Tom Gauld’s “Goliath” celebrates the little guy

Point of View Points to a New Story

School Library Journal    |    Angela Carstensen    |    March 14, 2012

It’s Wednesday again already, and you know what that means! Here is graphic novel guest blogger Francisca Goldsmith with another gem:

The Biblical story of David and Goliath rings familiar to many, at least as metaphor giving birth to aspects of contemporary life. Even as the Occupy Movement has inculcated in many media—and Main Street—messages that being part of the 99% of “little guys” holds moral superiority over belonging to the 1% of wealthy who are therefore “big,” earlier generations have valued the Little Engine Who Could, the little pigs up against the big wolf, etc. Cheering for the underdog comes easily to a lot of readers, and David, who is depicted as a mere boy up against a great hulking Philistine, is the likely hero.

Gauld’s eloquently simple narrative, therefore, offers us a story that is wholly new, in spite of its relatively close tracking of the boy-meets-giant battle. This is Goliath’s story. Yes, he’s huge and apparently hairy, but he’s a guy who likes his administrative work and doesn’t like patrol duty, let alone going into battle. And yes, he gets killed by little David.

It’s a combination of Gauld’s pacing—including the pacing of the panels in which he lets Goliath’s final days unfurl—and the tidy choice of conceptually modern terms the cast employs. Goliath gets to find out what the King of the Philistines has in mind for him only once he is handed a scroll and told to read it loud and strong for the hearing of the Enemy. Wait, Goliath thinks/says, what’s this about slaying me in particular?

At under a hundred pages, and taking as its source a story that is either known or easy enough to tell in a paragraph, this change of viewpoint is easy to compare and contrast with what we already “know.” Gauld reminds his readers that what we see isn’t the only viewpoint. And he does it with humor and good will, attributes that rarely come in the same thought-breath as the original version.

Adult/High School–Gauld, who frequently draws for The New Yorker and The Guardian, brings his simple but evocative style to a retelling of the Biblical story from the giant’s point of view. In this version, the Philistine army is a bureaucratic organization and Goliath is a content administrator, a gentle soul with no love of bear fighting or boasting. In simple line cartoons, burnished with an era-appropriate bronze, readers accompany him to a mystifying meeting with the king and watch his befuddlement as he is provided with a nine-year-old shield bearer and a large but rather haphazardly built coat of armor. Then there is the 40 days’ wait in the desert for an answer from the enemy to the challenge Goliath reads aloud daily. And, in the end, poor Goliath–as readers’ sympathies have come to lie with him not as opposed to the Israelites but as opposed to his fellow Philistines–is killed. Gauld’s panels offer wonderful portraits of Goliath’s final six weeks or so of life, including the unchanging rock piles in the desert and the brightness of the moon against a black sky. Quick to read but easy to consider and reconsider, the humor and pathos in Goliath’s worldview requires longer thought than reading time. An eminently discussable graphic novel.–Francisca Goldsmith, Infopeople Project, CA

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