Tuesday, March 18, 2008

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

Adventure. Peril. Lost Jewels. And the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree.

The genre of fantasy, myth, and legend has been exploding of late. In a resurgence of interest in the classics of Tolkien and Lewis, in new forms like Rowling, in re-imagining Beowulf and Leonidas--our world wants something legendary. Heroes come as in halflings like hobbits and Harry. Readers and moviegoers lose themselves in the worlds of Spiderwick, Hogworts, Narnia.
Tolkien, Lewis, and others knew that fantasy, myth, and legend are always part of our culture because they reveal something deep about human nature, perhaps so deep that only the mythical, legendary, and fantastical can reveal it.

Our culture is grasping for this in the fantasy literature and cinema, looking for a larger view of their world and a bigger view of themselves. Andrew Peterson in his novel, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, the first of The Wingfeather Saga, taps into both the tradition and the trend of fantasy literature.

Peterson started this tale as a bedtime story for his own children—two boys and a young daughter. It has the quality of oral tradition to it and the silliness and wackiness of a dad thinking of the most outlandish creatures, the most fun names and characters, and a story that closely resembles (I think) what his own kids might do. While his setting and enemies sometimes lack the gravitas of say Tolkien and Lewis—who grounded their works in ancient cultures and myth—you have to appreciate the imagination that comes up with creatures toothy cows, snarling horned hounds, flabbits, and thwaps. There’s an incredible background for this too, complete with footnotes throughout the novel for additional information. Like Tolkien, Peterson, a songwriter by trade, weaves the songs and poetry of a land into the story. Oh, and if I ever get to run a bookstore, I would want to call it Books & Crannies Bookstore with is labyrinth of aisles and souvenirs like a snot wax candle. Can't you just imagine a dad coming up with the grossest things for his boys? Wait 'til you read about making maggotloaf for the Fangs of Dang.

Like his predecessors, the focus of the novel is on unlikely heroes, the marginalized of a culture. In the land of Skree, the evil Gnag the Nameless seeks the lost jewels of the Shining Isle of Anniera. Here in a ravaged country, overtaken by evil, a family rises to meet a challenge of heroic magnitude. Janner Igiby, his younger brother Tink, and crippled sister Leeli stumble into an adventure that is greater than them and that will take them beyond their home and town. I loved the interaction and relationship between Janner and Tink. Janner, as the eldest, feels the responsibility to look after his siblings and also the burden of that responsibility. He longs for greater adventure and a wider scope of experience. Tink, the curious and the sometimes cowardly, has an insatiable appetite and grumbling stomach that at times gets them into trouble. Leeli and her dog Nugget have an indomitable spirit. I especially appreciated the focus on a family—mother, grandfather (an ex-pirate), a deceased father who still lives in their memory, and the children. Even with the delightful Pevensies of the Narnia Chronicles, the parental element is missing and all the love, conflict, and responsibility that entails.
There's great beauty in the novel as well: the way the lost city of Anniera is spoken of, the song of sea dragons who rise out of the mist in the moonlight and join their song with Leeli, a mother comforting her children. And in the middle of ugly evil and the scars it can leave behind, there are glimpes of hope, reconciliation, and restoration to come.

As this is the first in a series, there was quite a bit exposition to get through with more rising conflict as the book progressed. By the end, though, I was ready for the next stage in the adventure.
I have an additional copy of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness for yourself (or the tween/teen in your life) to give away to whoever gets to me first. Or you can purchase a copy at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1400073847

1 comment:

Travis Prinzi said...

Interesting to learn that it came out of stories to children. As I was reading it, I would occasionally start reading out loud, so see how it worked. It's brilliant read aloud. Makes a lot of sense that it originated in stories told, rather than stories written.