The well-known conflict of light versus dark is one that has been told through countless legends, myths, and stories and, though the battle may seem tired after being told time and time again, it is one many NEED to hear. Through the many dark times that come in every person’s life, light will always prevail as long as that person never gives up. Author Seth Adam Smith has created a new young adult series that shares a wonderful new story of the ongoing conflict by mixing together religion, mythology, and history. While it seems to be a rather strange combination of genres, it is a combination that tells a fun and effective tale in the first book of his series: Rip Van Winkle and the Pumpkin Lantern.
On All Hallows’ Eve in 1717, Josiah and Abigail Van Winkle find an abandoned baby boy dying in an empty grave. After saving the baby’s life and naming him Rip, the Van Winkles’ new adopted son changes their lives forever. Thirteen years later in the same graveyard where he was found, Rip meets the ghost of the legendary first settler of Boston, William Blaxton. William entrusts Rip with a pumpkin lantern that holds power over life and death and one he must deliver to Feathertop, a legendary scarecrow with a pumpkin for a head. With the help of some unlikely companions, Rip travels across New England to find Feathertop before a pursuing witch and death itself take the lantern from him.
Rip Van Winkle and the Pumpkin Lantern is categorized under the young adult genre, but it is a story that can and will be enjoyed by any reader of any age. Smith’s beautiful writing style will captivate any reader as he uses just enough detail to paint an excellent picture in the readers’ mind while using exceptionally well-written dialog to truly bring each of his characters to life. While the story itself is fun for younger readers, older readers will understand more historical and literary references scattered throughout the book’s entirety. Not to mention anyone familiar with Washington Irving’s short story will immediately recognize the protagonist of Smith’s novel.
Along with his use of detail and dialog, Smith does an excellent job of not leaving any questions as to where his characters are. Each chapter leads directly into the next chapter and will make readers not want to stop reading upon reaching the next chapter. Not to mention at the end of each chapter, readers will come across a beautiful illustration by the talented Howard Lyon who also designed the beautiful cover of Smith’s book. Each of the illustrations foreshadows a character and line of dialog that readers will find in the next chapter, thus making readers want to continue through the story even more.
Smith’s writing style and storytelling is on par with popular storytellers such as Tim Burton and Neil Gaiman. Many references within the story will remind readers of Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Stardust and Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. With Smith’s story bearing a resemblance to these two darker writers and with the story taking place mainly around All Hallows’ Eve, Rip Van Winkle and the Pumpkin Lantern makes for an excellent read for Halloween. Even taking place during a darker time of year, Smith stresses through his characters and story to never give up hope, to keep faith, and no matter how much of an outcast someone may feel, everyone who feels that he or she doesn’t belong has “a belonging place.” Chris Daughtry’s song Torches depicts Smith’s story perfectly and would make an excellent theme song to go along with it.
Life is hard and there will always come dark times, but in the end, the light always prevails. Even with the seemingly cheesy and somewhat repetitive lines that readers hear in any story portraying the battle of light versus dark, Rip Van Winkle and the Pumpkin Lantern presents a new and captivating iteration of the battle that will linger within readers’ minds well after they have finished the last page. It is a very fun story for any age and only the first in a series of who is to say how many. It serves as an introduction to an incredibly promising series in which Smith will take readers to who knows where else, will introduce readers to even more well-known characters from literature and history, and will continue to remind readers that the light is always there and that the light will always win.