Under Wildwood by Colin Meloy

Under Wildwood by Colin Meloy Illustrated by Carson Ellis This is the second book of a new series called “The Wildwood Chronicles,” written by Colin Meloy. You can read my review of the first book here. Under Wildwood is definitely darker than the first book in this series. There is more violence and language than the first book. The author uses an extensive vocabulary, which makes for an easy way for readers to pick up new words, but I think I had to look up 4 or 5 myself, so kids might be needing a dictionary handy for this book. It also does not seem like a book that could stand alone. The story does not resolve by the end of the book, so you might want to wait until the third book, Wildwood Imperium, is released in February, 2014.

My Mom-Meter gives this particular book an over-all safety rating of 3 (Caution) for ages 9 and up.

Wikipedia has a decent summary of the book here.

 Here are the potential moral issues parents might wish to talk with their kids about:
  • A coachman yells “Better luck next time, suckers!” “Darn it!” is said twice. “Oh my God” is said twice, and someone uses God’s name in vain once. A boy is described as chubby. “Flipping” is used twice (as in, “The flipping map”), “screwed up” is said twice, someone says “a quiet oath,” “godforsaken” is used by a boy (use of another profanity is implied but not stated). A boy boasts that they live in a place where there are “No rules. Do what you like… Tell dirty jokes…Let loose a curse word.” Someone in battle calls his foe a “cretin,” someone is called an “idiot,” and a villain is called a “creep.”
  • “Farted” is used to describe the sounds a machinery, someone mentions “butt” once, “pee” once, “puking” once, and “load of crap” once. A mole wets his pants in fear.
  • Prue is skipping school to go look at Wildwood. Potential Discussion Point: Is Prue right to skip school? Why do you think she isn’t telling her parents about it?
  • Curtis’ absence is hurting his family. Potential Discussion Point: Why does Curtis’ family miss him? Did you know that every member of a family is important? What are things that we would miss about each other if we could not be together?
  • Curtis’ parents think Curtis is in Turkey, so they put his sisters in an orphanage for safe keeping while they fly to Turkey to look for Curtis. Potential Discussion Point: Do you think it was a difficult decision for Curtis’ parents to leave their daughters at the orphanage? How would you handle it if you were Elsie?
  • Cigarettes, “poppy beer,”  are mentioned in passing. There is a drunk wolf who sells information for alcohol, he calls it “that demon liquid), a drunk tank is mentioned once, dive bars are mentioned once, a villain requests a “spritzer,” and someone promises “champagne on tap.” A father-figure smokes a pipe and a boy smokes a pipe with tobacco throughout his part in the story. He is proud of it and does not want to stop. The children see an empty container of chewing tobacco, something made of cigar tins, find a beer bottle “Pabst Blue Ribbon.” Prue and Curtis see someone who works at a bar in Portland picking up more beer, and he tells them that the are too young to be in a bar. Prue remembers stories of drunken sailors being abducted.
  • Orphanage uses child labor. Potential Discussion Point: Although the book only treat child labor like it is treated in a Dickens’ novel, you might want to talk about what child slavery looks like today and what we can do to change it.
  • Someone mentions that kids at the orphanage are playing poker.
  • Elsie has to work at a machine that will chop off her hand if she does not work fast.
  • There is a lot of violence. Plants attack and kill two shape-shifting (Kisune) assassins to protect the Mystics. Blood is mentioned seeping from nostrils, blood being spilled, etc. An assassin Kisune falls to her death, and the book mentions her as “lifeless.” Prue and Curtis remember a story of a spelunker who gets lost and dies in a cave. Infanticide is mentioned once. Curtis references the movie “Conan” in which James Earl Jones turns into a “giant toothy snake.” While in the dark, a mole makes so much noise that Curtis “envisioned some eldritch creature, all tentacles and glistening eyeballs, carrying… an ax maybe.” There is a brief, graphic description of a battleground – crying baby mole, blood splattered dress, crying over a fallen soldier. Prue learns that the Dowager Governess had chopped off the hands of a craftsman and poked out the eyes of the other craftsman. Someone mentions that the Dowager Governess was swallowed by ivy (as told in the first book). The kids at the “orphanage” riot, throwing foot lockers out of windows, breaking glass, and set fire to the machine shop. Prue stabs Kisune and there is a graphic description of their struggle.
