Sunday, December 27, 2015

Holiday Horror: Krampus the Yule Lord

Jesse is a loser. He lives alone in a trailer playing his guitar for drunks on the weekends with $4 to his name. It's Christmas and he can't even buy his daughter presents. He was off to drink himself into a stupor or kill himself when he saw the weirdest thing he's ever witnessed in his life: little devil people fighting Santa Claus on his sleigh complete with flying reindeer. Jesse can't believe his eyes, but he doesn't hesitate to take the big red Santa sack that they left behind that produces any toy he can think of. He thinks he's found the solution to all of his problems, but both Santa Claus and the leader of these devils wants the sack back.

Krampus has been awfully popular lately. Krampus festivals are gaining popularity and the recent years have had an explosion of films about him. This is the best Krampus story I've seen thus far. Krampus in this story is the Yule Lord, not a demon or devil. He descended from Loki and is one of the last of the old gods. Yule is the pagan celebration the rebirth of the sun and the beginning of winter. Krampus was widely worshiped by people in the past with revels and shoes full of treats. The wicked were put in sacks and beaten with switches. In the 1400s, a friend of Krampus' previously imprisoned in Hel decided to imprison him, dress as St. Nicholas, and hijack his holiday for a new age. Krampus' image with his horns and imposing figure along with his iconography was then repurposed to create Satan, a fitting villain for Santa and Christianity in general. Krampus finally frees himself after being imprisoned for centuries and seeks to take his holiday back as well as punish the man responsible who betrayed him and their family. I love how Brom interweaves Norse mythology, pagan practices, and the rise of Christianity to create his story. The pagan origins of some modern traditions like Christmas trees and mistletoe are also particularly interesting. Although Krampus is a mercurial and inhuman god, I felt for him and wanted him to take back his holiday.

The other main plotline is Jesse and his whole sad situation. He brings a more human element to the fantastical story and gives us someone to identify with. His family is estranged and his wife wants a divorce, but he's convinced they can make it work somehow. This hopeless man without prospects or drive has a big load of crazy dropped right into his lap. Krampus enlists his help in exchange for revenge against a corrupt sheriff currently dating his wife and the crime boss who associates with him. Jesse truly grows over the course of the novel. Through his adlines and ventures and insights from Krampus and his Belsnickels, Jesse completes his hero's journey and comes out the other side stronger and with definite hope for the future. He also finds the drive to see if he can make something of a music career after years of stagnation. The ending isn't all roses and butterflies, but a little bittersweet.

Krampus the Yule Lord offers a different perspective of this ancient figure than is usually seen in the media. It also offers explanations on why he fell out of favor, how his image was transformed into something evil, and why he's gaining popularity today. The story has momentum and goes unexpected places. I was invested in both stories and the ending was satisfying and complex. The book starts each chapter with a black and white illustration of a scene in the novel. Each of them is incredibly detailed and in Brom's signature style. My only disappointment is that they all weren't in color like the insides of the book cover and the drawings in the middle. I plan to read another Brom book The Child Thief, a retelling of Peter Pan, and I'm confident it will be just as amazing.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

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