Wednesday, September 21, 2011

CSFF Blog Tour - September 2011, Day Three

Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour (September 2011) - Day Three.

The Monster in the Hollows, by Andrew Peterson.
Day One Post
Day Two Post

In my first post I mentioned that because The Monster in the Hollows was well-written for the middle schooler, it would also be enjoyed by those beyond middle school age, i.e., by young adults and adults. Of course, I’m talking about stories written for children roughly between 8 and 12 years of age, and which are quality children’s stories like The Wind in the Willows, The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wouldbegoods, and The Monster in the Hollows. There were comments to the post that agreed with my observation. But is it a valid point? Is it credible to say that a level of writing that appeals to children would, by virtue of that intrinsic appeal, also be favored by older youth and adults? Because the adult is more mature both intellectually and psychologically, would it ordinarily be an embarrassment for the adult to be caught delighting in a children’s story?

I can only answer that in terms of my own response to such literature. My makeup – mental and psychological – is unique to me, but I don’t think absolutely so. In other words, the reasons for which good children’s literature appeals to me as an adult are the same reasons that other adults enjoy such literature. To be sure, the character of my response has subtle and not-so-subtle differences when compared to the response of others. But I think that when a literary work for children is enjoyed by older youth and adults, it is fundamentally for the same reasons.

C. S. Lewis would agree. In his essay, On Three Ways of Writing for Children, he states:

Where the children’s story is simply the right form for what the author has to say, then of course readers who want to hear that will read the story or re-read it, at any age. I never met The Wind in the Willows or the Bastable books till I was in my late twenties, and I do not think I have enjoyed them any the less on that account. I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good one’s last.

Lewis implies that the form of the children’s story and the message of the author have a lot to do whether or not the children’s story itself is the appropriate vehicle to send the message. It does not really matter what the nature of the message is. It may be a serious one such as we are hopeless, helpless sinners under God’s wrath, and only through God’s mercy and grace in Christ may we find hope and help. The message could be historically educational such as what it would have been like as a youngster during the American Revolution (Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes). Related to history is biography, and the one that jumps to mind is Carry on Mr. Bowditch, by Jean Lee Latham. My son, now 21 and hard at work in theological studies, thinks it is one of the best novel’s he’s ever read. The message may be about a child’s love for a dog and the emotional drive of revenge as in Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard. Probably my own over-all favorite is the Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald.

When I was stationed at Fort Bragg in the mid 1980’s, I was at one of my favorite places of the mall - Golden Bookstore. That is where I first came across The Great Brain. This is significant. I was looking in the children’s section not because I was looking for a children’s book for a child. I was just looking because there was the attraction, a penchant for a good juvenile book that came very early in my life as a result of the consumption of at least half a dozen novels based on the characters of Oz created by Lyman Frank Baum. I bought the book, read it, and sent it to my then seven-year-old daughter (who read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe when she was four). She loved it, of course.

Why does the children’s story appeal to me and other adults as well. I guess the pat answer is the one that says there is a child in all of us. I think, if properly understood, that is true. It means that certain things you delighted in as a child are still a delight today. For me it means the youthful experiences of playing in the woods, eating apple dumplings, leaping two feet into the air in joy over a World Series winning home run (a la Bill Mazeroski in the 1960 series against the New York Yankees), and sleeping in a snug, warm bed are experiences I still enjoy. To be sure, I merely walk in the woods these days, and though I still get excited about sports, I doubt I could defy gravity by more than two inches any more. And I don’t fall asleep as sweetly as I used to - too many things on my mind and too many aches in my body. Nothing has changed about the apple dumplings.

Now to get to my point in all of this. I ran across a review by a twelve-year-old on Kjelgaard’s Big Red. There is something he said that is pertinent.
I liked this book because it was real descriptive and I could picture what was happening. It just has a great plot overall but the illustrations were not as good as the words.
To this twelve-year-old, the craft of the writing made the book come alive. It painted a picture better than what literal pictures could do. Granted, the illustrations may have been poor drawings but that is unlikely. In some sense, I find most illustrations to be poor, not because the quality of the drawing is poor, but because they don’t comport with what has been conjured up by my own imagination based on the words of the author.

