Colin Meloy & Carson Ellis

I first heard about Wildwood through a Design Sponge post focusing on Carson Ellis’s beautiful illustrations about a year ago. It suddenly popped into my head again recently and turned out to be a good countertwist after finishing the Lydia Davis stories. Many themes in this story are common to young adult literature: the stubbornly brave children; the secret, magical world existing in parallel to the one they live in; the impossibly hopeless parents — except in this one it’s typical, Portland-hipster parents.

Protagonist Prue watches her baby brother get snatched by a murder of crows and taken over the Willamette River to the Impassable Wilderness or Wildwood — Portland’s Forest Park, reenvisioned as an isolated, magical world that “Outsiders” are generally unaware of and usually can’t enter. She takes off in pursuit on her bike (single-speed with toe clips, of course) and initially doesn’t notice that her school acquaintance Curtis has followed her. They end up continuing across the river together, though they are almost immediately separated once in the woods. The book then alternates between their two experiences until they manage to meet again.

The story sometimes feels a bit leggy, almost like it was drawn out to make multiple volumes necessary. But then there is a whole magical world to unveil. I love the idea of Forest Park as home to a world inhabited by humans and anthropomorphized animals living together — evidently the badger with the rickshaw was written in specifically because it was something Ellis would enjoy drawing. Many of the landmarks in Wildwood are based on actual places in the park; like any decent book about a fantasy world, there are hand drawn maps to orient yourself. (I may have also pulled out my set of Forest Park hiking and running loop maps to cross-reference.)

The Portland setting drew me into the story, from its beginnings in the St John neighborhood. I got a kick out of the reference to Proper Eats, as I had a roommate who was friends with one of the founders when it opened. I can only hope future books in the trilogy will work in a reference to Blue Moon Camera, where they make optical prints from film and sell typewriters, since it fits into the hipster subtheme perfectly. Having put off reading Wildwood this long, I can dive into the second book, Under Wildwood, at my earliest convenience.