In Praise of the Gobblings

The illustrated book "The Gobblings" offers a dark tale of one boy's scary adventures in space -- but it's hard to say if this is indeed a "children's book."

The illustrated book “The Gobblings” offers a dark tale of one boy’s scary adventures in space — but it’s hard to say if this is indeed a “children’s book.”


We all have those dreams from time to time — to suddenly find ourselves in a very unfamiliar place. For some reason in those dreams, unfamiliar rarely feels exciting, like we’re about to start on a new adventure. Instead, it always feels ominous.
We’ve been taken out of our regular, cozy place — whether it’s home, or the office, or a favorite spot for social gatherings. In my two most reoccurring dreams along these lines, I’m either in a dark parking lot and can’t find my car, or I’ve just arrived in a strange and very big city and have immediately gotten lost. I wake up feeling anxious and unsettled.
There are probably flashes of childhood memories buried deep within these adult dreams, of the first time as a child you found yourself in a situation, or place, where you experienced a similar emotion. You wake up alone in your bedroom after hearing a strange noise and you wonder for a second, If I scream, will my parents hear me? Are they even in the next room?
Or your parents take you to a shopping mall, and when your mother let’s go of your hand and you wander off for a second to look at something, you turn and … don’t see your family. A panic grips you — are you now lost? That feeling stays with you until your mother reaches out and takes your hand again, and says “Don’t leave my side.”
Who knows how long adults carry with them buried memories of those anxious and disturbing moments, of being in situations where you feel lost, and alone, and vulnerable. After reviewing the new book “The Gobblings” by authors Matthue Roth and Rohan Daniel Eason, it’s easy to momentarily slip back into those feelings once again.
That’s true even though “The Gobblings” is an illustrated book that is set in a future galaxy, on a space ship, and has virtually nothing to do with the world we live in now.
But it doesn’t need to. Just sit comfortably with the book in your hands, and turn the pages and follow the saga of young Herbie, whose parents have brought him to a space station. Follow the young boy as he hears the strange sounds on the ship and, to his horror, discovers a herd of gobblings hiding deep within that massive space craft.
It’s one of those mements similar to waking up in the middle of the night to that burst of thunder and wondering, just wondering, Did I really just hear something strange thumping around in my bedroom closet?
The story itself is fairly simple. Herbie’s new “house” is that space ship, and he doesn’t like it much. His parents stay busy working the controls, building new machines, and have little to no time to devote to their son. The windows of the space craft show nothing but a dark star system beyond them.
In this cold and unfamiliar environment, Herbie has no friends at all, so he spends his days building little robots. If he disturbs his parents’ work, they send him away.
“Can’t you just go and keep yourself occupied?” his father asks.
So Herbie wanders off, exploring that space ship on his own.
What he doesn’t realize — and neither do his parents — is that the space ship has accidentally picked up visitors — the gobblings, a band of dragon-like creatures described as “space pests” similar to mosquitos, only much larger. And they feast on metal — including the metal on the space ship.
When Herbie finally discovers those hideous creatures near the landing dock, he also figures out they’ve eaten different machines on the ship. And that’s when he realizes the gobblings intend to consume every piece of metal on the ship, destroying it.
From the front cover of the newly released hardcover edition, “The Gobblings” looks like any other children’s book, with fantastic images meant to capture a child’s imagination.
But the dark themes in the story — loneliness, feeling abandoned in a potentially hostile environment, sensing the vulnerability of hostile forces closing in on you — really harken back to those childhood memories of suddenly being deserted in an unfamiliar place, with no mom and dad to protect and guide you.
“The Gobblings” is really an eerie trip down memory lane for adults, in a sense.
With it’s space setting and use of strange alien figures, and the creation of a boy who is intelligent enough to spend his days building robots, “The Gobblings” almost feels like a book that could have been written by one of the characters in the television series “The Big Bang Theory” — and it’s no surprise that the book jacket includes a review and praise by Mayim Bialik, the actress who plays Amy Farrah Fowler in that series, who writes, “Matthue Roth continues to astound with his brilliance and novelty. Everything he touches turns to mystical and delightful artistic gold. Fearless, funny, and fantastically fantastical.”
It’s also interesting to note that Roth also wrote the book “My First Kafka: Runaways, Rodents and Giant Bugs”. There are touches of Franz Kafka in “The Gobblings” as well, where space and its creepy mysteries become a good substitute for some of the dark environments that Kafka’s own characters found themselves in.
In the age of violent and bloody video games that children can spend hours playing, it might be a real stretch to say “The Gobblings” is too dark for young kids to read. They might find it quite entertaining.
But for me, this is also very much a book for adults — particularly those who, like me, still have vivid dreams about being lost in a hostile environment, only to wake up feeling the exact same way I did as a child coming out of a similarly unsettling nightmare.

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