When CS Lewis wrote Narnia, he wasn’t really writing fantasy – he was playing with “dressed rabbits” – a style of anthropomorphizing pastoral animals and mythic creatures (like centaurs) so as to give the story a magical setting. Basically, however, the creatures all followed rules that were fairly basic to regular humans and this made Narnia quite relatable to most of it’s readers.
When Tolkien built Middle Earth, he built an entirely different world than our own. Instead of magic invading the “real” world, Tolkien created another world with different kinds of creatures but still the same basic sense of physics/gravity and created order.
Peterson’s Wingfeather books are more like Tolkien than Lewis.
I understand why they are classified as fantasy (they do have otherworldly creatures) but they are not magical in the way that Harry Potter defies the laws of reality nor are they fantastic in the way that Percy Jackson super imposes an alternate reality on our own. Instead, they are very much a classic hero story set in a world that is remarkably like ours (minus a few hundred years). It would be more fair to classify Peterson as being like the author of Beowulf, Homer, Tolkien or any of the Robin Hood authors.
In this installment the plot deepens and darkens. The characters are living under the terrible burden of an inescapable legacy during a dark time when evil is winning. Many of our primary characters are absolutely tested to the breaking point – and all bear awful scars from the choices that they make.
But, like any true heroic epic, there is never a moment without hope. There is always a fight to move towards the light and like the plot, the characters are deepened in so doing.
This book is intense. It is beautifully written and very exciting to read. We find ourselves utterly invested in our characters and so we suffer with them and we hope for them.
The mood and subtext of this book reminds me of Oliver Twist or Barrie’s Peter Pan. Unlike Lord of the Flies, the darkness does not win. It scars. It wounds. It exacts a bounty. But darkness never really wins.
I am thrilled to have this series in our family library. This beautiful set of stories does what Chesterton and Lewis insist that good fairy tales do – it introduces my children to real and terrible dragons but shows them that those dragons can be defeated when heroes live sacrificially.
Unlike Narnia, this is not a collection of integrated stories. Like The Lord of the Rings, it presents one epic story broken across several volumes.
My particular children are not terribly sensitive to the struggles in hero epics and so at 5, 6 and 8 they cannot get enough of these books. For most children, however, I think that these are probably a better fit for 10+. There is no gratuitous violence – but there are violent struggles that clearly illustrate the battle between good and evil and there are bloody descriptions as appropriate. There are no outright tragedies in this volume but there is a lot of suffering. This could be an excellent family read aloud for a family who is steeped in saint/martyr stories and hero epic and who are willing to pause to discuss intense parts as needed.
Check out the review for On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness here.
Check out the review for Monster in the Hollows AND Warden and the Wolf King here.
Find the audible version of this book here.