Friday, September 21, 2012

Why Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis Rock, and why you should read the Wildwood Chronicles

I should start out by saying that I have always been passionate about a good story. If it’s also a creepy or unusual story, I usually like it even more. This is a large part of what I love about one of my favorite bands, The Decemberists. Their songs tell beautiful, sad, haunting stories, and sometimes they even need multiple songs to tell the story, like with “The Crane Wife”, and they’ve even used a whole album (The Hazards of Love, my favorite of their albums to date) to focus on one story from beginning to end.

So, naturally, I was quite excited when I learned that Colin Meloy, the frontman for The Decemberists, had written a children’s book. I immediately set out to get my hands on an Advanced Readers Copy, and it was well worth the effort. Since its release in September 2011, I’ve convinced many booksellers and family members to read it as well, and everyone seems to get a feel of an old childhood classic from the story. One person compared it to Alice in Wonderland, as the protagonists stumble upon a different world hidden in the woods. Another compared it to the Narnia books because of the talking animals. One bookseller said the story reminded her of the movie Labyrinth, since it begins with the heroine’s baby brother being stolen and taken into another realm, and she must go to this realm in order to bring him home.

For my part, I was too caught up in the story to think of these comparisons until after I had finished. The language and characters captivated me, and the Impassable Wilderness felt familiar but also unlike any place I’ve been. However, once finishing Wildwood, my first thought was of the elements of the story that felt familiar to me because I’d heard similar elements in Decemberists songs; The feel of the late 19th century, some of the roguish characters, the horror of war, the thirst for revenge, and of course the lyrical language.  In addition to Colin’s wonderful words, I loved the lush illustrations from his wife, Carson Ellis, who also illustrated The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket and The Mysterious Benedict Society. Her artwork gave flavor and spirit to the text without changing the mental images I already had of the characters and the setting. Rather, her work enhanced the story experience, giving more scope and depth to the world I had imagined.

Needless to say, I loved Wildwood and eagerly awaited the sequel, Under Wildwood. And it was so worth the wait. While I loved Prue (our main heroine) in the first book, I didn’t feel that I saw the same type of development in her that I saw in Curtis (our main hero), who really blossomed and discovered his potential in Wildwood. I was very happy to see this development in Prue in Under Wildwood, and I felt her development was just as wonderful as Curtis’s development.  I found book 2 of the Wildwood Chronicles to be just as beautiful and haunting as book 1 – in fact, I’m still haunted by a scene at the end of the book that involves two hooks and a horrible sound. I won’t say more about it here, you’ll just have to read the book, and I promise you’ll know which scene I’m talking about.

I am now eagerly awaiting the final book in the series. As such, I plan to do my best to weasel plot points for the finale out of them when they are at BBS on Saturday,September 29th at 4:00pm. So far, the only thing I don’t like about Under Wildwood is that I don’t have the next book to read right now.

So why should you read these books? Because I’ve talked to so many adults who have read and fallen in love with the series. Because I’ve overheard a 9-year-old girl in our Children’s Department tell a friend of hers that she’s read Wildwood nine times. Because it has the same classic feel as so many other beloved children’s stories, and I think the Wildwood Chronicles has the sort of staying power that will keep children reading it for years to come. And because Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis are both wonderful people who very politely listened to me ramble on about how much I love their book and were willing to talk to me about literature instead of looking at me like I’m crazy (yeah, that’s right, I’ve met them before). So do yourself a favor – read these books, and come meet Colin and Carson next Saturday. I’ll definitely be there.