If Corenwald’s terrain in The Bark of the Bog Owl by Jonathan Rogers reminded you of Southern Georgia’s wilds, that’s because the author confesses at his website (linked to above) that he drew heavily from the neck of the woods he knew rather than starting from scratch.
That theme continues with a borrowed plot, but borrowing from the bible is of course a tried and tested technique. Here, he’s taken the story of David’s boyhood triumph against Goliath and set it on an island that strongly resembles Georgia as it would have been around the time of our nation’s founding, at a similar time period in Corenwald’s history. Now, I’ll tell you right off: this doesn’t meet my expectations for fantasy, which usually involves creating a new world from scratch without worrying if it’s elements are scientifically possible but being logically consistent within it’s own rules. But let’s give credit where credit’s due: cross breeding Tom Sawyer and a bible story really isn’t such a bad thing.
Next, I’m not familiar with all the expectations for children’s literature. But I question whether it’s really permissible for the author to stop the action to explain things or to tell us something from a different character’s perspective without due notice. I would think these would be even more confusing to young readers, or at the very least these techniques slow the action more than I would think wise with impatient young readers. Some might assume younger readers require things more clearly spelled out, which could explain this, but I can’t help but suspect young readers are also sensitive about being talked down to.
Now, the book is not without it’s merits. Albeit heavily borrowed, it’s an engaging storyline with a character the target audience will relate to, and reintroduces the story of King David to a young audience in a fresh way. I’m all for retelling bible narratives in different settings than the original, and he adds his own unique spin with the feechies without losing too much of the original’s, ahem, magic. He uses Aidan’s letters effectively to carry the story forward, and his crisp, clear description brings Corenwald (and a newly settled version of southern Georgia) to life visually. For a while, it looked like he was going to leave me hanging on the fate of a particular alligator, but he eventually did get back around to that point. For the most part, he gets his theological points across without undo preaching and it should be well received by young boys.
His stated goal at his website, in so many words, was to write books that will inspire young boys so they can become god-fearing young men in accordance with the teachings of Wild at Heart and Bringing up Boys. At this, he has certainly succeeded. Though now that you know part of this is to do via fiction for young boys what Wild at Heart did for their fathers, you’ll catch the symbolism in the title faster than I did. (Spoiler for the curious: the Bark of the Bog Owl is a reference to the wild, uncivilized feechies who imitate the call of said legendary bird)
I’d forgotten Rogers wrote this in the omniscient POV. Interestingly, a good many of the award-winning youth fiction uses the old narrative pattern–once upon a time there lived a … I think we grow up being told stories, so it feels normal. It is only as we age that we need to see it for ourselves.
And I wrote this review a month ago, so I’d forgotten what I even wrote 🙂
Wow! You are the first person I’ve ever met who didn’t really love these books. I’m amazed. And encouraged. When I get my next rejection from an editor I’ll just say to myself, “Oh well, you can’t please everybody. Not even Jonathan Rogers, as good as he is, can please everybody.”
In the end everything is borrowed. There is nothing new under the sun. Even the feechies were borrowed. I read an interview where Rogers said he based the funny fellows on a guy he used to work with. Great writers borrow but they take what they borrow and make it fresh. And those feechies are about as fresh as they come. Well, they stink like rotten fish so I’m not sure fresh is really the right word, but you know what I mean.
Interesting insights. I had mostly seen nothing but praise for the book. Not that I don’t think it deserves it (the book sounds great), but it is good to see a little different persepective. Thanks for taking the time.
Actually, I did like and enjoy the book. Some aspects of his storytelling and narration are reader bumps for me, and I noted that, as well as other observations. Note I did say there’s nothing wrong with borrowing from the bible. My biggest contention with the book is that it is NOT fantasy in my opinion. It’s a lot closer to changing the setting of King David to an island off the coast of post-revolutionary war Georgia and changing history around a little than my definition of fantasy. As I said, it’s Tom Sawyer as King David more than anything else. Nothing wrong with that, it works quite well and I imagine little boys everywhere will probably eat it up, but the label “fantasy” set wrong expectations.
But also remember my basic philosophy: I’m not here to promote anyone or the genre, or to give free advertising. I’m also not here to harshly judge, criticize, condemn, and tear people’s work to shreds. I’m here to lovingly discuss the pros and cons of a book–both the pros and cons–not to lavish praise no matter how much I like it. (though I do on occasion admittedly!) Note I am also, in my view, unbalanced if there’s not the good and the bad. No one’s perfect on this side of Heaven, so nearly *all* books have flaws. Even great ones (and this was a pretty darn good one!)
Thanks for reading and reviewing my book, Andrea. Sorry it didn’t meet your genre expectations. If you’re interested, James Somers’ blog (or was it Janey DeMeo’s?) includes an exchange we had about where the Wilderking sits (or doesn’t sit) within the fantasy genre.
Oh, Andrea, I didn’t mean to imply that you should lavish praise on a book that you thought was less than perfect. Seriously. I love to read reviews that are balanced. I was simply surprised that you didn’t love, love, love the book because I thought that anyone who read it would be bound to love it. I did notice that you had some good things to say about it.
But I was serious about being encouraged that you didn’t really love this book like I did. Because it reminds me that reviews and contracts are subjective things.
Rogers: yours will be the first book in history lambasted for being too probable 🙂 Seriously, other than the lack of fantastical elements that raise genre question marks, and a few differences of opinion between us on the merits of storytelling and omniscience, there’s quite a bit to love about your book.
Sally: Thanks. I’m of course of the opinion that perfect books are only published in Heaven, just like normal people are also only found there, along with all the truly objective people. My way of dealing with that is to try to be upfront and honest in my reviews about my biases, likes, dislikes, etc. We do fall in love with books, and in that state you of course don’t see the flaws 🙂
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