Monday, August 16, 2010

Through the Cupboards

N.D. Wilson's 100 Cupboards trilogy is reminiscent of a whole bunch of stuff I love. The protagonist, 12-year-old Henry, is an over-protected single child sent to stay with his aunt's family of precocious girls in small town Kansas. Henry is given an attic room, and he discovers a wall of mysterious cupboards leading to other worlds. That's all you need to know, as you'll want the exciting tale to be a surprise.

Henry is an interesting kid, and I told Ickie that even if this weren't a fantasy novel, I'd be interested in Henry's character--how he embraces eating meat and playing baseball (two activities forbidden by his parents), and how his relationships develop with his extended family, especially his understated and wise Uncle Frank. The fantasy worlds Henry enters are in turn appealing and horrible, and Wilson does a good job of balancing competing plot lines and a large cast.

Compared to other young adult fantasy novels, this series is superior to many. The allure of the mysterious cupboards can't help but remind one of Lewis's wonderful wardrobe, and the world-hopping provides a dizzying experience similar to Wynne-Jones's Chrestomanci books. One character reminded me strongly of Gollum, and there were several scenes with terror akin to that found in The Lord of the Rings. Henry's personal growth and sense of "lost and found-ness" resemble Harry Potter. Whereas the books are lacking any religious symbolism, they do have a positive focus on familial devotion and honor. Wilson's fantasy world is fairly complex and well-realized, but the main characteristic that sets this novel apart from others in its genre is Wilson's gift for descriptive prose. Here's a little sample:

"The soft applause of a thousand rustling trees surrounded him, and he ached to see them, to shake off his blindness and watch the silver-bellied leaves flick and twist on the wind's wake."

My only criticisms: I'm still mulling over how I feel about the epilogue. I'm not completely satisfied with it. Also, a map of the secondary world where Henry spends much of his time would help me visualize its vast geography. The sketchy map of the cupboards at the start of each book is excellent, though. I'm trying to imagine all those cupboards on my own bedroom wall.


Felix said...

Hmmm ... I'm not a fan of Tolkien, so the references to LotR gave me pause ... but hey: I'm now habituated to taking your recommendations, and I've never regretted it yet ... so, an order for book 1 has been placed!

Watoosa said...

Felix, I'm so sad to hear you're not a fan of Tolkien! He is my favorite. That said, I think you'll enjoy 100 Cupboards--it's really not all that similar to LotR. Do let me know what you think!

Felix said...

On Tolkien ... I'm sorry!


But my faith in you remains unshaken ... 100 cupboards is on its way, and I shall report back after reading!

Felix said...

Read it, and glad I did.

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