I love many moments in The Wilderking Trilogy, but one of my favorites happens outside the story, on the faces of those hearing it for the first time: it is the Moment of Revelation, when that niggling feeling that there’s something about this story, something familiar . . . But how could that be? The child’s eyebrows work athletically as she tries to place it. No, she thinks. It can’t be the gator grabble. Whoever heard of a gator grabble? And she’s never heard of a feechiemark either, let alone a feechie—those scrappy, raucous folk of the swamp. So it can’t be that.
But—ah! Here her eyebrows leap—she does know an old story about a shepherd boy, who was anointed king while a living king still sat on the throne. She knows about that boy and his sling. She knows about his five smooth stones. And the revelation bursts from her mouth:
“David! It’s like David!”
That is the beauty of Jonathan Rogers’s trilogy. Rogers overlays a faint tracing of King David’s story with the story of Aidan Errolson, a boy who gets his start tending his father’s sheep and makes his way through pasture and swamp, war and exile, to the throne of Corenwald.
Aidan is a hero in the old style—not the broken hero, flawed and resisting his fate, that is so common in stories today. I can’t think of any major flaws in Aidan’s character or any moments when he outright rebels. When conflict arises, Aidan is the first to step in with a creative solution; he volunteers first for the hardest missions. And yet Aidan isn’t too good to be true. As a character, he’s nuanced, endearing, and, above all, believable. He belongs wholly to Corenwald, and yet, I could imagine a kid like him living somewhere in our world.
In one of my favorite scenes from the trilogy’s first book, Bayard the Truthspeaker and Aidan speak privately after Bayard’s pronouncement that Aidan is the mysterious, prophesied Wilderking:
“What if you are correct?” [Aidan] asked. “What if I am destined to be the Wilderking? How should I live?”
“The same way you should live if you weren’t the Wilderking. Live the life that unfolds before you. Love goodness more than you fear evil.”
Good advice, thought Aidan, but he was looking for something more specific. He was a loyal subject of King Darrow. Surely he wasn’t destined to lead a rebellion against his king. He didn’t quite know how to ask the question. “If I am the Wilderking, how do I become the Wilderking?” . . .
“A traitor is no fit king. Live the life that unfolds before you. Love goodness more than you fear evil.”
To every question Aidan asks after this one, Bayard simply repeats his answer: “Live the life that unfolds before you. Love goodness more than you fear evil.” And so, for the rest of the series, we watch Aidan live the life that unfolds before him. That life leads him from his home at Longleaf Manor to some unlikely places, and I take heart in watching the trail that prophecy takes to its fulfillment. This year has felt at times—for many of us, I’m sure—like one long exile in the Feechiefen Swamp. Stories like this give me hope that these times of exile aren’t permanent but are, in fact, an integral part of our own plot.
All told, I have read this series four times (twice alone and twice with my family), and every time I’m struck by how satisfying the story of the Wilderking is. Nothing in it is wasted or out of place; each twist and turn is deliberate, but each feels organic, as though the whole story grew out of the soil and swamps of Corenwald. Corenwald itself is a viney, twining, living thing with a history, topography, and mix of cultures that weave under and around Aidan’s story to give it an unforgettable texture. The land extends beyond the boundaries of this story, so fully developed that I’m certain Rogers knows much, much more about Corenwald than we see in this trilogy.
I recently had the opportunity to take a writing class from Jonathan Rogers, and in it he urged us students to give our readers “something they couldn’t get for themselves.” In The Wilderking Trilogy, he gives us readers just that: a ticket to a place we couldn’t visit on our own. He gives us a feechiemark and safe passage through the swamp.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Jonathan Rogers is about to launch another writing class, August 18 – September 22, 2020: Writing With Hobbits, that examines J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit with a writer’s eye. Jonathan is a gifted teacher, and growing writers (he has cohorts for both children and adults) will gain valuable tools and insight. Check it out: https://thehabit.co/hobbits/
Featured image from Thea’s other Wilderking review on Little Book Big Story