Sunday, July 13, 2014

Middle Grade & Young Adult Corner: Andrew Peterson's The Warden & the Wolf King (Wingfeather Saga, Book 4)

The last time I sang the praises of Andrew Peterson was three summers ago. Since I've gained quite a few more readers since then - and since the fourth and final novel of Peterson's series is slated to be released everywhere at the end of this month - come! Gather 'round and let me bring you up to speed on the hidden treasure of juvenile fantasy that is the Wingfeather Saga, in which three siblings must dig deep within themselves to rise to the awesome challenge of defeating a cruel tyrant and healing their broken world.

Did you - or your children - like The Chronicles of Narnia? Then Peterson's books are your next logical step. A Christian musician, Peterson has taken C.S. Lewis' torch and run with it in creating the world of Aerwiar, where fearsome beasts (like the toothy cows of Skree) share space with the miraculous and adventure can be found just around the corner. Like Lewis, Peterson has gone as far as to imagine a creation story for his new world -- and he draws on his talents as a lyricist to add music and folklore as well, which makes Aerwiar feel as real and as whole as Tolkien's Middle Earth. That I can sit back and imagine thousands of other stories that could be told in Peterson's universe is an achievement in itself; that Peterson accomplishes this world-building without overwhelming the principle thrust of his story - and without losing his child-like sense of humor - is simply incredible.

But wait! There's more! I know that many of you have lamented the insidious grey goo that is currently being marketed to our kids. Well, if glancing at a typical school reading list has recently made you urk, I suggest the Wingfeather Saga as a powerful antidote. First of all, Peterson doesn't talk down to his young readers; he's upfront about the horrors of war without being overly explicit and frank about the existence of evil while also showing that it can be overcome. As a matter of fact, I think these books perfectly embody the Chestertonian ideal. As G.K. Chesterton wrote: "Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon." The Wingfeather Saga features both literal and metaphorical dragons, and I hope it will not spoil the story to say that they prove to be far from invincible.

Secondly, Leeli, Kalmar and Janner are genuine role models. They have their moments of weakness - indeed, Kalmar very nearly becomes a Fang due to his own selfishness - but they grow into legitimate heroes because they are surrounded by a cast of adult supporting characters who actively push them to be mature and responsible and to look beyond their own petty desires. Some may object to the idea that children of nine, eleven, and thirteen years would be capable fighting battles, penetrating enemy strongholds, and leading kingdoms -- but before the invention of "youth culture," children almost as young were serving as secretaries to diplomats and traveling the world. Could we be doing the current generation a disservice by limiting them - and their fiction - to the concerns of the school yard? I certainly think so.

Because Peterson is Christian, the Wingfeather Saga is suffused with Christian themes -- but even if you are not Christian, I urge you to keep an open mind, as Peterson covers many universals too, including the healing impact of self-sacrificial love and mercy (and the damage caused by its absence), the struggle to find meaning in a universe that seems heartless and unforgiving, the lure of security as a threat to human liberty and flourishing, and archetypal villains who seek power above all else. And honestly, if you read this series as an adult, you'll catch things your children probably will not. I could write an essay focusing entirely on the symbolism of the cloven. The layering here is just that sophisticated.

This weekend, I had a chance to read an advance copy of the The Warden & the Wolf King, the aforementioned final installment of the Wingfeather Saga, and it wholly lives up to the promise of the first three novels, delivering an ending that makes my previous investment in these characters 100% worth the time. If you would like to discover this series for yourself - and I strongly urge you to do so - then follow the links below. I for one would love to see Peterson get more exposure!

Final Verdict: Highly Recommended.

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (The Wingfeather Saga, Book 1)

North! Or Be Eaten (The Wingfeather Saga, Book 2)

The Monster in the Hollows (The Wingfeather Saga, Book 3)

The Warden and the Wolf King (The Wingfeather Saga, Book 4) (Pre-order link.)

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