A Review of The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson
There is something deep that unites us all. No, something even deeper than our universal love of Mexican food. It’s a common thread that runs through all of us, somehow binding each of us to something greater than ourselves, helping us see each other as more than just unrelated beings moving through unrelated space living out unrelated lives. It unites us and teaches us that we all somehow add to a story much greater than our own, a story that has been groaning toward completion long before us and will continue groaning long after we are gone. It’s the idea of story. Not just a story, but the story. I’ve heard it said that the story of each of us is the story of all of us. Personally, I believe that the story runs much deeper even than encompassing all of us. It runs deep into the very heart of who God is and how He works out His story in and through us all.
I don’t know how, but Andrew Peterson has apparently dug a deep well directly into the heart of the story and tapped it for all its majesty, beauty, and grace.
I’ve been following Peterson for a long time now. I was a big fan of his music (this may be a slight understatement) and I love to read (also an understatement), so I was understandably excited when I heard he was undertaking a new form of artistic expression in writing. I jumped at the chance to follow this amazing storyteller as he told a different kind of story in a different kind of way. So I pre-ordered his first novel, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, and devoured it as soon as I got my hands on it. It was quirky, it was interesting, and it was extremely well-written for a freshman novel. But these qualities, awesome as they were, weren’t what hooked me. As I said, Peterson somehow discovered how to tap deeply into the story that unexpectedly united me to an unassuming farm boy on the edge of a redundantly dark sea, and there he found the hook that caught me and wouldn’t let go. As I read that first book in the Wingfeather Saga, I wasn’t just reading about the emotions that came along with the beautifully redemptive story being told. I was simultaneously living out those emotions in my own life. When those three children hurt, I hurt. When they laughed, I laughed. But most important, when they experienced that great wave of redemption that comes when the story turns and makes everything right again, I was right there with them. Peterson tapped me into something deeper than myself, and I wanted nothing more than to continue in it.
So, needless to say, I purchased the second and third books as soon as they were released (pre-released, in fact). The second book, North! Or Be Eaten, took my breath away. The story continued pressing on toward that completion that I longed for though I dreaded the path I knew it must take to get there. But again, I was hooked because I knew that in reading it I was somehow connected to those emotions that are so easily buried beneath our mundane sea of what we have convinced ourselves is life.
Then the third book, The Monster in the Hollows, came out. I didn’t think I could experience the story any deeper. I was wrong. As I followed the path that Peterson wove for Janner, Kalmar, and Leeli, I found myself running a gamut of emotions at a level I wasn’t sure even existed. This small microcosm of the one great story delved deeply into my soul and touched a part of me that had long been dormant. As I read, I experienced life, love, fear, turmoil, betrayal, and ultimately grace and redemption in a way that I expected no modern novel ever to have the ability to conjure. I experienced the story, and I can’t help but want more.
Peterson is, at his core, a storyteller. He knows how to weave a good tale. What I love about his book (and the series as a whole) is that he understands the rules of storytelling enough to know when to abide, when to bend, and when to break those rules in half. I am often disappointed by books, movies, and TV shows that allow you to pick out the bad guy early in the story simply by the way the author introduced him. Far too often you can tell where the story is going, and usually that means the reader (or viewer) loses some interest. That is not the case with Peterson, not because he knows and understands the unwritten rules of good storytelling. But because he understands how to manipulate those rules, torturing them until they relent, producing something surprisingly beautiful.
Would I recommend this book (and the Wingfeather Saga series)? I am ashamed that you even have to ask. I have personally purchased some 20 copies of the first book and have been responsible for introducing at least that many more people to the series. To state it plainly, ABSOLUTELY! If you are a fan of good storytelling, interesting lands and people, and/or all things yummy, you must read these books. Buy them for yourself. Buy them for your teenager who isn’t sure that reading is worth his time. Buy them for your parent who loves to read but already owns all the great books known to man. Buy them for the homeless guy on the corner (possibly bag them with a sandwich). Buy them for anyone you can. They too can tap into the great story of stories, and there they can find the redemption and grace that I found reading these books.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “In life and art both, as it seems to me, we are always trying to catch in our net of successive moments something that is not successive. Whether in real life there is any doctor who can teach us how to do it, so that at last either the meshes will become fine enough to hold the bird, or we be so changed that we can throw our nets away and follow the bird to its own country, is not a question for this essay. But I think it is sometimes done – or very, very nearly done – in stories. I believe the effort to be well worth making.”
Lewis, through his incredible storytelling, was just such a doctor as to push us to grasp something beyond our own stories. Peterson unquestionably follows in Lewis’ able footsteps, beckoning his readers to strive for the far country that is not their home. Read these books and see for yourself. You won’t regret it.