The above account ignores the major qualities of Davidson’s work, which are verbal invention and bizarre humor. The Peregrine books are in many ways a parody of the fantasy genre, or a mock epic. The King of Alfland might suggest the king of some magical or elvish realm, for in the Norse Eddic poems elves are indeed alfar. Davidson has chosen, however, to give another meaning to “Alf,” which is the short and vulgar form of the name Alfred, long popular in England. The King of Alfland accordingly speaks with a cockney accent, keeps ferrets in his pockets, and has as his closest friend the King of Bertland—Bert being a name of the same kind as Alf.
In the same way, when Peregrine’s riverboat is captured during Peregrine: Primus by a horde of the Huns, the horde proves to consist of eleven men, some of them riding double. Their leader, Attila IV, King of Hun Horde Seventeen, becomes easy prey to elementary flattery concerning his nonexistent greatness. A continuing vein of amusement comes from the antics of the Byzantine church, occupied entirely with claims and counterclaims of heresy, and of the late Roman Empire, in which every town seems to have its own Caesar and civil war is a popular sport.
The surprising thing is that much of the time Davidson’s bizarre exaggerations are based on fact; indeed, he displays an unexpectedly deep knowledge of the historical period. Near the end of Peregrine: Secundus, two old senators have been dispatched to a rural town to carry out a traditional pagan invocation, which—to please the locals—should be...
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