Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Taking Flight With The Wingfeather Saga

     Alright, I admit it: today, I'm not going to introduce you to a film or a television show… I'm going to introduce you to a book series.

     But don't high-tail it to another webpage just yet; I'm just as likely to pick a movie over a book as anybody else (in fact, perhaps more likely, given my love for visual mediums and the adrenaline rush of sitting in a dark cinema...) but there are certain books that are always going to be worth reading. Whether you've spent late nights under a bedside lamp to finish another chapter of Harry Potter, or whether you spent years trying to beat the summer heat by lying around and listening to Brian Jacques narrate his own audiobooks in his rich Scottish brogue (a gush-worthy experience that must be saved for a different blog post); or taking turns with the rest of your family and narrating Swallows and Amazons aloud… there will always be a few hardbacks that are destined to stay on your shelf until the day you die.

     Even though large portions of my own shelf (and blogs) are dedicated to movies and TV shows, I have found one such book series that is worth not just mentioning, but praising highly… and I will do my best to explain it in a spoiler-free manner that (hopefully) does the stories justice.

Hogwarts The Wingfeather Saga, A History

     I spent a large portion of my life being shuttled about in a minivan, like many children. Some of those trips were spent listening to audiobooks or children’s music albums (and I’m sure my parents grew sick of many a repeated song in those days). However, on the rare occasions when the adults were allowed to choose their own music, the radio was turned on. And in the late 90s, many of our chosen radio stations started to feature, as my father called him, “the Kalamazoo Guy,” (thanks to a certain song of his that mentioned Kalamazoo in the opening line).

     As it turns out, “the Kalamazoo Guy,” was really a Nashville musician named Andrew Peterson. We started collecting his CDs over the years, at first because my parents liked him and then because I liked him. Peterson’s music could only be described as acoustic poetry: he mixed piano and guitar with lyrics that didn’t even need music to be considered enchanting. His subjects ranged from from good-humored songs about retiring in Alaska to the gravity of growing up or losing a loved one. In fact, by 2013 or so, I realized that we possessed every album that he’d ever released — which perhaps made him our very favorite musical artist of all.

     But what does this have to do with a book series, you say? Well, about five years ago, I had the privilege of seeing Andrew Peterson in concert: I was practically rolling in my seat; not only did he have an incredible skill with words, but with wit and humor, too. Near the end, he mentioned that his merchandise table also featured some books he had written — fantasy books, of all things, for (or rather, about) his three children.

     I took one look at the cover of On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, which boasted, “Adventure. Peril. Lost Jewels. And the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree,” and bought the paperback in a heartbeat.

     By 2011, the first three novels for the series had been released. Eventually the final book, The Warden and the Wolf King, was funded thanks to an unbelievably-successful Kickstarter campaign that many of us fans hopped on in 2013.

     And did I mention the many bonuses that piled up as the money kept pouring in? Full-scale maps, MP3s of original songs, illustrated hardbacks, audiobooks narrated by Peterson himself, even a separately published edition of Pembrick’s Creaturepedia (which is the Wingfeather version of Harry Potter’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)! Andrew Peterson not only enjoys readers who contribute to his work -- he invites their input with great enthusiasm! Book clubs and art clubs and blogs about the series abound already.

     I’ve spent the last five years trying to convince my friends and family members that they all have to read the series for themselves. Not everyone has yet to acquiesce, but those that eventually caved beneath my oppression have admitted that they’ve fallen in love with the saga, too.

The Plot

     In a land called Aerwiar (which is explained to readers in the book’s initial Brief Introduction to the World of Aerwiar), in the land of Skree (explained to readers in A Slightly Less Brief Introduction to the Land of Skree), there lives a family of peasants called the Igibys (explained in the Introduction to the Igiby Cottage [Very Brief]).

     Many years ago, a Nameless Evil (named Gnag the Nameless) rose up in the east and overran all free lands. Now every city, town, and peasant lives under his rule alone, and they are governed by his cruel Fang snake-men who oppress the people and occasionally kidnap victims to take away in their Black Carriage for unknown purposes, never to be seen again.

     However, for the three Igiby children (Janner, Tink, and Leeli), life isn’t all that bad… until one sour encounter with the Fangs sends their destinies spiraling in a new direction. Suddenly their lives become progressively less comfy and the spark of greatness inside each of them is fed into living flames.

     With the guidance of their wise mother Nia and their wild retired-pirate grandfather Podo, Janner and his siblings must grow up a little faster than they’d planned… and also step up to the helm of a great war against Gnag the Nameless.

The Appeal

     When trying to explain this series to others, I’ve often summed it up by exclaiming, “It’s as if The Chronicles of Narnia was written by Dr. Seuss!”

     While the books aren’t written entirely in rhyme (thank goodness), they mesh an incredible blend of wacky humor with profound meanings and truth. Occasional poems or song lyrics are interwoven with paragraphs that are simply begging to be read aloud in a most pompous manner.

