Character Profiles: The Crazy Person who Knows Something

“So … do we call you Peet?” Janner asked, fishing for more answers to his mounting questions. “Is that your real name?”

The Sock Man stirred the boiling pot with a long wooden spoon and didn’t answer.

The Igibys stared at him in an awkward silence.

“What’s a real name?” Peet said finally. He pointed the spoon at Janner. “Is Janner Igiby your real name?”

“Yes sir.”

“Is it?”

– Andrew Peterson, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

Small town, boys. Crazy people hear lots of things. – Peet the Sock Man

Peet the Sock Man was crazy. You knew it from the moment you saw him – a ragged man with a haggard face and filthy knitted stockings on his hands. He talked gibberish to lampposts and attacked street signs, but for all that he was harmless. Even to street signs, which tended to have the best of whatever contests the Sock Man challenged them to.

The Glipwood townspeople often saw him in town. Sometimes he skipped through with a stick in his mouth, or with one eye shut. Sometimes they saw him juggling buckets by the cliffs, or walking on his hands while chanting nonsense rhymes.

But nobody ever talked to him.

When Janner Igiby finally did, he heard – even if he did not recognize – the first ringing of a truth that overturned his world.

Peet the Sock Man was a Crazy Person who Knows Something.

Crazy People who Know Something are loads of fun*. They’re usually an unknown quantity, and always an unstable one. The right of such characters is unconventional behavior; the purpose is mystery and sometimes even amusement.

Frequently – maybe even usually – the Crazy Person is not actually crazy. The reputation of madness is created by misunderstanding or even malice. Sometimes it’s just eccentricity mistaken for insanity – for the line between the two, though real, can grow very fine.

And sometimes – as with the Sock Man – the insanity is genuine. I’ve seen this less. A truly mad, yet knowing, person is a harder balance, a more demanding character. It’s not always simple to write a character who has lost his mind, but not all of it – insanity leavened with sanity. Peet, accurately enough, called himself crazy. But he wouldn’t have known he was crazy unless he was at least somewhat sane.

Whether mad in reputation or in fact, the Crazy Person always does Know Something. You wonder how. You wonder what – being crazy or just strange – he’s going to do about it.


* In fiction, anyway

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: Perfect in Weakness

[Spoilers]

I don’t suppose there’s ever a good time to have a mental breakdown, but Artham’s time was particularly bad. He was using himself as proof that sprouting wings or fur does not make a human a monster. Then he snapped; his eloquent words melted into gibberish and he terrified everyone with his wild terror.

The Throne Warden was still the Sock Man. Janner misdiagnosed his uncle’s trouble when he said that it was like Artham was two people. Peet was always Artham, and Artham was always Peet. That was his trouble. And that was the brilliance of the character.

Artham Wingfeather fits the fantasy mold by being a noble hero and royal-blooded warrior. He breaks it by also being, for the longest time, a ragged, filthy outcast, half-sane and oddly fearful. Artham’s weakness has always been as prominent in the story as his strength. It did great things for his character.

For one thing, it made him sympathetic. This sounds obvious, but it really isn’t. Good writers fail in this often enough. It takes more than suffering in a character for readers to sympathize with him. You can torture a character in front of your audience and leave them irritated at the story for melodrama or at the character for whining.

I think one of the things that enabled Andrew Peterson to succeed is that never, in all of the first book, did he write from Peet’s point of view. Peterson grounded Artham as a sympathetic character through the eyes of children who knew nothing about him. He had to show rather than tell Peet’s sorrow, and usually through small things. And it is always the small things that do it.

In one part Peterson writes that Leeli had never spoken to the Sock Man: “No one did. The Glipwood Township ignored him like a stray dog.” You could go on for fifty pages and never convey so powerfully the loneliness and exclusion in which he lived.

In the same way, we can feel Peet’s shame without the word being raised: “He stopped fidgeting and looked at the cluster of Igibys. Tears filled his eyes, and he looked down at his talons, covered with Fang blood. He wiped them on his shirt as if to make himself more presentable. … He tried to fix his wild, white hair and stood erect as he inched closer to the family.”

Artham’s identity as the Sock Man also made him far more interesting – and that is obvious. A man who wears knitted stockings on his hands, fights with street signs, and chants nonsense is far more captivating to the imagination than a handsome prince. Taloned hands are a back story that demands to be told. At the beginning Artham was mysterious, and now he’s unpredictable.

Lastly, I think it made Artham more admirable. It’s hard enough to be good when you’re in your right mind. By the time he came to Glipwood, Artham had lost just about everything – from his kingdom to his loving family to his sanity. But he had not lost his nobility.

I take it for granted that making a novel, like making the world, takes all kinds. Too many sad people is not only dull but wearying. Yet there is something special about characters who suffer well. Maybe it makes them more human; maybe it makes them complete.

Maybe characters, like the power of the Lord, are made perfect in weakness.

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.

Review: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

Far away, on the edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, lies the land of Skree.  It is filled with quiet, gentle folk, which made it easy pickings for Gnag the Nameless. Now the country is infested by the Fangs of Dang. They’re stupid and lazy, but make up for it with their indefatigable brutality.

A wild forest sprawls over the land, spilling dangerous animals from its eaves. The Skreeans keep a good distance, but one man is rumored to live near the forest. Most people believe it, too. You’d have to be crazy, but he is. What else can you say about a man who wears knitted stockings on his hands, chants gibberish, and picks fights with street signs?

Despite this abundant opportunity for excitement, Janner Igiby is bored. He has spent all twelve of his years in a quiet little cottage outside a quiet little town. He yearns for adventure, for the wide world. But he should be more careful about his wishes. They’re about to come true.

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness was once toured by CSFF, and after joining I saw it mentioned. And I felt definite disinterest. “The dark sea of darkness” is bad writing. If even the title needs a content editor, I don’t have high hopes for the book.

Then I won its sequel in a book drawing. If I get a free fantasy novel, I’m going to have to try it. And if it happens to be a sequel, I’m going to have to read the first book first. So, with small expectations, I began On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.

On the first page I had a revelation. There Peterson wrote this line: “That evil was a nameless evil, an evil whose name was Gnag the Nameless.” And I realized something. The title is, of course, bad, but it is bad in the way this sentence is – on purpose, and a good one.

Humor is abundant in this novel, particularly humor of an absurd flavor. The absurdity runs deep, runs through Peterson’s whole invented world. It is displayed on store front signs – THE ONLY INN – and in the most ancient legends, which often revolve around the First People, Dwayne and Gladys. The villains make their subjects fill out forms to use garden hoes; the Chief Advisor to the High King begins his journal with the warning: “Read this without my permission and I will pound your nose.”

Yet the sea-dragons have a real and mysterious majesty, old legends are powerfully true, and the Jewels of Anniera are a matter of deathly importance – and you may take that adjective to its most literal meaning. Andrew Peterson both parodies the tried-and-true devices of fantasy and uses them seriously. In the same way, over-the-top humor coexists with danger and sadness, and comically bad writing gives way to skillful story-telling.

I would like to insert two caveats here: One, the book is YA and its main character is a twelve-year-old. This is not criticism, just something readers should know beforehand. Second – and this is criticism – the book contains instances of gross humor.

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is a unique story – a romp through a world of pandemic quirkiness that eventually pushes past all the absurdity to adventure and beauty and tragedy. Worth the price of admission.