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A New Twist on an Old Classic
on December 11, 2006
If you've read "Eragon" or "The Hobbit" or even seen "Star Wars", the plot to "Wolf Brother" may seem comfortably familiar to you. A young but virtuous man-boy has the fate of his people thrust upon him. He must par-take a dangerous voyage to fight an incredible evil and in the end he is changed forever. "Wolf Brother" is part of a new tide of children's books egger to exploit the market that made J.K. Rowland the richest woman in the U.K..
The formula is standard. Find a simple plot device, in case of "Wolf Brother" a young man named Torak sees his father killed by a giant bear and vows to kill the beast to avenge his father. Add some mysticism, the bear was actually possessed by a demon and Torak must find three ancient and powerful items scattered through out his land to defeat the creature. Create conflict, a local tribe wants to capture Torak and kill him for they feel that only his blood will stop the bear. And finally make it into a series of books to make as much money as possible. The good news is there are several redeeming factors to (all be it barely) recommend this book. First the relationship Torak forms with a lost wolf cub is original and feels genuine. The author Michelle Paver does some interesting point of view writing from the wolf's perspective. Had she found a way to have the entire book written from the wolf's P.O.V. this book might have been an instant classic. The author also does something that sets this book far apart from the rest of the pack; it's set in the somewhat real world of 6000 B.C.E., Ireland (a map in the books does bare a strong resembles to the jewel island). The research put forward for this book is immense and works well, for the most part (a glossary of some of the terms might be helpful for younger readers) but the use of magic or mysticism in these books grows tiring and compromises the real world feel to the series. In Paver's ancient world, magic is not only very real it is the reason for the story and often the motivation for the characters. In truth magic through out history is more about mystery and perspective, but Favor seems again to be tapping into a familiar genre, that of "Harry Potter", in an effort to propel her series and connect with the gigantic Potter fan based.
The result is a book that, all be it, is predictable, but contains enough originality to satisfy most readers. The history in the book goes a long way in helping the reader understand the western world before there was a western world and compensates for the simplistic nature of some of the story telling. So yes, the book is not a wasted read but it feels so forced, so safe. The good news for Paver is that the books are doing well, they are getting good reviews ("Wolf Brother" was even on the short list for the Manchester Book Award in 2006), and there are rumors of a feature film. The bad news is that this will only encourage more "writers" who think they can make a fortune out of writing "Kids Lit". Maybe now's the time to hail Philip Pullman's "Dark Material Trilogy" or John Christopher's Tripod series. Maybe we need to look back more to what inspired so many of these books instead of fawning over what could be the next "Harry Potter".