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Book Reviews, Books, Fiction

Retro Book Review: The Trumpet of Terror (Choose Your Own Adventure).

It’s been a long time, but I haven’t forgotten my Choose Your Own Adventure review series! If you told me when I started this series in 2013 that in three years I would only be at book 55, I would have laughed. Ah, well. Life intervenes. But that’s no excuse for skipping a pretty solid adventure involving Norse mythology, which admittedly is the kind of thing that doesn’t show up very often in these books.

The Trumpet of Terror by Deborah Lerme Goodman (illustrated by Ted Enik)
Published: April 1986
Number in the CYOA Series: 55

The last (and only previous) book I reviewed by Deborah Lerme Goodman was Magic of the Unicorn, a highly fanciful but pretty enjoyable adventure that, as its title suggests, crosses over into pure fantasy. In her third book for the series–I didn’t review The Throne of Zeus–Goodman continues her exploration of fantasy and mythological themes. The Trumpet of Terror is based on Norse mythology. On the cover you’ve got a burly red-bearded Thor swinging his hammer, a Viking ship and a sparkling rainbow leading to the heavens. Truth in advertising! Even before the story begins there’s a “Special Information” page laying out the basic cosmology of the Viking world, which envisioned the universe as a tree, Yggdrasil, and the various layers (roots, trunk, branch, etc.) representing realms of existence. This worldview is quite literally the setting for the story.

The story itself begins in Sandeborg, on the coast of Denmark, in the year 938. You’re about to set sail for Iceland with your friend Nils. You’re quite privileged in this society, because you own a little trinket called the Trumpet of Terror, a horn given to your great-grandfather by the god Odin. The trumpet is so powerful that its sound strikes fear into the heart of any enemy, causing him to surrender instantly, but evidently it can only be blown once, in a “serious emergency.” (I guess none of the men in your family going back three generations ever encountered a “serious emergency,” or else the trumpet’s one use resets with each owner–that’s never explained). Anyway, after this exposition, you happen to spot Odin himself hanging around the dock. Your first choice is whether to join him, at the risk of missing the boat that’s about to sail, or staying on board. A bit clunky for a first choice, but whatever.

valhalla by emil doepler 1905 pd

This is not an illustration from The Trumpet of Terror, but it may as well be. Valhalla, a favorite subject in Norse mythology, is visited briefly in the book.

The plot doesn’t really matter that much. Basically, there is trouble in the realm of Norse gods. An evil witch, Gullveig, has been causing problems in Asgard, realm of the gods, forcing the other gods to dance for her, give her gold and wait on her hand and foot. More importantly, Gullveig has run off the goddess Idunn, who has the magic apples that keep the gods immortal. Though not all the plot threads are focused on this quest, most of them somehow involve you resolving this situation, either by getting rid of Gullveig, rescuing the magic apples, or other similar tasks. Throughout these quests you meet various members of Odin’s extended family, including Thor (of course), the trickster god Loki, various races of Norns, dwarves and giants, and basically anyone else you could imagine from a somewhat-simplified pantheon of Viking gods and demigods. I found myself not caring that much about the plot specifics, because the main focus is on the fantasy spectacle and the interesting world of Norse mythology.

Honestly, most of what this book has to offer is based on its premise and setting. That’s not a bad thing. Deborah Lerme Goodman has an interesting knack for transforming real mythology into a compelling setting for a book, even if it is, as it must be, quite sanitized for a children’s audience. She has plenty of fantastic set-pieces to work with, from the eight-legged horse Sleipnir to the great party hall in the sky, Valhalla, with which all modern metalheads are familiar thanks to bands like Manowar and Amon Amarth. In this sense the stakes are pretty low: so long as Ms. Goodman makes good use of the mythological elements, there’s no real need for intricate plotting or well-rounded characters. CYOA books in general can be a little flat in both plot and character elements, but in a book like this it doesn’t matter. It’s meant to be a dazzling tour through a mythological landscape, and it is definitely that.

odin riding sleipnir pd

Odin traditionally rode an eight-legged horse called Sleipnir, which is “your” main mode of transportation in The Trumpet of Terror. This illustration comes from an old Icelandic manuscript.

There are a couple of foibles. The Trumpet of Terror itself is not used to its fullest potential. It exists mostly as a deus ex machina to get you out of sticky situations (if you haven’t already wasted your one chance to use it, as you find out to your cost on p. 58), but its more natural potential, as a MacGuffin, is barely realized. Your encounters with gods and demigods are awfully random, and thus plots are kind of meandering, bumping between one god or magical beast and another. The book also replicates one odd point of Goodman’s previous book Magic of the Unicorn, which despite involving unicorns and magic was set in the real world (16th century Belgium). This book is ostensibly set in the real world 10th century, but the line between what’s real and what’s fantasy, and hence what the “rules” are in this world, is unclear. That doesn’t really detract a lot from the experience, but I noticed it.

On the whole I enjoyed this book. The mythological stuff is really cool, and presents a world that few kids (or adults, for that matter) have ever seen portrayed in a story. There are some fun and memorable passages, like the first time you meet Gullveig (p. 12) or the metafictional ending on p. 56, which is almost a “Tommy Westphall’s snow globe” type of ending. I also liked the illustrations. Ted Enik was one of my favorite children’s book illustrators of the period. This is far from the best book in the series, but it’s enjoyable, well-written and fun. And honestly, what kid, given the chance, wouldn’t want to slum around with Thor and Odin?

Grade: B Plus

Next up: Tony Koltz has a chance to redeem himself with Terror Island.

The header image in this article was taken by me, and feature the cover of the CYOA book which are copyrighted. I believe my inclusion here constitutes fair use. The illustration of Valhalla is from a 1905 book by Emil Doepler, and the illustration of Odin and Sleipnir is from an 18th century Icelandic manuscript. Both images are in the public domain.


  1. Great memories, thanks Sean.

  2. Nicholas Newsome

    It’s been a while, thanks for another review. I’m not quite as big on this book as some of the others, but I appreciate your ability to notice qualities that I might have overlooked. For me, Enik’s illustrations tend to sap the stories of much of their weight/gravity. But like you said, enjoyable and fun.

  3. eli

    I own this book and it’s one of my favorite cyoa. I bet if u send a copy of this book 2 marvel studios it would give them enough material 4 at least a dozen Thor movies.

    btw I don’t think the Viking on the cover is Thor. that dude’s beard is red. Thor is blond. but maybe it’s just a coloring mistake and they meant it to be blond.

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