The Wilderking Trilogy (The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking) by Jonathan Rogers is an adventure story for middle school aged readers. I was introduced to both the story and its author earlier this spring at a conference, but the books were first published nearly 15 years ago. So the stories are not brand new, just new to me and my family; and, perhaps, new to you and yours.
Originally I meant this to be a 500 Words or Less review, but I went a smidge over (1500+ words). Similarly, I intended this to be a “The Five” article, mainly consisting of just five quotes from the books. The quotes are still included, near the end should you make it that far, which technically qualifies it as a Five; however, it just somehow kept growing.
I have done my best to avoid spoilers, though you can’t really have a review without including some details.
What is The Wilderking Trilogy about?
The Wilderking Trilogy tells the story of Aidan Errolson of Corenwald from his life as a young shepherd through the journey of his becoming the Wilderking. It is a medieval retelling of the story of David from the Bible, focusing on the events from his youth, in a physical setting that sounds a lot like southern Georgia, from which both the author, Jonathan Rogers, and I originally hail.
Instead of lions and bears, Aidan faces panthers and gators. In common with David, Aidan is a youngest son, has his life changed drastically with the arrival of a prophet, has a tumultuous relationship with his king, and has a close friendship with the king’s son. Unlike David, Aidan deals with the wild people of the swamps, known as the Feechies or Feechiefolk.
While The Wilderking Trilogy has the feel of a fantasy story, and there certainly are spiritual elements, there are not really any fantastical elements.
What did we think of it?
When I first started reading The Bark of the Bog Owl, I confess that I thought, “This is going to be boring and trite because I’ve heard these David stories over and over all my life.” Thankfully, I was wrong. This fictional story breathed new life, for me at least, into the original true stories and characters. The story is exciting. The characters are well developed and easy to empathize, and the dialog is delightful. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
After writing that, I realized that my children’s opinions of The Wilderking Trilogy are probably more pertinent than mine. To that end, I delayed the publication of this review and handed the books over to my children.
The elder sons (currently ages ten and twelve) read the entire trilogy. The elder daughter (currently age seven) has read the first book. We also have the audiobook versions (read by author Jonathan Rogers) and have begun listening to them as a family, which is especially handy for the younger daughter (age 5). The story is appropriate for all ages.
The following is a confabulation between myself and my wee-feechies regarding these books. To get in the proper spirit, they gave themselves Feechie names and drew Feechie self-portraits. I promise there was no rudeswap nor tangling and only a bit of trickifying on my part and mullygrubbing on theirs.
Was it easy or difficult to read?
Willie Foebane: Easy.
Jodo of the Tam: Easier than grabbing a hog by its ear.
Bella Gatorfriend: It’s hard to read. [Alas, the books are challenging for the average seven- year-old to read on her own, yet she persevered through the first one at least.]
Was the story fun or boring?
Willie: It was more fun than catching catfish bare-handed.
Jodo: Very fun and exciting!
Bella: It’s kinda fun. It’s more fun to listen to than to read for myself.
Who was your favorite character and why?
Willie: Dobro. He’s always getting into fights and causing trouble.
Jodo: Dobro. He’s funny.
Bella: Aidan, because he has a cape made out of a panther.
What was your favorite part of the story?
Willie: When Dobro the Feechie went to see a play in the theater with Aidan and Sadie [the daughter of an important Civilizer (non-Feechie)].
Jodo: When Aidan cleverly tricked a band of poachers into getting themselves caught when the poachers out-numbered and out-armed Aidan and his companions.
Bella: When Aidan became an official Feechiefriend and got his panther cape back from Dobro after the trial at the Feechie Meeting Hummock.
Were there any truths or lessons that you learned?
Willie: Friends are the best thing you could ever have.
Jodo: Grace is still available when you do wrong and don’t deserve it. Don’t be a traitor!
Bella: Don’t show up at a Feechie Meeting Hummock without having ever met a Feechie before.
Was anything missing from the story or any part of the story that you did not like?
[I tried, but ultimately failed, to get the boys to understand the question. They mentioned characters or situations they didn’t like, but they were all things they weren’t meant to like. They didn’t find any true faults with the story, in other words.]
Bella: I would have liked more pictures. [There are some illustrations, and they are beautifully drawn; but, honestly, who wouldn’t like more pictures.]
Would you recommend The Wilderking Trilogy; and, if so, to whom?
Willie: Yes! I don’t think I would limit my recommendation to a single age group. It’s a good story for anybody. Those who like The Wingfeather Saga should especially enjoy it. [Read fellow Rambling Ever On contributor, Phill Lytle’s review of The Wingfeather Saga here.]
Jodo: Yes, to other kids my age [ten] and older, especially those who like The Wingfeather Saga, as Willie said, or those who like The Chronicles of Narnia.
Bella: Yes, I would recommend it to my friend Ella who is the same age as me [seven].
What is the message of The Wilderking Trilogy?
The Wilderking story, reflecting its author’s beliefs, contains many Christian themes woven deftly and naturally throughout the plot. While the Christian message is clear, the delivery is not preachy. Most noteworthy for me, during this first reading, was the theme of grace, hope, and redemption. The following five quotes show how that theme progressed as the story unfolded. I have slightly modified them, as indicated by the brackets and ellipses, due to potential spoilers.
Five Wilderking Quotes
“What do you have that wasn’t given to you. … That’s grace, man – what you’re given, not what you deserve. And that’s as true for [him] as it is for you, as it is for me. Grace is the very air we breathe.”The Secret of the Swamp King, by Jonathan Rogers, Rabbit Room Press, 2005, p. 210.
“[He] would rather have his own way than be happy. He’s thrown away the grace he was given because it’s not the grace he had in mind. … There’s not much hope for a person who won’t live in the grace he’s given.”The Secret of the Swamp King, by Jonathan Rogers, Rabbit Room Press, 2005, p. 211.
“And it all breaks my heart. … But where there’s life there’s hope. And the heartache of knowing [his] wickedness is outweighed by the joy of knowing he’s still alive and may yet turn back.”The Secret of the Swamp King, by Jonathan Rogers, Rabbit Room Press, 2005, pp. 215-216.
“… you were never meant to be a slave.”The Way of the Wilderking, by Jonathan Rogers, Rabbit Room Press, 2006, p. 185.
“His love haunted me, you know. … False love I could handle. Flattery, using people, even being used – I understood all that. That made sense to me. But unconditional love was the last thing I wanted, from [him] or anybody else. Because to receive love is to know someone loves you more than you deserve to be loved. I don’t mean [he] ever meant to make me feel unworthy. I don’t even think he knew he loved more than I deserved. … a love that intense can’t help but make you see your own selfishness. So I spent my life trying to prove I deserved more than I was getting.”The Way of the Wilderking, by Jonathan Rogers, Rabbit Room Press, 2006, pp. 180-190.
Thoughts on the audio books specifically
Typically, when I am about to listen to an audiobook read by the original author, I think, “It will be so awesome to hear this story read by the original author. I will hear it exactly as it was meant to be heard.” Then, shortly into the story, I realize, “This would have been so much better had they just hired a professional narrator to read.”
Thankfully, that was not the case here, at least certainly not to that extreme. Jonathan Rogers did a good job reading his books. The best parts are the Feechie sounds and dialog. His bog owl bark brought joy and laughter every time we heard it.
My one complaint is that he simply reads too quickly. However, this is easily solved by adjusting the reading speed from 1.00x to 0.90x. I do wish they had done that adjustment in the editing phase rather than the reader having to do it; but, then again, it could just be me. Mayhap I am a slow listener.