The Monster in the Hollows is a fabulous example of the children’s story whose quality is certain to please not only the child in the child, but also the child in the adult. And it’s because of the words. The writing is high standard. It is simple yet powerful. Description, dialogue, and action are related to us through uncomplicated language that is crafted so well it takes us into an imaginatively visible world.

Here’s an example that I came to after randomly flipping through a few pages.

  “Hello? Biggin?” Groundwich knocked on the door as she opened it. “Biggin O’Sally?”
  “Biggin’s gone. Just us.” A boy swaggered into the doorway and leaned against it as if he didn’t have a care in the world. He wore a white shirt without sleeves, and his pants were held up with suspenders. He tilted his head a little so the lock of his long black hair that wasn’t slicked back didn’t cover his eyes. A strip of dried meat hung out of his mouth, and he chewed it as he observed the visitors without even a nod of greeting.
  “Who is it?” came another boy’s voice.
  “Head Guildmadam Groundwich and some others. One’s a funny kid.”
  The way he said it didn’t bother Janner for some reason. The boy was stating a fact, not hurling an insult. Kalmar didn’t seem to be bothered by it either.
  “I wanna see.” Another boy, a little taller but dressed the same, with the same slick hair and unimpressed expression, appeared at the door and looked Kalmar over. “Oy, he’s furry,” he said, then he went back to whatever he had been doing.
  “These are the O’Sally boys,” said Olumphia. “There are two others. Where are they?” She craned her neck to look inside.
  “With Pa. Training. Out back.” The first boy sniffed and swallowed a chunk of meat.
  “You can tell him, then,” said the guildmadam. “He has a new student. I won’t hear any complaint about it. Her name is Leeli Wingfeather, and I wager she’ll know dogspeak better than either of you by the end of the week.”
  “No she won’t,” said the boy with a hint of a shrug. “Nobody can train better than me and my brothers. Not even Pa, though he won’t admit it. Don’t mean any disrespect, ma’am.”
  “I took none, Thorn. But you’re wrong.”
  “That’s possible, ma’am.” Thorn took another bite of meat and looked past them at Leeli for the first time. She sat on a bale of hay, scratching a gray horse of a dog behind the ears and singing to it. Behind the gray dog, a dozen more stood patiently in line, as though waiting their turn. “Very possible,” said Thorn with nod of surprise.
For me, the musty smell of straw and animal come without the mention of any kind of smell. It comes with the picture in my mind. Another thing is what this scene does for the story itself. Against the opposition of just about everyone else in Ban Rona, and especially against the cruel tauntings of Grigory Bunge and other classmates that will come, there is no animosity from the O’Sally boys; just curiosity. This benign attitude stands out again and again and in fact plays a small but critical part in the climax of the story.

I spoke just this last Sunday with an elderly woman in our church. She loves to read because most of the time it’s better than a movie. That is what is so good about The Monster in the Hollows. The excellent writing is a form through which the story plays out before our mind’s eye. What is better is that we see it not as watching a play from a seat in the theater, but as a ghost figure on the stage itself. It strikes all the chords of our own childhood experiences, and an essay could be written on that alone.
Participant Links

Get The Monster in the Hollows on amazon.
Rabbit Room Book Link
Series Web Site

Thanks to Rabbit Room Press who kindly provided a copy of the book for review on the CSFF blog tour. The Monster in the Hollows, by Andrew Peterson, is book three of the Wingfeather Saga.

Monday, September 19, 2011

CSFF Blog Tour - September 2011, Day Two

Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour (September 2011) - Day Two.

The Monster in the Hollows, by Andrew Peterson.
Most of us have had at least one school teacher whom we could not possibly forget. Their image is ever before us because of something about them that made an impression as indelible as a tatoo on a frog’s rump and just as rare. I had several.

One was a seventh grade reading teacher that I would have sworn had played the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) in the 1939 movie, the Wizard of Oz.

Her looks and personality would have made her a natch for the part. I had never seen the movie in color so I had no idea the witch was green. Had I known, it would have been a surefire clue that the witch and my teacher were not the same since she was no greener than I. This woman was absolutely fastidious about everything. I was taking a test once which required me to select items from a list of answers to associate with items in a second list. I struck through the number of an answer as I used it to ensure I didn’t use it twice.

