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3/21/2008

singing dragons

You could say I was enthusiastic when I heard that Andrew Peterson wrote a book. He is one of my favorite songwriters, but for whatever reason, it had been awhile since I had given his CDs a spin. Revisiting old, favorite songs is one of my great joys in life, so I pulled out Peterson's Love & Thunder album (2003). The first song - "Canaan Bound" - was like running into an old friend, and a slow smile spread across my face:

"Sarah, take me by my arm
Tomorrow we are Canaan bound
Where westward sails the golden sun
And Hebron's hills are amber crowned

So bid your troubled heart be still
The grass, they say, is soft and green
The trees are tall and honey-filled
So, Sarah, come and walk with me

Like the stars across the heavens flung
Like water in the desert sprung
Like the grains of sand, our many sons
Oh, Sarah, fair and barren one
Come to Canaan, come
"

Those lyrics. All of his lyrics are either that poetic or they tell a grand story, or both. Andrew Peterson is simply a great writer and storyteller. Being the book lover that I am, I scrambled to snag a copy of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness: the Wingfeather Saga, Book One. I knew that anything to pour forth from his imagination would be well worth my literary time.

When the book arrived, I turned the first few pages to find two maps, drawn by Andrew Peterson's own hand - The Glipwood Township and the wider regions of Skree and Dang. I felt like a child again, in unfamiliar sleepy terrain, and I knew I was about to be told a classic, epic tale, one to tuck me in at night. In fact, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness began with bedtime stories that Peterson spun for his three children. Further examining the maps, I discovered very strange vocabulary: Anklejelly Manor, Vibbly Way, The Only Inn (Glipwood's Only Inn), an arrow pointing to an alley "where Peet fought a street sign", The Ice Prairies, River Blapp, The Plains of Palen Jabh-J, and Books and Crannies. Whether real or fictional, every town should have a good, old bookstore, I say.

I remember Andrew Peterson to be funny in concert, and I'm happy to say his book is silly, too. For example, in the "Brief Introduction to the World of Aerwiar":

"The old stories tell that when the first person woke up on the first morning in the world where this tale takes place, he yawned, stretched, and said to the first thing he saw, 'Well, here we are.' The man's name was Dwayne, and the first thing he saw was a rock. Next to the rock, though, was a woman named Gladys, whom he would learn to get along with very well."

After that intro is "A Slightly Less Brief Introduction to the Land of Skree" and "An Introduction to the Igiby Cottage (Very Brief)." The Igiby family quickly became quite familiar, like friends:
-The oldest sibling: Janner. He is clumsy, a daydreamer, and would prefer to have his nose in a book, a pen and journal in his lap.
-The middle sibling: Tink. He is afraid of heights, intense, quick to defend his family, and would prefer to be eating.
-The youngest sibling: Leeli. She is crippled, compassionate, a talented singer and whistleharp player, and she would prefer to be rubbing her dog Nugget's belly.
-Their mother: Nia. She is graceful, elegant, loves her children and father, and works very hard.
-Their grandfather: Podo Helmer. He is a former pirate, thus he only has one leg. He is feisty, loves his grandchildren and daughter, and hates thwaps.
-Sadly, the siblings' father and Nia's husband, Esben, is dead.

This close-knit family lives the good life, works their land, gathers the harvest, and studies the arts, but their life is far from ideal, no thanks to the evil Fangs of Dang. These foul and scaly creatures lurk about their hometown of Glipwood and instill fear in the hearts of all. I found myself rooting for the Igiby family as they faced real perils and hardship. I booed the Fangs of Dang and at times, they made me downright angry. I appreciated that evil was portrayed as just that - evil. And evil does not target only adults or the strong. The Igiby children had to fight and never give up. There were injuries, sweat, and blood, and some victories all the while.

