Character Profiles: Guardian Angel

It was at this moment that Peet the Sock Man leapt from the rim of the gully at top speed, his arms spread wide like wings. Janner watched his uncle with awe.
His socks had long since fallen away in shreds, cut to pieces by the talons at the end of his reddish forearms. Peet’s white hair trailed behind him; one of his eyebrows lay flat and low, the other arched like a curl of smoke; and in Peet’s eyes blazed a single purpose:
Protect. Protect. Protect.
What struck Janner most about his uncle in this moment was not the graceful leap through the air or the deadly, mysterious talons, but that amidst all the danger and panic, Artham P. Wingfeather’s gaze was fixed on him with what Janner knew to be a fierce affection.

– Andrew Peterson, North! Or Be Eaten

It began when the little girl kicked the Fang. Before it ended, whole armies came after the Wingfeather children. But fortunately, Peet the Sock Man – either bravely crazy or crazily brave – was always willing to stand between the Wingfeather children and armies.

He was their Guardian Angel. Andrew Peterson even gave him wings, a fitting – though probably unintentional – touch.

The Guardian role is not too often cast. Aslan sometimes acts like one – appearing to direct the heroes’ path, intervening when they finally can do nothing. No one in the Chronicles of Narnia really gets home without him. But in all that, he is not really being a Guardian Angel; he’s being a Jesus-figure.

In Lord of the Rings, Aragorn and his Rangers act as the Guardian Angels of Bree and the Shire – “sons of forgotten kings walking in loneliness, guarding from evil things folk that are heedless.”

A less classic example, but still a true one, is the goose woman in The Wolf of Tebron. Although she never does physical violence on behalf of the hero, she watches over him and sets him on the right road. Her guardianship is one of wisdom, not strength.

The goose woman, like Aragorn and the Sock Man, is a Rejected Outsider. They all also cross with the Mysterious Yet Benevolent Stranger – with bonus points for being Not Dressed for Success: Do You Judge By Appearances?

What Aragorn and Artham are, but the goose woman is not, is a Too-Powerful Sidekick. This is why they are detached from the hero in surprisingly short order and sent to be Guardian Angels somewhere else.

It makes sense that the protector should be stronger than his charge. It even makes sense, in a way, that he should be unknown. But it’s a little strange that Guardian Angels are so often pariahs, cast off from society. Perhaps it helps them fulfill their role; perhaps it helps them get into it.

Guardian Angels are a noble breed, but they are most noble when they combine with the Pariah archetype. It may or may not be a burden to spend your life protecting people when you do it to applause; it’s always hard when you do it to misunderstanding and rejection. And yet Aragorn and Artham carried on, satisfied just in being the Guardian Angel.

CSFF Blog Tour: By Any Other Name

One of the quirks of speculative fiction is how hard people try not to use real names. The whole book is written in English, but old words are used in entirely new ways, the commonest things go guised under the strangest terms, and people have names no living human has carried in a thousand years. The place-names break normal English patterns, too. Then, of course, we have the made-up names for made-up things (and planets, species, galaxies …).

It’s often a challenge for the writer. The names quite intentionally defy modern English, yet they have to be chosen with care for how they fit in with the language. It does not do, for example, to make up names that will cause your readers to giggle – unless that’s the point, as sometimes it is. Nor does it do to throw in too many vowels or apostrophes in any given name.

The good part is this: It intrigues readers to be able to see the real-world origin of sci-fi and fantasy words. Even better is when the words feel like what they stand for. Andrew Peterson has done this with an unusual degree of skill, so here are some of his finest inventions from the Wingfeather Saga:

Ice Prairies

gnoblins

scarytales (evil twin of fairy tales)

skullwhackers (never heard of it before, but you don’t need a description)

ridgerunners

Lore Wains

bibes (based, as one of the characters explains, on the word imbibe)

meep, thwaps, and flabbits – all of which sound like escapees from a Dr. Seuss book and really did fit On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

Killridge Mountains

Tilmus the Bent

Ouster Will; by the name alone, you know he’s bad news

Ragmen

Arundel – though, admittedly, this is largely because I spent my childhood in Anne Arundel County, Maryland

bean brew, a fine fantasy name for coffee

Tollers Greensmith and Tumnus Button. I owe this one to Sarah Sawyer, who pointed it out; as you all remember, Tumnus is the name of Narnia’s most famous faun, and Tollers was Tolkien’s nickname.

The Florid Sword: a goofier version of Zorro, a more elaborate version of Batman, and an excuse for a grown man to run around in a costume and say things like, “The Florid Sword hath run you through like unto a bolt of iron lightning piercing the watery depths of the Mighty Blapp!” But the question remains: Does “florid” refer to his sword, his speaking style, or his complexion?

Madam Sidler – though, to appreciate this one, you may have to read how she terrifies people by sidling up to them so skillfully they never see her coming

cloven, my favorite of them all. I only hear this word in reference to Levitical regulations – the Israelites were not to eat any animal without a cloven hoof “completely divided”. But it is, for the creatures who have it, absolutely perfect. They are divided – part animal, part human.

