Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Trusting the Narrator: A Review of The Wingfeather Saga

When On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness did not grab me by the hair within the first few chapters, I almost put it down. I felt confused by all the strange creatures and customs of Skree and unengaged in the story. As Andrew Peterson’s songs have been extremely meaningful to me over the years, I had hoped that his stories would be the same. Naturally, I was disappointed. I concluded that I would just have to dismiss it as a valiant but failed effort by a good artist to cross genres. I figured I’d just listen to his music from then on, after at least doing the book the dignity of finishing it.

Then one night, it hooked me.

Without warning, I found myself finishing the second half of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness in one swallow and urgently flipping open North! Or Be Eaten. All of a sudden, I was involved and participating in the story. Janner, Tink, Leeli, and the others had become real and I found that I cared.

Thinking about it now, I think the thing that changed in the middle of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness was not the story, but me: I had started to trust the narrator. He had managed to make me care, even though I had entered his tale with a whole briefcase full of suspicions, criticisms, and practicalities that threatened to ward off the wonder of Aerwiar and Skree and the Wingfeathers. That he managed to pull that care out of me, even after I had dismissed Aerwiar as too unbelievable and the narrator as too unreliable, was reason enough for me to trust him.

Most of you reading this will not have read the book yet. Well, let me tell you—the Wingfeather Saga takes place in a very, very strange place. Aerwiar feels much more foreign, at least to me, than Middle Earth or Narnia or Hogwarts has ever seemed. And the narrator who guides you is just as strange.

But to walk through that strange place, at least as more than a shadow, to walk through it with your heart open, takes a lot of trust. We have to trust that this narrator is telling us the truth, that when he tells us that “the common thwap was a little bigger than a skonk” (OEDSD, p. 16), it is true and it is important for us to know. Even though we have no idea how big a skonk is, and therefore have no idea how big a thwap is! This is humorous, but it’s also more than humorous. The narrator is testing the reader: “Do you have the kind of imagination it takes to walk through Aerwiar and come out changed? Are you still enough of a child to play, to laugh, and to trust?”

You will probably enjoy the ride through the story, laugh at the funny lines, and be entertained by the adventure if you are not. It’s a worthy plotline with memorable characters (especially North! Or Be Eaten, in my opinion). But to let your soul into it, to be changed and made new by it (as all good readers of good stories do, I think), you have to trust this narrator. Even when he tells you mysterious, great, or seemingly irrelevant things that you do not understand.

I did not trust him at first. But I’m glad I learned to—the characters and their struggles have latched onto my heart and I won’t be forgetting them. I highly recommend both books to you and look forward to reading them again myself in the near future, but not without locking the suspicious adult in me away in a box when I do so.


EB said...

GREAT review Laura! I love, love, love your writing style! I just started the Edge book today. I like it already- and per your recommendation, I will trust the narrator!

Transplant said...

You plan to read it again in the near future, but not until you loan them to me like you promised!

Laura said...

well, "near future" is a relative term, I suppose... :)

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