Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis put birds on it long before Portlandia came along. This week, the Decemberists brigadier and his partner, illustrator Ellis, premiere their literary collaboration Wildwood, the first in a YA series about two kids who go on a journey from their homes in St. Johns into the Impassable Wilderness (ostensibly Forest Park), a magical land full of talking animals and impenetrable ivy.
The very-Portland Prue is a seventh grader who practices yoga and vegetarianism, and can fix a bike tire in a flash. When her baby brother is stolen by a murder of crows and taken into a forbidden tangle of forest, she vows to get him back. Prue and her friend Curtis befriend talking birds, crusty bandits, and hoary mystics in a loamy magical land that's being threatened by a witchy Dowager Governess... so, pretty much a Decemberists song. Meloy's debut novel is smash-packed with 50-cent vocab words, some smug but mostly well chosen ("stevedore" is probably a pretty satisfying word for a seventh-grade boy to drop). Although trademark Meloy, Wildwood is also full of YA otherworldly homage, from Cleary's Portland to Lewis' Narnia to Baum's Oz, making it a nice entry into the middle-reader canon.
And if the arch and Portland-y mentions of cork flooring and recycling bins get you a bit rankled, look to Ellis' beautiful artwork to smooth your feathers. She does rich work, with lovely drawn animals and border flourishes and tableaus, so when Wildwood's pace oscillates—there are frustrating slogs—it's the textured and clever illustrations that, along with Meloy's flights of fancy, ultimately make it a rewarding endeavor.Bagdad Theater