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“Feed your children stories that will keep their eyes wide with wonder when they look out their front windows or wander their yards,” wrote N.D. Wilson in a 2011 essay on storytelling. “Feed them stories of joy and hardship and courage and tragedy and triumph. Give them heroes, real and imagined. Give them a taste for goodness, for truth, for beauty.”
Chances are, you know N.D. Wilson from the Ashtown Burials or 100 Cupboards series, or his standalone Leepike Ridge and Boys of Blur novels. They’re all classic works of fantasy for a new generation, vividly imagined and vigorously written, distinctly American stories inspired by classics like King Arthur, The Odyssey, and Beowulf.
My two sons are still a few years away from the prime age for Wilson’s books, but I’ll confess, my wife and I have spent plenty of hours lost in the worlds Wilson has created. So naturally, when The Legend of Sam Miracle, the first book in Wilson’s new Outlaws of Time series, was released last spring, we in the McCarty house – at least my wife and I – were geeking out. The advance description billed the series as a time-travel western superhero epic about a boy named Sam Miracle who discovers he’s being hunted by the nefarious outlaw El Buitre – “The Vulture.” With the help of the time-hopping priest Father Tiempo – and a pair of rattlers grafted onto his arms – Sam rises to the occasion and faces El Buitre. There were gunfights and showdowns galore, and enough head-spinning time travel hijinks to scramble even hardcore Doctor Who fans’ brains. When the book arrived in the mail, I raced through the story faster than one of Sam Miracle’s quick draws.
Finally, after a year of waiting, the second book in the series, The Song of Glory and Ghost, released last week. And – huzzah! – it has every bit the heart, adventure, and relentless zip of its predecessor. This time, Sam and his partner Glory Spalding leap forward in time after El Buitre into a post-volcanic, dystopian Seattle, circa 2034, where they run across a gang led by a man named Leviathan … and an actual leviathan. Dozens of them, actually. All set against the highest stakes: a race against time – make that times – to save Father Tiempo from dying as a baby, so he can grow up to … okay, that’s enough. No more details here.
With that thumbnail description, I probably don’t need to say much more about the book. But I will say how unbelievably fearless Wilson’s storytelling is. The degree of difficulty is off the charts. But so is the reward for the reader. The story is told with such emotional authenticity and vivid detail, I had no choice but to to be yanked through the unpredictable turns in Sam and Glory’s quest. I’m sure I’ve never read a time travel story quite like this one. Heck, I’m not sure I’ve ever read any story like this one. Here’s Wilson’s description of the mechanics of time-bending, as Glory crouches in a pantry and conjures a glass sphere of time in which to hide from a cadre of enemies:
On both sides of the pantry, the webbed glass rose up through the shelves, cutting through wood and steel as easily as the canned fruit. The crystallizing shell of time bent inward … and then the shell closed its dome just below the ceiling, absorbing the glass around the pantry’s only lantern and extinguishing the flame.
Beyond the whirling story and fantastic escapades, what I treasure most about this book is that, like all the great adventure stories, it plunges unlikely, over-matched heroes and heroines with noble intentions and loads of self-doubt into the wildest of scenarios and gives us no choice but to root like mad for their victory. Consider this excerpt, as Sam Miracle glances through a Spider-Man comic book:
It’s what a hero was supposed to do and how a hero was supposed to be. And given that Sam Miracle was supposed to be a hero, given that he was supposed to have killed the Vulture two centuries prior to the moment he was in now and saved cities like Seattle from total annihilation at the hands of that time-spinning carrion villain, Sam didn’t feel anything like Spider-Man. Maybe if the picture was of the hero dropping the girl … Or maybe if the hero had hands with their own personalities he could barely control… If that was how the hero in the comic had been drawn, then Sam would have felt more like him.
Sam and Glory stumble, argue, question, forgive, and ultimately unite to find within themselves, and each other, the strength to conquer the darkest of dark foes. Those are the kind of stories we all need to hear again and again, to remind us, in the words of Sam Gamgee, “There is some good in the world, and it’s worth fighting for.” Or, as Wilson said in the essay I referenced earlier: “Kids (and adults) don’t just need the truth in their heads — they need it in their bones. They need to know what courage looks like and tastes like and smells like before they ever have to show it themselves.”
In that regard, The Song of Glory and Ghost is the best kind of food served up by a master storyteller, and a much-appreciated ally. Thanks, Nate. I’m glad you’re on our side.