As I read Wildwood by Colin Meloy, I found myself musing about how fantasies, which are completely and obviously fictional, accomplish what stories more grounded in the real world accomplish. Patricia McCormick's Never Fall Down describes in moving detail what it's like to be a prisoner of the Khmer Rouge. Readers can easily imagine it. Wildwood describes prisoners, too, in a compelling way.
In the pages of Wildwood, readers can imagine what complete loss of freedom feels like when twelve year old Curtis is jailed in the fantasy prison in a forest, where prison guards are Coyote bandits, not human. The prison is a dank underground cavern, beneath a tree. Cages for prisoners are suspended from the tree roots that form the ceiling. Even if Curtis could get out of his cage, it is too high to jump and there are sharp rocks below. Other prisoners hang in cages around him.
Curtis shivered and sat down on the floor of his cage, squeezing his knees to his chest. He could feel the glare of all the prisoners boring into his very bones. He wished now, more than ever, that he could be back home with his mother and father and his two niggling sisters. The ropes creaked and shuddered and the cages twisted slightly back and forth in the great cavern.
Another prisoner tells Curtis, '"Get used to it."'
And like Arn in Never Fall Down, we also experience battle scenes, maimed and dead bodies in Wildwood. There is no paucity of gore, cleverly descriptive and evocative.
The first in an upcoming series, Wildwood was reviewed in the New York Times by Claire Dederer. Despite of the fact that this long middle grade novel, over five hundred pages, and as Dederer noted, perhaps slows down too much in parts, I enjoyed the colorful language. I certainly enjoyed the breathtaking fantasy world Meloy created. The lovely illustrations by Carson Ellis added to the story.
Of course, anyone who gets too scared for Meloy's characters can find solace in the fact that it's all a fantasy, something not possible in the midst of truer stories, like McCormick's Never Fall Down.
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