Uncovering the Secrets of the Secret Zoo

deer1The set of five novels comprising The Secret Zoo by Bryan Chick have achieved a good deal of popularity, and for good reason. The loving relationships between Noah, his sister Megan, and their two friends Ella and Richie are touching and inspiring. In the first book, when Megan has been kidnapped by Sasquatches who are aligned with Man of Shadows, her brother and friends risk themselves to rescue her.

The love between them extends to a group of gifted animals they meet, a polar bear, a kingfisher, a rhinoceros and a prairie dog being prominent among them. These gifted animals belong to a secret zoo, a zoo and a word hidden by the “normal” Clarksville Zoo next to the neighborhood where these children live. The world of the secret zoo appears to be an enchanted utopia when the children are introduced to it by Mr. Darby. Humans and gifted animals live in a unified culture where both are equal and creativity bursts out in the architecture of the buildings, especially the library that is overwhelming in its awesomeness.

Usually there are some serpents in paradise and this proves to be the case here. The Secret Zoo is haunted by De Graaf, the Man of Shadows, a man who has lost almost all substance except from what he can steal from the shadows of others. (A good illustration of the parasitical nature of evil.) When it turns out that De Graaf is responsible for finding the magician brothers who created the Secret Zoo, the whole world becomes problematic.

Unfortunately, there is more that is disturbing. A group of four teenagers, called Descenders, who turn out to have powers connected with animal powers, are assigned the job of training the scouts as crossers (people who cross between the normal world & the Secret Zoo). The Descenders treat the scouts badly with heavy doses of condescension, but when three of the Descenders are captured in Book IV, it is the Scouts who help to rescue them, thus returning good for their ill will.

More disturbing is the growing awareness of how revenge motivates the Descenders, a group of girls called Specters because they have trained chameleons to cover them and render them invisible and Mr. Darby himself. Revenge for what? An earlier war that expelled the sasquatches doesn’t seem to explain it. At the end of the series, we do not yet know what the revenge is for. Perhaps this is a way of reminding us that revenge is, in the end, always empty. Most disturbing is the growing realization among the scouts that Mr. Darby, for all the benevolence he has shown, is looking more and more like a mirror image of De Graaf, the Man of Shadows. In all of this, we have four children whose loyalty to each other and other friends create a nexus of good mimesis (shared desire centered on the good of the other)

So it is that the series does not end on as triumphant a note as one might like, thus leaving the door open for at least one more series, which the author is indeed working on already.

2 thoughts on “Uncovering the Secrets of the Secret Zoo

    • There is a rich tradition of fantasy literature going way back before CS Lewis & Tolkien. Tolkien took much from Nordic sagas & Beowulf & Lewis picked up much from George MacDonald who picked up much from German romantic fantasy literature by writers like ETA Hoffman, Ludwig Tieck & Novalis. Chick’s work is an imaginative addition to a rich and varied genre.

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