     Peterson’s writing style is similar to J.K. Rowling’s, filling the pages with quirky and humorous details… details that may end up holding the balance of major events to come. Much in the way that our own lives are chock-full of facts that we often overlook, these books take seemingly-insignificant goings-on and interlace them with the plot to create incredible mystery. But just because these books seem to feature extra details doesn’t mean they’re at all monotonous; they’re full to the brim with rip-roaring humor and ancient archetypes and incredible legends of old!

     Peterson enchants the most mundane of objects, sometimes by doing little more than renaming them; you have to admit that a dinner of cheesy chowder with totatoes on the side and sugarberry pie for dessert sounds heavenly. He’s taken to heart what C.S. Lewis once said about writing for children (or indeed people of all ages): “[One] does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods; the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.

     But don’t think that just because Peterson’s adventures are ‘cute’ that they are meant for young readers only: children and adults alike will discover new lessons within the pages of this high adventure. In fact, people at all walks of life will find themselves both sitting on (and then promptly laughing too hard and falling off) the edges of their seats! My parents are currently hooked on reading the saga aloud with their youngest daughter — and she’s almost old enough to attend college!

     These stories do an incredible job of mixing competent adult characters with younger main characters who are coming of age and learning to rely on themselves. Every reader will find something new, profound, and/or hilarious every time they open up the Wingfeather Saga.

The Rating

     PG, with maaaybe an occasional PG-13 for a few scary themes… but if your kids can handle The Hobbit, The Hunger Games, or any of the Harry Potters, they can certainly handle these books.

     Violence: This is a fantasy world, with magic and battles and good and evil. There are wounds and blood and perilous situations; there are evil curses and malicious monsters and even psychological, Jekyll-and-Hyde-esque curses.

     But, a bit like Narnia, this is also a fantasy world where there is no doubt that a greater force of good overshadows any evil that could be present.

     Children aren’t going to read this and then wake up in the night afraid that a monster is under their bed; if anything, they’ll learn that their parents will always be down the hall and ready to protect them… and that some monsters might be friendly, anyway.

     Sex: None. This is all strict Disney-style romance, with kisses being pretty much the most anyone sees. If that.

     Language: Except for the occasional PG pirate-talk from a peg-legged buccaneer, this is (once again) a child-appropriate series. There may be deadly threats spoken at grave moments, but no innuendos or curse words that require censorship.

          The Genre

     If you couldn’t already tell, this series is nothing but a humorous, profound fantasy adventure that takes its readers everywhere from a bleak forest to the Dark Sea of Darkness, and from ice prairies to the evil castle Throg where reigns Gnag the Nameless himself! While the main focus is usually the young boy Janner as he comes of age and learns to be a man, many characters have their moments in in the spotlight, too — and many of them get to use all different kinds of skills and strengths other than brute force or mere weaponry to conquer all.

     These books focus on some basic themes like family and sacrifice, but also show more deep lessons — like exposing the damage that one small wrong (or even a misunderstanding) can do over years and years without being dealt with or forgiven.

     So is it worth it?

The Decision

     Yes. Yes, it is.

     Frankly, I have yet to hear or read an unkind word about this series. It’s a heart-pounding, rib-splitting roller-coaster ride for the whole family. Whether you read it by yourself or with others; whether you’re twelve or sixty-eight; whether you tend to prefer movies over books like I do*; I promise you, this series is worth your time. Even if you don’t care for all of its deeper meanings or its adolescent main characters that you’ve supposedly outgrown, it’ll definitely be good for a laugh and there's definitely someone in your life that you can pass it on to.

     * Good news, my friends; Peterson has teamed up with some top-notch animators to bring his stories to the silver screen… and I may or may not have fangirled shamelessly about the campaign in another article on TFI.


     Go to your nearest bookstore immediately. Buy The Wingfeather SagaHunker down with a cozy blanket, a friend, and a bowl of cheesy chowder. The prepare yourself to laugh, cry, cheer, and shiver as goosebumps ride up your spine. Your next great adventure is about to begin.


  1. I'm currently reading book #1 in this series, and I'm loving it! I didn't know what to expect going into it, so I've been pleasantly surprised. Hopefully I'll be able to continue with this series! Great post, I'm glad to hear that there are other fans out there!

  2. Oh my Skreeness, this review is thorough and wonderful and an awesome summary of the books. It brings back so many feels. Thanks so much for writing this. They're incredible books, well worth reading. Put down your half-finished copy of Harry Potter or The Wind in the Willows and buy these books! <3 <3 <3

  3. Excellent write-up about a thoroughly enjoyable series of books. My adult daughter introduced us to Andrew Peterson's music which we immediately embraced. Then, when visiting her one weekend, I found the 1st book in the series on her bookshelf and couldn't put it down. Was so blown away by the fact that this great singer/songwriter was such a super author of fantasy, which is my favorite genre of books. She kindly let me take it home to finish, and to return the favor, I bought her the 2nd book which I put in her Easter basket. I am eagerly looking forward to the premiere of the upcoming animated movie.