on March 5, 2012
Goliath is a graphic novel of the story of David and Goliath, told from Goliath's point of view. I loved it, and I loved sharing it with my children (ages 10 and 12).
This is a sturdy book, with drawings and type that feel like a bit of a throwback to my untutored eye. Stylistically, especially in the sparse landscapes, I'm reminded of Edward Gorey, whose work I know mostly from watching Mystery! on PBS as a child. Gauld's work has the same "cross hatch" style, which makes simple drawings seem quite complex. Goliath is done in three colors: black, white, and brown. The landscape, with boulders, hills, and a few scraggly leafless trees, is quite barren.
The focus of Goliath is not on action, and indeed, there is almost no action until the final frames. It's the character of Goliath, the novelty of getting the giant's back story, and the questions it raises about point of view and truth, that propel the book. I was very impressed with Gauld's ability to convey so much story through minimal text and stripped down illustrations.
That said, despite the somber tone, there are moments of wry humor in Goliath, especially in the bureaucratic muddle that is the Philistine army, and in Goliath's relationship with his shield-bearer, an eager, naive boy whose pointed questions reveal the absurdity of Goliath's situation. My one criticism of the book would be that on one or two occasions the humor veers into "cutesy" territory.
You have to watch for the small things in Goliath. In the opening pages, Goliath has gone down to the river for a drink. He absentmindedly picks up a rock. He looks at it, and lets it go. The "plop" it makes as it reenters the river is barely noticed by Goliath, but it's a strong dose of foreshadowing for the reader. Also notice how the type changes when scripture is quoted. The seemingly simple type and text are jarring against the force of the powerful, epic narrative most readers will know very well.
This is a bleak book: a lot of waiting, for no apparent reason, then death. I was glad Gauld didn't pull his punches: David walking off with Goliath's head is the last image. It's not gory, but it's very powerful. Goliath isn't too sure what he's waiting for or why. If you didn't know the story, nothing in Goliath would clue you in as to why there is a battle in the first place. As Darth Vader would put it, the existential themes are strong in this one.
I also like the questions the book raises about point of view and truth. Goliath sure does look bad from the point of view to which those versed in the Jewish, Muslim, or Christian traditions are accustomed (there's even a Greek version): a bloodthirty, taunting giant (he calls the Israelites during their time of prayer), with super duper armor and a terrifying bronze spear and sword. Pit him against David, practically a child, with no armor, and a few rocks, and you have the makings of a huge upset victory. As a Jew, I read the story as revealing David's fitness to be king, and, more generally, as imparting a multitude of other lessons about hubris before God, etc. In our tradition, Goliath, once struck by David's rock, falls forward on his face, and rabbis throughout the ages have claimed this shows how right David was, that God didn't even make him walk too far to cut off Goliath's head. In Gauld's version, the dead Goliath is on his back. In my reading, this reinforces the theme we shouldn't be too sure about our own rightness, about our differences from those we deem wrong, or about the "one true version" of any story.