Reviewed by Joe TaylorTHE SECRET HISTORY OF HOBGOBLINS by Professor Ari Berk, 45 pages (plus bits and bobs), Candlewick Press
Review By Joe Taylor


The Secret History of Hobgoblins by Ari Berk, Books by Ari Berk, Professor Ari BerkWe thought when we started “Hobgoblins” that we were opening a children’s book and of course we did. But the Secret History of Hobgoblins is more than what it seems and we could have expected no less from any book written by Ari Berk. We make it our policy to never read other reviews before reviewing a book at Yaroos, though we’re sure what the gist of the reviews written about Hobgoblins has been. That it has been called a charming book for children, with warmly drawn little creatures in their fireside habitats seems obvious. It’s probably been called witty and sweet and a lot of other pleasant things. And like most books written by Professor Berk there’s always fires in fireplaces, lots of candles and community, and food to be eaten which undoubtedly has made the reviews as well. It’s appeal to the wee ones above the stairs will appear in every one of them.

But on reading Ari Berk’s little Hobgoblin book, this reviewer couldn’t help but notice a little bit of magicThe Secret History of Hobgoblins by Professor Ari Berk: A journey of a thousand film scripts may indeed start with just one small book. taking place in his adult head. A little spark from one of those Hobgoblin fireplaces popped out and set my imagination on fire. For writers and screenwriters of Fantasy, The Secret History of Hobgoblins is a book with a purpose beyond it’s intended one. It was written with the intention of heralding in “a swift return to the hospitable practices of the past”, written as a guide to kindness and considerate behavior for children. One imagines that Ari Berk may have written this beautiful book on the wee folk for his little boy Robin, or maybe he wrote it for the child inside himself. There’s not much doubt that he wrote it for both.

Ari Berk is a professor of English at Central Michigan University, teaching medieval literature, folklore, mythology and Native American Studies. A peek at his website, reveals a writer with broad interests that include art of the medieval and renaissance periods, Gothic architecture, Greek and Roman sculpture, and alchemy as well as a deep interest in Native American culture. What ties all of these seemingly disparate subjects together is his foremost interest in the human spirit, the cultures formed by it and how it expresses itself as Time marches the Earth. True art is always the expression of that spirit regardless of its subject matter.

Like all writers who keep a day job in the halls of academia, Professor Berk depends on his ability as a researcher and it’s powerful research that he has put into this small book. Remember the Red Caps from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban? Turns out they’re cruel little mites that hang out in the ruined towers of Scottish castles. From the British Isles to the Isle of Japan, this book is a history of ancient lore, of spirits under the stairs and behind the fireplace, in barns and in trees, and the magic of old things.

It has lots of little fold outs and tabs to open which will please small children. But for writers of fantasy, The Secret History of Hobgoblins may be a book to stash under your arm on the way to Starbucks, (no spilling on this little beauty; that latte’s gonna need a lid). It’s full of ideas for stories and characters and the worlds they live in. The path of a thousand film scripts may indeed begin with just one small book.

The illustrations are by Gary Chalk, Alan Lee, Virginia Lee, Larry MacDougall and Fernando Molinari. The use of so many different illustrators has managed to make each story a wholly different one, giving each “Hob” it’s own personality. And the writing is imaginative and borders on the poetic: “Traditionally, the “in-between” moments, when time pauses at its own boundaries, are the best for viewing hobgoblins at their work.” It’s how Ari Berk manages to make reading a children’s book to the tucked in set so rewarding for Mom and Dad.

If you’ve lost your imagination along the way, don’t worry. It was probably borrowed by a Hobgoblin under your stove. Ari Berk’s written a wonderful little book full of creatures that can help you get it back, and writers, we particularly mean you!

Yaroos gives The Secret History of Hobgoblins 5 Stars out of a possible 5.