The WWW was floating up and down the aisles between the desks, stopping here and there as she checked for who knows what. As an experiment to see what response I would get from her, I crossed out some of the numbers with a slash, others with a backslash, and not in any particular sequence. Sure enough, she came to my desk, and with those perpetually turned-down corners of her mouth, she looked upon my paper and scowled fiercely.  She stooped, and with a long bony finger pointed to my deviant markings and demanded I use the same stroke.

In sixth grade I had a teacher whose tantrums became legendary among us diminutive scholars, though somehow their notoriety never passed beyond the classroom walls. It was grade school, and we had the same teacher for all our classes, so we were in danger of her wrath from 8:00 AM to 3:30 PM five days a week, excluding the holidays for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year.

The most dreaded hour was the one right after lunch…history class. There were daily reading assignments which were to be completed the evening before. To see if we did our work, the teacher asked a question that was generally so simple that if one had merely slept with the text book under his pillow, he would have known the answer. The trouble, in spite of knowing her wrath would be swift and sure, almost to the man (generic masculine which still works for me) the assignment was ignored. She slammed books on her desk, shouted out what must have been fashionable oaths, and once, from the back of the room, threw a piece of chalk which shattered to pieces on the blackboard at the front.

I could go on and talk about Miss Dickey, my seventh grade math teacher, or Miss Jameison, my eleventh grade English teacher, both who had also been my father’s teachers. The math teacher was a snarly, caustic critic of that sub-human species called children, while the English teacher spoke incoherently with her eyes closed and a silly smile of rubied lips.

Andrew Peterson must have had similar experiences because they come to us crisp and clear through the pages of his book. The most memorable for me is found in the chapter titled, The Ten Whiskers of Olumphia Groundwich. Allow me to quote at length and see for yourself if my point is not well-taken. The scene is the first day of school, and Nia with her children have just arrived in a carriage at The Guilding Hall and Institute for Hollish Learning. They’ve come to a stop before the stone buildings of the school.

  “Where is everybody?” Leeli asked.
  “In class. Down you go,” Nia said. “We need to speak to the head guildmaster.”
  Janner wanted to ask what a head guildmaster was, but he figured he would know soon enough.
  The three children were as skittish as thwaps in Podo’s garden as Nia marched up the steps and knocked three times on the main door. It swung open immediately, and before them stood a tall, hideous woman in boots and a blue dress. The sleeves were too short, so her knobby wrists and half her forearms stuck out past the frills. Her hair was pulled back in a bun, which made her heavy brow and jaw seem even bigger. She frowned at them with a face that boasted exactly ten curly whiskers: two sprouting from her chin, six on her upper lip, one jutting out from the center of her nose, and one on her left cheek. Janner felt bad for counting them.
  “Oy! Nia Igiby Wingfeather!” the woman barked. Her voice was somehow shrill and husky at the same time. “I was expecting you. Follow.” She spun around and clomped away.
  Nia gave the children a surprised look and led them into the school….
 The ten-whiskered woman stopped and held open a door labeled “Head Guildmadam.” Nia thanked her with a nod and herded the children through. The room was furnished with a small desk and several chairs. A big brown dog snored on a blanket in the corner. Nia gestured for the children to sit and waited until the whiskery dame closed the door and sat at the desk.
  “I figure you don’t remember me,” the woman said with a scowl. “I figure you’re Nia Igiby who up and married a king and left the Hollows. I figure you’re bringing your three pups here for a proper Hollish education. I figure you think you’re somebody now, don’t you?”
  “I do, as a matter of fact,” said Nia. “And I think you’re somebody too.”
  “Oy? Then who, Your Highness? Who is the woman who sits before you?” The woman leaned back in her chair and folded her arms. She stared at Nia and frowned with great effort, which caused the six whiskers on her upper lip and the two on her chin to flick about like the antennae of a bug.
  “Children,” Nia said, still looking the woman in the eye, “I’d like you to meet the guildmadam. Guildmadam Groundwich. I knew her many years ago as Olumphia Groundwich, the Terror of Swainsby Road.”
  “Oy!” said Olumphia Groundwich, and she narrowed one eye. “Your mother knows me well. So well, in fact, that she had another name for me. Didn’t you, Nia Igiby? You called me something that no one else dared to call me.”
  “I did,” Nia said after a pause.
  “Tell them.” Mistress Groundwich scratched at a whisker and waved her hand. “Tell them now so we can be done with it.”
  Janner prayed that whatever name Nia called her wouldn’t lead to a fight right there in the guildmadam’s office. He desperately wanted to be on this woman’s good side, though he doubted she had a good side.
  “I called you friend,” Nia said with a smile. “My best friend.”
  “Oy!” Mistress Groundwich said. She leapt to her feet and towered over them. “Oy!” she said again. It startled all three Wingfeather children, who nearly jumped out of their seats.
  Nia embraced Olumphia, who lifted Nia off her feet and made a noise like a growl, at which point the big dog in the corner woke and thumped its tail. Nia looked like one of the children being swung around in one of Podo’s hugs.
  “Nia, my heart is full of joy at seeing you again. I just knew you’d been killed or imprisoned—or—Fanged.” She shot a glance at Kalmar and continued. “But you didn’t! You came back! And with children!”
  “It’s good to see you Olumphia,” Nia laughed. “And head guildmadam! By the hills and the hollows, I’m impressed! You hated school.”
  “I’m as surprised as you are. Never thought anyone would call me Guildmadam. I’m even more surprised that I love it. I always wondered why the Maker made me so tall and lanky, and why he gave me these rogue whiskers. Used to pluck them out every other day, but I found the students more terrified of me with them than without. I don’t have a husband—yet—so what do I care?”
  “Finding a man might be trickier with whiskers,” Nia said.
  “Oy! Hadn’t thought of that.” Olumphia plucked out one of the whiskers. Janner cringed. Olumphia blinked away the water that sprang to her eyes and chuckled. “There! I’ll find me a Hollish prince in no time. The blasted thing will be back by tomorrow evening, though.” Olumphia held up the whisker and inspected it with a frown.