As quick as chapter two, I knew that I would read this beautiful book to our future children, and they would read it to their children. I can't wait to see the look on our kids' faces when they hear about the game of Zibzy, the Maker and Beginnings of Things, a meal of totatoes, a strange ache in the hearts of the Glipwood people when they hear songs about Anniera, tree houses, or my favorite - singing sea dragons:

"A long, warm note like the sound of a yawning mountain rose in the air and bounced off the belly of the sky."

I also believe Peterson's book will be a great way to teach our children lessons of wisdom - work with their hands, the importance of overcoming fear, believing there is more than we can see, to use their gifts for a purpose, to "trust me .... and do as I say", and to always have hope:

"Even if hope is just a low ember at night, in the morning you can still start a fire," said Nia.

Ah, this book was hard to put down! 'Twas a smooth, fun, easy read, yet so well-written and crafted. There are footnotes and appendices to explain the likes of digtoads, ratbadgers, the recipe for booger gruel, excerpts of important history, book references, a sketch of a toothy cow of Skree (also by A.P.), and the lyrics to an old, beautiful song - "The Legend of the Sunken Mountains" (from Fencher's Comprehensive History of Sad, Sad Songs).

For me, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is right up there with imaginative, intelligent children's books such as C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time series, and Tolkien's great fiction. Peterson's book has its own brilliant flair, but the similarity is that he does not dumb down his writing for children and so, his book is very enjoyable to adults, too. He also created a land with glimpses of the eternal and the beautiful, so much so that you expect to find mentions of each region in our own history books. I keep urging Johnny to read it soon, but I've also made a list of our friends to enlighten - their kids will thank me.

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is a wide expanse of a story, stretching far and wild, full of creative details, sights, smells, adventure, on-the-edge-of-your-seat suspense, and mystery. I stayed up too late one night to finish and the ending was even better than I expected. Of course, I can't tell you about that, now can I? I just didn't want the magical story to end. I befriended the Igibys and often fell asleep pretending their cottage had a real geographical address - tricks that the best stories play upon my brain. It's a good thing this is the first of three (or four) books in The Wingfeather Saga. Whether you have kids or not, trust me and go buy yourself a copy. Get ready to lose yourself in Glipwood, but steer clear of maggotloaf and snotwax candles. Only Fangs like maggotloaf anyway.

9 comments:

alissa said...

Tom and I have both been Andy fans since high school - Tom significantly more so, having gone to many of his concerts - and this year we dropped everything on the morning of his Connecticut "Behold the Lamb" concert and rented a car and drove the two hours or so for the concert. Fantastic. Glad to hear about the book.

Megan said...

We like *some* fantasy, but are skeptical about most. I'll read this to my kids, per your recommendation - so no pressure...

Kimberly said...

Sounds like a wonderful book that I need to get, and soon!

Yanica said...

I have a delicious feeling that this is just the book we've been looking for to celebrate the start of summer. I can't wait to start reading this to the kids...although I guess I have to. Thanks for the suggestion, Jenni!

kate o. said...

this sounds great, jenni. thanks!

jenni said...

Megan, do you mind sharing why you are skeptical about most fantasy? Just curious.

Kimberly said...

I don't know Andrew Peterson but plan to check him out!

Favorite child book: The Velveteen Rabbit.

Favorite teas: peppermint green tea, iced peach decaf tea, yerba matte (sp).

What inspires me lately: my beautiful little girl, my husband, music, other blogs, books, nature... the bluebonnets are already blooming! Yeah!!! And, the prayers/studies in the Portals of Prayer magazine.

That's it I think. Not sure if we were supposed to enter an individual answer for each question, making four comments in total. If so, then I can redo this for you. lol.

Megan said...

One reason and one reason only: bad writing. :) My husband really enjoys a good fantasy story, but he's got a radar for bad writing. He read a trilogy to the girls a couple of years ago that started strong, but ended very weak and burned him out.

I'm so so with fantasy - if the writing is really really great I can get into it (think: Narnia), but otherwise it just seems cheesy and contrived (or is that redundant?).

jenni said...

I hear you, Megan. Good writing is so very important, even in children's books.