“The Bark of the Bog Owl” (Review)

(Today’s post is by Hannah Abrahamson, a friend who is part of the church family I serve as pastor. You can read her blog over at TeacherByNature).

Have you ever heard of the ivory-billed woodpecker? According to most scientists, the ivory-billed woodpecker is now extinct. Years ago, I read a book by Tim Gallagher called “The Grail Bird: The Rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.” The book tells the story of Gallagher’s search for the ivory-bill in the swamps and bayous of Arkansas. Gallagher and his colleague, Bobby Harrison, claim to have spotted the ivory-bill, however, some still retain that their claim is a dubious one. The book was published in 2006. I like to imagine that the ivory-bill does still exist, hidden away in the massive trees of the bayou, lingering against all odds. 

The Bark of the Bog Owl” by Jonathan Rogers begins with such a legend. Aidan Errolson grows up hearing about the mysterious bog owls that inhabit the marshes surrounding his father’s estate. One day, as he tends his sheep, dreaming of adventure, he hears an unmistakable sound: the most earthy, animal-like sound he can imagine: the bark of the bog owl. This small event leads to bigger events that change the course of Aidan’s life. Aidan makes new allies, battles a giant, and navigates forgotten caves, all to save the people of Corenwald from a very crafty enemy. 

If this story sounds familiar to you (which I hope it does) don’t look too far down your bookshelves. “The Bark of the Bog Owl” parallels the story of King David, from Samuel anointing him as king after Saul, to the Philistines’ defeat by his hand. Aidan is even a poet and an avid letter-writer. He appears wise beyond his twelve years, much as I imagine David might have been as a young man. Jonathan Rogers balances Aidan’s more serious personality with a cast of humorous characters, none funnier than Dobro Turtlebane of the Feechiefolk. My favorite scene in the entire book is when Aidan and Dobro meet for the first time. 

Aidan also meets a mysterious prophet named Bayard. Here’s a short conversation between the two, one of my favorite conversations in the book:

Bayard laughed. “You didn’t suppose the Wilderking would be born a man, did you? Every great man starts out as a boy. Every great women starts out as a girl.”

“I suppose so. But I don’t feel like the Wilderking.”

“How is a Wilderking supposed to feel?” asked the prophet.

“I don’t know. I don’t suppose anybody knows. There’s never been a Wilderking before.”

“Precisely. None but you can say how a Wilderking feels. You are the only one.” He poked a finger into Aidan’s chest for emphasis. “And you don’t have to feel anything in particular.”

Bayard leaned toward Aidan. “Let me tell you a secret, Aidan.” He looked over his shoulder as if making sure no one was listening, then whispered, “I don’t usually feel like a prophet.”

Jonathan Rogers’ dialogue jumps off the pages. I can imagine this conversation perfectly in my head: how the characters look, how they sound, and how they react to each other. Overall the dialogue in the book provides the same level of vivid character development and humor as this interaction between Aidan and Bayard. By the end of the book, I felt as if I knew the characters well, like conversing with old friends at a picnic.

“The Bark of the Bog Owl” makes me feel like adventure is just around the corner, perhaps even waiting for me in my own backyard. I may never spot an ivory-billed woodpecker soaring through the vines of the Arkansas bayou, but “The Bark of the Bog Owl” makes me feel like I could. Good stories also remind us of the best story: that Jesus came to redeem sinners by grace alone, and uses those redeemed sinners to do wonderful things for his glory. Jonathan Rogers’ story fulfills this calling of good stories in a unique way. He tells us the tale of David’s life through Aidan and Corenwald, reminding us how God used David, and also includes beautiful themes like redemption, grace, and the importance of friendship that point to Jesus’ love and purpose for his people. I highly recommend “The Bark of the Bog Owl.”

Guest review by Hannah Abrahamson.

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