With modern day fantasy fiction still flying off the shelves, there’s a space for something of the classic amongst the streetwise vampires and werewolves. And Wildwood may just be it.
If you haven’t come across it yet you’re missing a rare treat. Penned by the hugely popular Colin Meloy, Wildwood is an epic childhood adventure into a forbidden wilderness. Pursued by its sequel, Under Wildwood, that has already been released in the US, this is a trilogy that’s going to be with us for years to come in the fluxlings household.
Colin Meloy is the lead singer and songwriter of The Decemberists, known for his wordsmithery and high octance twitter presence. The literate indie rocker has made the move to fiction and it feels so natural it makes you want to spit.
The Wildwood story goes something like this. Prue McKeel is an offbeat, 12 year old. When her baby brother is kidnapped by crows, she embarks on a rescue mission with her friend Curtis that will uncover a secret world on their doorstep in the midst of a violent upheaval. It’s a world of talking animals, peace loving mystics, post vans and the power of nature.
Wildwood is beautifully illustrated with intricate, sensitive images by Meloy’s wife, Carson Ellis. A true family project, the book is a wonderful, engrossing read perfect for fans of C.S. Lewis, Tolkein and even J.K. Rowling. Modern yet classic, it’s not surprising the film rights have already been optioned by the makers of Coraline.
Already available in hardback, Wildwood is awaiting a paperback launch in the UK timed to coincide with the sequels’s hardbook launch in spring. But in the meantime, why not get the hardback of the original so you are ready to go with Under Wildwood when it’s released?
We caught up with Colin Meloy to talk about his move to fiction and his thoughts on Wildwood!
FLUXLINGS: Is Wildwood a book you’ve always had in your head? Do you know this world well in your imagination or is it a more recent phenomena?
Colin Meloy: The book has definitely been kicking around for a while now. Carson (the illustrator) and I had talked about doing some sort of long-form collaboration, like an illustrated book, for a long time – about ten years. We even started work on one, called “How Ruthie Ended the War,” but we both decided it was too long, too amorphous and too weird to actually get published. We never abandoned the idea, though. WILDWOOD came about after one of our nearly-weekly walks in Portland’s city park Forest Park – this idea of turning the park into its own kind of enchanted world. The story really just grew from there, and I ended up using a lot of the better ideas from the original “Ruthie” story.
FLUXLINGS: Why are certain humans able to pass through into the impassable Wilderness and for others it’s impossible?
Colin Meloy: It’s a thing called “Woods Magic,” something that the native Woodians are born with; however, it’s a hereditary thing: should any Outsider have a spot of the Woods Blood in them, they can freely cross over the boundary. If you’re a half-breed, if you do have this spot of Woods Magic in you, there’s no doubt that there’s a Woodian somewhere in your family tree.
FLUXLINGS: Why did you want to write a book aimed at children?
Colin Meloy: Like I said, Carson and I really wanted to do something collaborative, something that felt like we were both equally involved in; we figured the best way to go about doing that was doing an illustrated book, a kind of book which seemed to best fit in the world of children’s literature. We’re both real lovers of folk and fairy tale; that was the sort of book we wanted to make.
FLUXLINGS: Why this age group?
Colin Meloy: I remember clearly my own time as a “middle reader” which is a kind of weird name put on a demographic that book publishers invented. But I think those ages, the ages that make up “middle reader” are magical in their way: ages 8-12. I think it’s a time when you’re still young enough to have a fairly unbridled imagination, but old enough to be challenged by more complex issues. You’re just on the cusp of adulthood, still one foot deep in childhood. It’s an exciting time. I think they’re also the best readers to write for.
FLUXLINGS: Were you influenced by classic fairy tales?
Colin Meloy: Absolutely. I’ve always loved fairy tales, and all the recognizable elements and archetypes that go along with them. I’ve loved them as a reader, and I’ve also been influenced by folk song (which, by its nature, is a relative of folk- and fairy tale) in my songwriting. Something about the universality of those ideas, the fact that the power of those stories extends beyond the reach of time. We can be moved as much by a centuries-old fairy tale or folk song as we are by contemporary stories. They are powerful things, these stories!
FLUXLINGS: Curtis proclaims himself a pacifist but he joins in the battle – why does he feel he has to join in the coyote’s side?
Colin Meloy: Curtis shifts around a lot. He’s definitely the more flawed of the two main characters. I think he’s really trying to figure out how to live in the world and he manages to take quiet a few missteps in the process. I think he proclaims himself a pacifist mostly because he’s afraid of taking the risk, of diving into the coyotes’ struggle. He’s been a timid person all his life – it’s with the coyotes that he finally gains his feet. He learns quickly, however, that he may not have chosen the right side.
FLUXLINGS: There is a clash between a mundane safe suburban America and the totally magical world of the woods. What is it that interests you in this clash of cultures?
Colin Meloy: I think some of the best fantasy and science fiction, the best contemporary fairy tales, happen right on the margin of our own, recognizable reality. There was something powerful, I thought, in setting the book in a world that is torn between staid reality and outright magic. It gives the characters a chance to pass between the worlds and allows the reader to question their own surroundings, their own realities. Which is better? The world imbued with magic, yet torn in violent strife, or the boring everyday outside world, with its safe, predictable tedium? I think both Prue and Curtis, by the end of the book, are able to look at their own world in a new way; both make different decisions based on that new perspective.
FLUXLINGS: What children’s books had an impact on you when you were growing up?
Colin Meloy: I loved the Tolkien books, “The Hobbit,” especially. I was a huge Ray Bradbury fan, a Lloyd Alexander fan. I was into really escapist stuff.
FLUXLINGS: What gave you the idea of the ‘Impassable Wilderness’. Is this based on something from you own experience?
Colin Meloy: It really came out of wandering in the woods. Forest Park, the park in Portland that served as inspiration for the Impassable Wilderness, is an immersive and enchanted-seeming place. Its border runs right up against Portland’s city boundary; stepping into the woods at those places where it shares a border, where the city gives way to the woods, can really feel like you’re stepping into an entirely removed and different world.
FLUXLINGS: Prue is a determined and self-reliant character. Why did you draw your central character in that way?
Colin Meloy: I always saw Prue as a kind of maternal figure, someone who is bent on the safety of the people she loves, particularly her brother. She’s someone who takes her responsibilities very seriously and would go to the greatest lengths to make sure they’re done. She’s sort of the arrow of the book: dead set on her goal and regardless of what obstacles are thrown in her path, she’s determined to succeed. Curtis meanders a little more, allows the events to carry him along – in that sense I think he’s a nice counterpoint to Prue’s head-down forward momentum.
FLUXLINGS: Is she modeled on anyone in real life?
Colin Meloy: I sort of based Prue on a friend’s niece, the only 12 year old I knew at the time. Though she really departed from that foundation as I started writing the book. In the end, I think I drew a lot of my childhood and, in particular, Carson’s childhood to create the full-fleshed character you see in the book.
FLUXLINGS: Curtis goes through a dramatic emotional experience and change. Why did you want him to go through this voyage of self-discovery?
Colin Meloy: I see Curtis as being a second option of what choices one might make if thrown into his and Prue’s situation. Prue picks one path, Curtis another. They fall together in the end, but both make different decisions as the story draws to a close. I really wanted to see Curtis flourish from his experience in the Wood and, what’s more, I wanted to experience, through his eyes, what it would be like to make the decision he makes in the end.
Wildwood is available now in the UK in hardback, published by Canongate Books.