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Tom Harpur. Illustrated by Linda Hendry.
Toronto, ON: Oxford University Press, 1990.
32pp., laminated boards, $14.95.
ISBN 0-19-540716-4. CIP.

Subject Headings:
Finn MacCumhaill, 3rd cent.-Legends.

Preschool-grade 3 / Ages 3-8

Reviewed by Jennifer Johnson.

Volume 18 Number 3
1990 May

In The Terrible Finn MacCoul, Tom Harpur provides a retelling of a traditional Irish legend. Finn MacCoul, an Irish giant, is forced into a confrontation with an invading Scottish giant, Fergus. Finn, though large, is gentle and deathly afraid of the masterful Fergus. It is Finn's wife Sara who calms him and who engineers a wonderful trap for the intruder. Sara convinces Finn to climb into the baby's cradle and, with the help of a comforter, soother and bonnet, she transforms her husband into a truly giant-sized baby.

Opening the door to Fergus she invites him to sit on "Finn's wee stool," a solid oak bench. Sara then offers tea in a milk bucket - "Finn's favourite teeny mug" - and follows this with scones into each of which she has baked many iron griddles. Fergus' enthusiasm for a fight with Finn evaporates after he loses teeth to the scones, which he is told are Finn's preferred snack. Before he can leave, however, Sara invites him to see the baby. When Fergus sees the child he is properly horrified and makes his departure with great speed after being bitten by the "wee darling." Harpur's telling is well paced and the sequencing of Sara's comments is effective.

Linda Hendry has created appropriately engaging characters to illustrate the story. Finn and Fergus both sport unruly red beards, eyebrows and heads of hair and solid, stocky figures. Sara, in contrast, is slim and dark and always in control. Hendry has had fun with the juxtaposition of the giant and the ordinary. Her pages are bursting with such details as multitudes of domestic cats on the hearth and cradle; while Sara's great hands produce huge scones, the eggs for Finn's breakfast are dwarfed by his mighty fork. The giant figures also break out of the borders Hendry uses, adding to the impact of these larger-than-life characters. Libraries may already have Tomie De Paola's version of the Finn MacCoul tale, Fin M'Coul (Holiday House, 1981), but Harpur's Terrible Finn MacCoul provides a supplementary version in picture-book format for folktale collections.

Jennifer Johnson, Ottawa Public Library, Ottawa, ON.
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