Finally, a list of book titles and categories:

The Anatomy of an Insult (by a psychologician who claimed to be an expert in “meanery and insultence”)

Histories of Piracy by Pirates’ Wives

Histories of Countries You Will Never Visit

True Stories (If You Dare)

An Anthology of Maniacal Verse

Mostly True Tales of the Pirates of Symia

I Came and I Wept Like the Sissy I Am

The Wide Terrain

Homemade Rash Remedies: A Study in Discomfort

Taming the Creepiful Wood

CSFF Blog Tour: The Monster in the Hollows

Janner has fled his hometown, braved the lawless Strand, escaped the dangers of Dugtown, slipped from the grasp of countless Fangs, and crossed the Dark Sea. Now he’s in the Green Hollows, a rich and beautiful land. Above all, it is a free land, where he can walk the streets without fear of Fangs. The only downside is the people.

I’m sure they’re decent folk, once you can get past the distrust, suspicion, and punching. It’s just hard to get past. Never is this more true than when your brother looks like a wolf. The Wingfeather Saga is a story about family – how they help each other, how they love each other, how they strengthen each other. It is also about how they complicate things, such as your life. When you have, like Janner, one heck of a family, you get one heck of a complication.

Monster in the Hollows is in some ways more serious than its predecessors. The pandemic quirkiness of the first book is restrained, and the humor is noticeably less – though even so it’s funnier than most fantasy novels.

The book’s themes are weighty. The first can be summed up in the words of Aleksandr Solzhenistyn: “A human being is weak, weak.” The second theme is shame – both deserved and undeserved. Yet for all this, Monster in the Hollows remains the most staid of the three books. I don’t think so many pages have ever passed with so little danger.

The middle of the book – about a hundred pages – lapsed into a school story. It was a well-told school story, with conflict, humor, and emotion, and it sowed the seeds of greater things. Still, it was a school story. For me, at least, it lagged.

Then it began picking up speed, gathering power until, finally, it burst into glory. The end of Monster in the Hollows is a work of beauty, crafted with strength and depth.

Monster in the Hollows succeeds as a book. It succeeds also as part of a series. It advances the story toward its ultimate confrontation while digging deeper into what has already been told. The mystery of what happened to Artham continues to be unlocked, though his part is fairly small. It’s an unhappy trend of the Wingfeather Saga that Artham appears less in every new book than in the one before.

Monster in the Hollows is less funny than On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, and less exciting than North! Or Be Eaten. But it is more beautiful than either of them. It is also, I think, more profound. There is a clear view of the Fall of Man – not in the worst people but in the best. Monster in the Hollows is, at times, only a good school story, but in the end it is a wonderful novel woven with glory and tragedy.


Now, campers, it’s time for the links. We have …

Andrew Peterson’s website

A website for The Wingfeather Saga

And a link to The Monster in the Hollows

Last, and most importantly, are the links for the blog tour:

Gillian Adams
Red Bissell
Jennifer Bogart

Thomas Clayton Booher
Beckie Burnham
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Cynthia Dyer

Amber French
Nikole Hahn
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Jason Joyner

Julie

Carol Keen
Rebecca LuElla Miller

Mirriam Neal
Eve Nielsen
Joan Nienhuis

Donita K. Paul

Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Tammy Shelnut
Kathleen Smith

Donna Swanson

Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White

Rachel Wyant

Note: In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: North! Or Be Eaten

So the Igiby family is on their way to Kimera, to join the colony of rebels hidden on the vast Ice Prairies.  The Nameless One still grasps for them, stretching long fingers across the Dark Sea. His trolls, his armies of Fangs are on the hunt for the Jewels of Anniera. If the Igibys manage to evade the forces of Gnag, plus various malcontents and hungry animals, they can then attempt the cold, cold trek to the hidden colony.

What could go wrong? More than they would even guess. Through over three hundred pages, North! Or Be Eaten details the pitfalls. Climb out of one, fall into another. It’s fun to live in a fantasy book.

North! Or Be Eaten is the second book in the Wingfeather Saga. The silliness is lessened here, but it by no means disappears. Andrew Peterson continues to prove, along with Jonathan Rogers, that fantasy can be very funny. Yet the book has a more serious tone than its predecessor. The dangers are more frequent, and often of a darker nature.

This is one of the ways in which North! Or Be Eaten broadens and deepens the saga. Another is one of simple geography. On the Edge* takes place almost entirely within the Glipwood Township and the land surrounding it. North! Or Be Eaten leaves Glipwood behind, traveling to the mighty, dangerous falls, the Strand with its outlaws, Dugtown, Kimera, the Ice Prairies, the Fork Factory, the Sea.

The characters, too, are deepened. This book focuses more narrowly on Janner than the other did, cementing his status as the lead character. But other characters are developed even more than he. Podo – who had a great deal of color in On the Edge and not much complexity – gains some. The Fangs, surprisingly, progress from decent, cookie-cutter hobgoblins to something more terrible and more tragic.

And if you like Peet the Sock Man – and if you don’t, I wonder about you – you have even more reason to be happy. Peet’s role is, unfortunately, smaller in this book, but it is gold.

North! Or Be Eaten is a worthy continuation, a sequel that not only lengthens the story but deepens it. On the Edge was a good book; this one is even better. Exciting and at times intense, with humor and high emotion, it’s a happy experience for the fantasy reader. At least it was for this one.


* The full title is On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, but this takes too long to type. Also, it makes writing reviews harder. By the time I put in that title, the sentence I’m trying to write is already too long.

The third book in the Wingfeather Saga, Monster in the Hollows, will be toured later this month by the CSFF. Now for the links: North! Or Be Eaten on Amazon – and look, it’s a bargain price, $5.60; and Andrew Peterson’s website. He is also a songwriter, interestingly enough.