Now, if that doesn’t make you want to get a book from the Wingfeather Saga, in the words of Sapphire Surefoot, “You ain’t in your right mind!”

Get The Monster in the Hollows on amazon.
Series Web Site

Thanks to Rabbit Room Press who kindly provided a copy of the book for review on the CSFF blog tour. The Monster in the Hollows is book three of the Wingfeather Saga.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

CSFF Blog Tour - September, 2011, Day One

Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour (September 2011) - Day One.

The Monster in the Hollows, by Andrew Peterson.

After a long trip across the Dark Sea of Darkness, and the harrowing experiences with the Fangs of Dang, forest-roaming toothy cows, a sea serpent, child slavery in the Fork Factory, and the battle of Kimera, the Igiby family arrives off the shores of Anneira, Nia Igiby’s homeland and its queen. Janner and Kalmer (her sons), Leeli (her daughter), and Podo Helmer (her father and former pirate) arrive with her. Janner had dreamed of living again in Castle Rysen where he was born. But his dreams turn to foolishness. Gnag the Nameless set it afire nine years prior, and it is still burning. 
     Janner was tired of running. He wanted a place to call his own, a place where Fangs didn’t roam, where Stranders didn’t want to cut his throat, and where he and his family could finally be at peace. (p. 9)

The children ask how it is possible that the land was still burning. Nia's answer somberly reveals the gravity of the threat that is pursuing them.
     Nia wiped her eyes. When she spoke, Janner heard the tremble of anger in her voice. “Gnag has hate enough in his heart to melt the very foundations of the castle, down to the bones of the isles itself. He won’t rest until Anniera sinks into the sea.”
    “But why?” Janner asked. “Why does he hate it so much? Who is he, even?”
    “Who knows? When it rages long enough, hate doesn’t need a reason. It burns for the sake of its own heat and devours whatever, or whomever, is set before it. Before the war, rumor came to us about an evil in the mountains—but Throg is a long way from Anniera. We never imagined it would come to us.” Nia closed her eyes. “By the time we realized the Fangs were after Anniera, it was too late. Your father believed the Symian Strait would protect us—or at least give us time to mount a defense.” She shook her head and looked at the children. “The point is, Gnag seemed to come from nowhere, like a crash of lightning. He wanted Anniera. He wanted us dead.” (p. 9,10)

