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Reviews of Trouble with Water (1939)

Review by djq (2006-01-28)
This story was originally published in a fantasy magazine titled "Unknown" in 1939, when the author was 25 years old. It has been anthologized many times since then, and is in fact the lead-off story for Gardner Dozois's anthology: "Modern Classics of Fantasy" (1997). For such a heavily anthologized work one would expect the story to be meatier, but it reads like a fairly pedestrian, simplistic fairy tale. No great characters or worlds are created or alluded to. In fact it takes place in a world that could almost be ours (of 1939), except that there are a few disturbingly unexplained differences. For example, the protagonist of the story is concerned about the expense of providing a dowry for his daughter. But in 1939 America, fathers were not expected to provide dowries. Or, take the fact that in the story it rains only on weekends because of the actions of a water gnome. Well, it doesn't rain only on weekends, of course. One can suspend disbelief to allow an author the character of a water gnome, but it asks us to suspend a different kind of disbelief to believe that it rains only on weekends, and I am not really comfortable giving the author this. It seems to be allowing rules to be made up as the story goes. That is only one shortcoming of the story. The other is that there seems to be no great purpose in telling us the story. It lacks an important theme ,other than perhaps "Be nice to everyone because doing otherwise could disturb a powerful stranger into taking an action against your interest." Who doesn't already know this? The story is not without some merit though. The plot is well-constructed in that the author has given the protagonist a situation with an interesting problem to solve; we care about how he solves it; and the solution is surprising. These are all essential elements of a good story, and here the author does not disappoint. Also, although not deeply written, the characters have good and bad sides, making them complex and therefore interesting and appealing. Horace Gold normally wrote science fiction. He crafted this story for what was considered to be the juvenile market of fantasy, and it never quite transcends that audience's expectations. My final judgement is that the story is not all that ambitious, but given what it sets out to achieve, it is nevertheless successful and interesting.

©Steven Jeffery /, 2012
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