Saturday, September 26, 2015

"The Vanishing Island"

Barry Wolverton has been writing for children for 20 years, helping create books, documentary television, and online content for Discovery Networks, National Geographic, the Library of Congress, Scholastic, and Time-Life Books, among others.

His debut novel, Neversink, was named the Children’s Book of Choice by Literacy Mid-South for their Read Across America program in 2014.

Wolverton applied the Page 69 Test to The Vanishing Island, book one of The Chronicles of the Black Tulip, and reported the following:
From page 69:
On the table were . . . maps of the New World . . . including New Britannia. Others [Bren] wasn’t familiar with . . . and they didn’t have [Rand] McNally’s logo. They had to be Dutch.

And then Bren saw it . . . lying open across the long table against the wall. A very official-looking document, featuring two royal symbols side by side. One the left was Britannia, a female warrior carrying a shield and a trident, with a lion beside her. On the right, a badge of two gold lions rampant, supporting a blue shield with a gold crown. Inside the shield, another lion, with a sword in one paw and seven arrows in the other, representing the Seven Provinces of the Netherlands.

Beneath the seal of Britannia was printed the name of Queen Adeline, House of Pelican, and under the other, the name of King Maximilian, Prince of Orange and Steward of the Seven Provinces.
I admit, I’m surprised at how well page 69 represents The Vanishing Island. You have the protagonist, Bren, snooping around old maps in the office of Rand McNally, the shrewd mapmaker who has made his fortune trading on knowledge in this first great Information Age. You also have clues that this is an alternate Seafaring Age: Rand McNally (not a real person); New Britannia; Queen Adeline and King Maximilian. And you have Bren making a discovery, which is significant. This isn’t a straightforward adventure novel where a boy finds a treasure map and goes for it. There’s a healthy dose of detective story mixed in, with Bren continually having to decipher clues and figure out who he can trust.

“Snooping” is key here, because Bren is a good kid who happens to be insatiably curious and restless, which drives adults mad and forever lands him in trouble. No more so than when he tries to stow away at the beginning of the book and causes a near-catastrophe. As punishment he’s given perhaps the worst after-school job ever, which pays unexpected dividends when he meets a mysterious, dying sailor.

The only element not represented here is the fantasy. I’m very interested in the borderlands between fiction/nonfiction and science/magic. The Seafaring Age saw this great collision between superstition and science as people began to explore the unknown, and I liked the idea of subtly introducing magic and folklore into the story in a way that makes Bren question what he’s encountering — and you question what you’re reading. (In a good, intellectually stimulating way, I hope.)
Visit Barry Wolverton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue