Prue McKeel’s life is ordinary. At least until her baby brother is abducted by a murder of crows. And then things get really weird.
You see, on every map of Portland, Oregon, there is a big splotch of green on the edge of the city labeled “I.W.” This stands for “Impassable Wilderness.” No one’s ever gone in—or at least returned to tell of it.
And this is where the crows take her brother.
So begins an adventure that will take Prue and her friend Curtis deep into the Impassable Wilderness. There they uncover a secret world in the midst of violent upheaval, a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something much bigger as the two friends find themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness.
A wilderness the locals call Wildwood.
Wildwood is a spellbinding tale full of wonder, danger, and magic that juxtaposes the thrill of a secret world and modern city life. Original and fresh yet steeped in classic fantasy, this is a novel that could have only come from the imagination of Colin Meloy, celebrated for his inventive and fantastic storytelling as the lead singer of the Decemberists. With dozens of intricate and beautiful illustrations by award-winning artist Carson Ellis, Wildwood is truly a new classic for the twenty-first century. A Wildwood Playlist by Colin Meloy & Carson Ellis
"Ramble On" by Led Zeppelin
Colin Meloy: I remember reading an interview with Evan Dando from the Lemonheads right around the time the first Lord of the Rings movie came out, bemoaning the fact that the director hadn’t included a single
Zeppelin song in the movie. I tend to agree; I mean, how rad would it’ve been after that dramatic ending in The Return of the King
, with all its royal celebrations and slo-mo montages—the screen goes black and those monster riffs of “Immigrant Song” kick in? Mind-blowing. So much incredible music in the 60s and 70s was directly fueled by mid-century fantasy fiction, something that Wildwood
owes much to; I feel it would be deeply remiss here not to include a little Zepp. "Marching Song" by Esben and the Witch
Colin Meloy: That said, when I was deep in my preadolescent reverie of fantasy and sci-fi, my friends and I would meet every weekend at someone’s house to play Dungeons & Dragons. There. Confession made. And as everyone knows, the best Dungeon Masters always partnered up their biggest action scenarios with music. While I think it may have been de rigueur to blast Zeppelin or Hawkwind for some folks, I considered myself to be somewhat of a sophisticate. Joy Division was perfect music for a slow, suspenseful crawl through a gelatinous cube-infested grotto. The Legendary Pink Dots added an extra dimension to a party’s first encounter with some weird, reclusive nemesis in a castle tower. An Enchantress might appear to “Under Ice” by Kate Bush or anything from Siouxsie’s output. When I first heard this song from Brighton, England’s Esben and the Witch (even the name is evocative of those days) I imagined a new generation of over-imaginative ten-year-olds pairing their fantastical ramblings with the drowning rains and empty plains of this song. "Take It Easy" by Hopeton Lewis
Colin Meloy: Switching gears, here. Rocksteady, a kind of precursor to the reggae explosion of the 70s, was a beautiful, thoughtful, random amalgam of classic R&B and traditional Jamaican rhythms. It’s clearly the kind of music that is birthed out of necessity; a bunch of poor kids in the slums of Kingston figuring out for themselves how to re-create the sounds that they were hearing over crappy radio speakers: Sam Cooke, Ben E. King, and Sam & Dave. And what came out wasn’t quite
the same, but beautiful and weird and extraordinary in its own right. All this to say: I think that rocksteady music is the music of true enjoyment, the aural equivalent of a slice of bacon, and a rocksteady party was the kind of party I imagined Prue’s parents would throw to celebrate Mac and Prue’s joyful return. And I’ll bet that Prue’s dad dug deep for some Lewis sides—maybe he even had them on 45. "Tam Lin" by Fairport Convention
Colin Meloy: My 60s Brit Folk obsession is fairly well documented, but I thought I’d be remiss if I didn’t include an old folk song in this list. This one, in particular, features a forbidding forest and an evil fairy queen and a pair of star-crossed lovers. Clocking in just north of seven minutes, it’s as immersive and complete a narrative as a song can hope to retell. "Jar of Hearts" by Christina Perri
Carson Ellis: I love Sibylle Baier’s mournful songs and I listened to them a lot when I was working on Wildwood
, especially during the rainy months. Portland winters can be dreary and sometimes gloomy music is the best thing for them. This isn’t my very favorite song of hers, but I chose it because, you know, the title. "I Lost Something in the Hills" by Sibylle Baier
Carson Ellis: The intensity and focused passion of this song makes me think of my darling Jack, along with the references to heaven and hell, a favorite theme of his. "My Lovely Elizabeth" by S.E. Rogie
Carson Ellis: Wildwood has a lot of illustrations—85 in all—and it was hard work getting them done. Man, I love to draw but at times this project was exhausting. At times it was downright grueling. Fortunately, I have some remedies for this: taking a walk always helps, as does yoga, as does S. E. Rogie. "Katie Cruel" by Karen Dalton
Carson Ellis: This is a spooky traditional song that dates back to the Revolutionary War. Like Wildwood
’s villainess, Alexandra, Katie Cruel roams the forest and the “bogs and mire,” jilted and in exile. This is a good song to listen to while walking in Forest Park, the real woods that were the inspiration for Wildwood
’s Impassable Wilderness. Or while walking in any misty, quiet forest where beards of moss hang from the gnarled branches of dead trees and there’s little sign of civilization. You can imagine that around any bend you might find the solitary hut of Katie Cruel, a little curl of smoke drifting up from its chimney and the sound of her high lonesome banjo coming from within. I also love this song’s beautiful, totally unhinged chorus:
Oh that I was where I would be,
Then I would be where I am not,
Here I am where I must be
Go where I would, I cannot. "Over the Hills and Far Away" by Led Zeppelin
Carson Ellis: I’m a longtime Led Zeppelin fan and this song, in addition to having a fitting title, was another one I loved when I was Prue’s age. I first heard it around the time I read The Hobbit, and I thought its medieval vagabond vibe was awesome. I’m also a sucker for a song that starts with a pretty guitar part and then gets crazy. As an adult I tend to like Zeppelin’s earlier, bluesier stuff better but, as a kid, I loved the Middle Earth-ish stuff and “Over the Hills and Far Away” was my jam.
A Look Inside Wildwood
Click on the images below to open larger versions. (Art copyright © 2011 by Unadoptable Books LLC.)
About the Author
Colin Meloy is the writer of the bestselling Wildwood Chronicles and the singer and songwriter for the band the Decemberists. The Golden Thread: A Song for Pete Seeger is his first picture book. He once joined Pete Seeger onstage, singing American folk standards at the Newport Folk Festival in 2011, and even now, he can barely believe it actually happened, it was so cool. He lives just outside Portland, Oregon, with his family.
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