And so, the book begins against the backdrop of an evil entity seeking out their destruction from whom they hope to find haven soon in the Green Hollows, just beyond the burning Anniera. Gnag dwells to the south of the Hollows in the Castle Throg where he “broods on the world’s destruction.” But the Hollows are presumably a sanctuary for several reasons. The folk there are a strong, determined people who have never liked outsiders and have been diligent to keep the Hollows isolated. The land is also protected by a massive, treacherous mountain range that separates it from Gnog's dwelling place; and the deep, twisted forest of Blackwood (whom no one has ever survived) surrounds the Hollows on the east and north. The west is open to the sea. Beside all that, Gnag would not expect to find them in his own back yard—who would be foolish enough to seek refuge there?

Nia is not absolutely certain, but she thinks Gnag made his army of fangs from people. It is probably so. Somewhere in all of the dangers and battles they have been through, Kalmar has fallen victim to this. He was transformed into a Grey Fang, a wolf whose vicious animal appetites overwhelm him at times, though he has learned to control much of it. His eyes are blue, as they were before, but his whole appearance is brutish having a snout, wolfish teeth, and dog-like ears that lay back on his head when he’s sorrowful or embarrassed.

The Green Hollows promises peace and safety, but there is trouble. The Hollow folk hate fangs. Kalmar would have been lynched and murdered if not for Nia’s call for turalay, in which she vouches for Kalmar’s behavior upon pain of the same punishment Kalmar would suffer should he violate his probation.

The family settles in the home of their father’s friend (their father has been lost) and they begin life in the Hollows. It is hard as the children face the brutal tauntings and threats of their schoolmates day in and day out. This becomes quite intense during PT (pummelry training), a class in which Janner and Kalmar are up against those who are at least a year or two older.

There is a monster in the Hollows who is killing livestock, and the citizens are determined to hunt it down and kill it. Who is the monster? Where did he come from, and what is he doing there? What will become of him? The answers to these questions bring the story to an awesome conclusion and set the stage for the final book.

The story and the writing is not like the Chronicles of Narnia, so to compare it to Lewis's classic tales would be absurd. Yet I think it could stand side by side with it. That is, I think the book has the stuff which makes a classic, a classic. Its characters are wonderful and the intertwining of subplots within the main is delightful. The conflict between the Igiby’s and the citizens of the Hollows, especially for the children, brings tension and suspense that keep the story moving, compelling the reader to press on. Humor, villainy, treachery, loyalty, humility, sacrifice and more evoke a wide range of emotion.

I think it is mildly Christian, but I don't think that is a detriment. It does portray the evilness of evil and it reveals to some degree the inner conflicts of conscience that rise in the human heart. It is not a study of these, but it does bring them before the reader. That is all the more a wonder because the young reader's interest is most likely entertainment, and as the story fulfills that element, it does so with a seriousness that is befitting a quality children's story; the kind that a serious Christian writer will strive for.

God is known in the story by the name of Maker, and there is nothing unbiblical that I can detect about the Maker of this fantasy world. The tale does not present a clear message of the Gospel either through pointed declaration or fantastical imagery, so for Christian parents who are looking for such a fantasy, this is not the one. But it is quality literature: wholesome, imaginative, entertaining, and a fine example of the Christian writer who strives, as the image-bearer of God, to reflect the creative attributes of God through his story telling.

Though it is advertised as young adult fantasy (technically age 14 – 21), it is really for middle school readers, roughly age 9 – 12. It is superbly written for that group, and because of that, I think its appeal reaches beyond pre-teens to include young adult and adult.

The Wingfeather saga began in the first volume, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (March 18, 2008)


 This was followed by North! Or Be Eaten (August 18, 2009) 

The saga will conclude in the forthcoming novel, The Warden and the Wolf King.

For a drawing of a Grey Fang by Mr. Peterson’s twelve year old son, Aeden, visit his blog, The Crimson Phoenix. You can see another drawing by Justin Gerard at A Fang Of Dang.

Get The Monster in the Hollows on amazon.
Series Web Site

Thanks to Rabbit Room Press who kindly provided a copy of the book for review on the CSFF blog tour. The Monster in the Hollows, by Andrew Peterson, is book three of the Wingfeather Saga.