half after that, with Anton joining in.
[ETA: Haghuf and Anton have learned each other's language by talking to each other and, in Haghuf's case, by reading books Anton lent him. It's not clear which language they're speaking in this conversation, but I think it's supposed to be English--which means Haghuf studied English for a few years... in infrequent conversations... with almost no other exposure to English... and with no Goblin-to-English reference book... and now he's good enough at it to say things like "They invent ways of continuance, and entertainments to give it some meaning."
[Let's ignore the difficulty of mastering graduate-level English in a few years of sporadic study, and skip right to: What in hell have Haghuf and Anton been talking about? Did they jump from "I am Anton. I am a human. This is the pen of my aunt" straight to "My people seek comfort in materialism. They are parasites. They pursue an illusory dream of leisure"? How does the word "continuance" come up in any conversation on the planet?]
I'm hoping the style loosens up as the author gets into the swing of the story. Right now it's as tell-don't-show as you can get--you're told what everyone is thinking, you're told why they think it, you're told what they're going to do, you're told what's going to happen when they do it and why, you're told what to think of the eventual outcome, you're told, you're told, you're told. You get to see almost nothing. Much of the conversation is reported, not shown, and the shown dialogue is heavily intercut with the characters' thought processes and similar past conversations and whether what they're thinking is wise or stupid and how this relates to humans' evilness and whether what they're saying is meant to be witty and, in short, the author never gets out of the way and lets the characters act. Even when events happen in the story's present, they've already been so hashed out and overexplained that they're stale. It's exhausting never getting a chance to put a thought in edgewise, like treading water in a pool of WD-40. It's a common beginner's error--the writer doesn't know how to lead readers to her conclusion through inference, so she tells them what they're supposed to be thinking--and I'm hoping that as Hawkins develops more confidence over the course of the book, the narration will thin out and the dialogue and action will pick up.
Some years after I wrote this review, Jaq D. Hawkins contested it, claiming it was slander and copyright violation, among other things. During our ensuing exchange of emails, I offered her a chance to rebut my criticisms. This was her response.
Jaq D. Hawkins replies
Goblins and humans speak different languages, so either Anton has learned goblin tongue well enough to understand this Masters-level screed, or Haghuf has learned human tongue well enough to give it.
So you didn't read the part about them learning each other's languages? It was early on. [So I unpacked my original statement a little. --Issendai] You make similar ignorant comments about "They all speak English". Surely you've read fiction books set in places that speak different languages before? The majority expect the reader to have an imagination and just accept that although they are reading English, the character is speaking in German or some alien tongue. Try Lord of the Rings. You get samples of Elvish and Orcish but where dialogue is required, the reader gets the translation.
This is an example of tweisting, trying to make any poor sod who stumbles across your page think it isn't what is normal.
Much similar twisting occurs in your expressions of 'opinion', where you make opportinities to accuse me of info dumps and such which legitimate reviewers somehow see differently.
I suppose you feel you've been artistic about it, keeping it just within parameters where you can claim 'opinion'.