Adventure. Peril. Lost Jewels. And the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree.
I normally read a lot more non-fiction than I do fiction, but in the past five or six weeks I’ve read Jeffrey Overstreet’s Auralia’s Colors, John Grisham’s newest, Appeal, Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, and now Andrew Peterson’s On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. And while I’ve enjoyed all of them, I think I’d have to say that Andrew’s is my favorite.
The story follows the Igiby children, Janner, Tink, and Leeli, in their adventures in the land of Aerwiar as they run from the Fangs of Dang and their search for the jewels of Anniera. The redundancy in the title should clue you in to some of the writing style. A couple of my favorite parts toward the beginning include the introduction of the land of Dang, which was ruled by a Great Evil – “That evil was a nameless evil, an evil whose name was Gnag the Nameless.”, and the first time we see the town of Glipwood and “the biggest building in town, Glipwood’s only inn. Its sign read, THE ONLY INN at the top and below that, in smaller letters, “Glipwood’s Only Inn.”” The story is filled with delightful names and many wonderful places and creatures with evocative descriptions. And the fact that there are three Igiby children, with the book being written by a father of three, doesn’t seem to be an accident. Knowing Andrew and Jamie’s kids, I laughed more than once upon reading a passage that sounded like something they would say or do.
If you’ve been reading my blog for long, you’ve probably seen me mention Frederick Buechner more than once. Most recently I wrote about a common thread that runs through Buechner’s writing, the longing for home. My favorite part in On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is the story of when the town gathers on the edge of the cliffs to hear the dragons, rising from the depths of the dark sea of darkness, sing, which happens once a year. We get the first inkling of the beauty of their song from the opening paragraph of the chapter: “A long, warm note like the sound of a yawning mountain rose in the air and bounced off the belly of the sky. The deep echo was absorbed by the tall trees of Glipwood Forest and was answered a moment later by a higher sound that felt like a soft rain.” And then, as the dragons begin to sing, echoing Buechner, Andrew writes: “All of the passion and sadness and joy of those who listened wound into one common strand of feeling that was to Janner like homesickness, though he couldn’t think why; he was just a short walk from the only home he’d every known.” And later, when the children hear Armulyn, the traveling bard, sing, Janner is embarrassed when he finds tears in his eyes. He doesn’t know why, but tries to explain it to his mom: “There’s just something about the way he sings. It makes me think of when it snows outside, and the fire is warm, and Podo is telling us a story while you’re cooking, and there’s no place I’d rather be – but for some reason I still feel…homesick.” I love reading stories that articulate feelings and experiences that I haven’t been able to put into words on my own.
Another thing I loved about the book, that I don’t think I’ve seen before in a novel, is the abundance of footnotes. If you’re curious and want to know more about the world of Aerwiar, Andrew provides plenty of footnotes that give additional details, like this one: “According to Frobentine the Mumm’s The Fall of the First Epoch, the First Well was hidden near the unwalled city of Ulambria, where Dwayne and Gladys ruled their people with peace, wisdom, and an abundance of cheesy foods. Frobentine places the location of Ulambria somewhere north and east of the Killridge Mountains, in the heart of what is now the Byg’oal Forest. Other sources disagree, claiming that Ulambria lay in the Jungles of Plonst, in the troll kingdom. All scholars agree, however, that Ulambria is a good sounding name for a city.”
And there are little gems sprinkled throughout, like this one explaining what the children are studying in school: “T.H.A.G.S. = Three Honored and Great Subjects: Word, Form, and Song. Some silly people believe that there’s a fourth Honored and Great Subject, but those mathematicians are woefully mistaken.”
Don’t worry, though. Andrew knows there are some things about which he doesn’t need to go into detail, as evidenced by this footnote about a candle in the bookstore “Books and Crannies”: “Snot wax is too repulsive a thing about which to write a proper footnote.”
The publishers sent me an extra copy to give away, so leave a comment on this post with your favorite Andrew Peterson lyric and I’ll pick one to send the book to. Otherwise, you can order On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness from Amazon or pick up a copy (or two or three) at your local bookstore.