  • Prue can hear plants communicate with her. Prue encourages a plant to slap a girl who is showing off.
  • Prue realizes that she is calling on the plants to murder Darla, the Kisune assassin. The books says “While that seemed like the right outcome, considering her own life was ver much in danger, it still gave her pause.”
  • Some children say they are setting off to set wire snares to catch animals, presumably to eat.
  • There are Mystics, people who have visions and can talk to trees. One of the Mystics assumes the lotus position before being killed. The “netherworld” and “underworld” are mentioned. Unicorns are mentioned in passing once. “Incantation” is mentioned once. Someone references Charles Dickens “Ghost of Christmas future.” Someone is in a “trancelike” state and someone snaps out of a “trance,” not meaning a true trance. Prue is sarcastically called an oracle. People who have ancestors from the Impassible Wilderness are said to have “Woods Magic” in them. A villain says “It is believed that we are descended of the trees themselves.” The moles mistake Prue, Curtis, and Septimus the rat for gods of the Overworld, and the children and rat play along as “demi-gods.” There are wooden dragon heads on a pagoda that are described as looking “wise to the ages.” There are Intuits who listen to the trees. Joffrey Unthank is compared to Hephaetus, the blacksmith to the gods in Greek mythology. “The God of Judeo-Christian beliefs had created the universe himself… God had seven days to make the universe; Unthank had been given five.” Someone is called a seer. There is a mole called a prophetess, or a sibyl. There is a reference to a “magic sigil” and “kismet.” Poltergeists are mentioned once. The children in the orphanage are compared to “furies released from the deep.”
  • As Prue struggled to stop the moles’ battle, her feet crushed parts of the mole city. “She decided that it was all for the good of peace.” Potential Discussion Point: Do you think that Prue made the right decision? How do we sometimes make decision that mess up something in order to create something better?
  • The Sibyl Gwendolyn says that she does not believe in the afterlife even though she is a prophetess. She says that she speak religious things for tradition. She says, “Faith. It’s an awfully beautiful idea, isn’t it? I’m fond of the poetry of it. As long as it’s not doing anyone any harm, I don’t see the reason for pulling the veil away….” Potential Discussion Point: Many people believe that religion is simply a lovely idea, irrelevant and nice as long as it doesn’t infringe on others. What does your family believe?
  • The Unadoptable kids lived in a place where they never age a day. Potential Discussion Point: If you had the chance to live there, would you? Why do you think we were created to age?
  • Prue feels the tree’s calling on her life eclipses everything else, including her family. She wonders if that feeling is the beginning of being an adult. Potential Discussion Point: Do you think that adults or kids focus on one thing and care more about that than anything else? Do you think that Prue is acting like an adult to forget about her family? How is she different from Mr. Unthank?
  • Joffrey Unthank is obsessed with the Impassable Wilderness, and he sacrifices everything to learn how to get into it. The book calls it “monomania.” Potential Discussion Point: Is it ever okay to sacrifice everything to get one thing? Do you think that Mr. Unthank will ever be satisfied?
  • Martha, an orphan, sacrifices her life to let Elsie and Rachel escape from Mr. Unthank, knowing that she and Carol, the blind father-figure craftsman, would be captured. Potential Discussion Point: Why did Martha take the girls’ place by Carol’s side? You might want to talk about stories of brave people who took another’s place during the Holocaust and other times.
  • The bear, Esben, had refused to help Prue save Wildwood, but he then appears in time to save Prue from being killed. He explains his change of heart as this. “A city of moles saved my life once; it occurred to me I had a calling to do the same for someone else.” Potential Discussion Point: How would you feel if you were about to die and someone saved your life? How would that change how you live your life now?

This review is hot off the press! Check back to read Liam’s review next week.

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  1. I saw these books at the library today. Haven’t read them, but so happy to now have a place to read a knowledgable review on them! thanks Jennifer!

  2. I saw these books at the library today. Haven’t read them, but so happy to now have a place to read a knowledgable review on them! thanks Jennifer!

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