The Guardians of Ga’Hoole – Book Series Review

The Guardians of Ga’Hoole  – Book Series Review

Books by Kathryn Lasky;  Review by Stacey Tuttle

 “Once upon a very long time go, in the time of Glaux, there was an order of knightly owls, from a kingdom called Ga’Hoole, who would rise each night into the blackness and perform noble deeds.  They spoke no words but true ones, their purpose was to right all wrongs, to make strong the weak, mend the broken, vanquish the proud, and make powerless those who abused the frail.    With hearts sublime they would take flight—“ [1]

The upcoming release of the movie, Legend of the Guardians, piqued my curiosity—especially when I heard that Zack Snyder (director of Dawn of the Dead, 300 and Watchmen) would be directing it.   His visual genius can hardly be contested, but is generally a little bit too graphic and macabre for my taste.  I’ve only seen one of his films, but it was admittedly some of the most beautifully and artistically done gore…if such a thing can be said!  I declined to see another of his films based on reviews that said it was chock-full of “sort porn and gore porn”.   So, it seemed a little tame for Snyder to be undertaking an animated children’s tale, which is why, as I said, it piqued my curiosity as to the themes and general story line of Kathryn Lasky’s Guardians of Ga’Hoole series.  

It is obvious from the movie synopsis that the writers of the movie have made quite a few changes to the story line, collapsing multiple story lines and time frames, etc.  I am curious to see what those changes will bring to the meaning and emphasis of various themes and messages in the story.  But, regardless of what the movie may bring to the discussion, it will undoubtedly bring an increased interest in the book series.  Students who haven’t yet read the books are very likely to turn to them next to fulfill their reading quota for school. 

Like most things, both good and bad messages can be found in the books, but I felt the overall effect was very positive.  In a culture that seems to celebrate the anti-hero, these books are refreshingly full of the heroic.  Modern comedy seems to be based around people who run from danger, are shamelessly selfish and uninterested in sacrifice, no matter how noble the cause.  But the Owls of Ga’Hoole are constantly flying head first into it, united by a common cause to stand up for what is right and to fight against evil.  We are inundated with a myriad of television shows which make admirable the shallow, the ridiculous, and frankly the dumb, vacuous and stupid (not by mental capacities, but by choice…pretending to be dumb and vacuous thinking that it is cool to be so).  Our culture frequently honors through its television and its tabloids those people who have nothing deeper to focus on than whether they are fashion forward or not.  The owls however present a stark contrast with their refreshing lack of fashion and materialism of any sort.  The owls’ culture honors learning, education, deep and independent thinking and working together to solve problems.  It is ennobling and inspiring.  Its characters are deep, serious minded, focused on things much greater than themselves.  Readers are likely to find that as they read the stories, they are not only entertained, but are challenged to think more deeply about the meaning and the substance of their lives.  They are likely to find the books stir a longing deep inside about wanting their lives to count for something greater than just their own comfort. 

That being said, I wanted to outline here some of the main themes, both positive and negative.  There is a list online of quotes and concepts for discussion for parents who would like to review and possibly discuss some of those ideas with their kids. 

The Positives

  • Historical:  There is an easy tie-in to Hitler and the holocaust, or any other social “cleansing”.  The Tyto owls have decided they are the pure race of owls.  All others should be destroyed.  It’s a significant theme in the books and will make real life instances of genocide much more real to young readers, but in a way that is easier to handle for young minds and sensitivities.
  • Nobility and Honor are emphasized and the owls are frequently willing to die for freedom – freedom of thought, freedom of others.  And they are willing to fight against evil.  It’s very William Wallace in nature.
  • One of my favorite themes was that of Legends.  The young owls had heard these legends of the past.  They weren’t sure if they were true, the legends were so awesome, so fantastical.  But they finally decided it didn’t matter of they were true, because they should be true if they weren’t.  They were good and helpful and inspiring, whether true or not.  (Incidentally, they turn out to be true.)  The owls repeated these stories of their ancestors to help them hold on to hope and to guard against the lies they were being told.  It reminded me of the Israelites who were told to repeat the stories of what God had done for them to their children and children’s children…etc.  Repeating the stories had power.  It would help future generations to fight against the enemy, to remember the power of God and His redeeming love.  It’s a lesson we ought to take to heart in our own lives!
  • The owls begin to question, What does it truly mean to be an owl?  Is it biology, your make up, or something deeper?  Is it something in your insides, in who you are?  The owls have been told that their genetics determines their place in the world…a digging owl belong on the ground, for example.  But what if a digging owl is more than just a digger?  What if a digging owl has aptitude for learning?  For navigating?  Can he be more?  It raises good questions about the soul, about purpose in life, about being more than your genetics, your family name, etc.  It could open up a world of interesting conversation between a parent/child!
  • The owls talk a lot about believing things in their gizzard (or their gut).  They believe things they cannot see.  They believe things which they feel ought to be true, even when they cannot prove that they are.  They say that there are two kinds of seeing, seeing with your eyes, and seeing beyond what your eyes can see—having faith.
  • Freedom of thought, questioning, exploration and creativity are strongly emphasized.  The young owls are taken to a place where those things aren’t allowed.  It’s one of the evils they fight against and a key theme of the series.
  • The owls are wonderfully tolerant and compassionate toward various annoying personalities and see that even someone who is socially a bit grating still can have great value as a person and can contribute great strengths to the community.
  • Fratricide – it’s not that I consider fratricide a positive concept, but that I find a lot of ways to tie it into Biblical stories and make the Old Testament come alive.  Think of Cain and Able, Joseph and his brothers, etc.
  • Censorship is an interesting theme.  I have mixed emotions on this one.  To say no censorship should ever be allowed is possibly naïve.  The books imply that all knowledge is good knowledge.  But some knowledge is better left alone.  Eve gained knowledge when she ate the forbidden fruit, but it wasn’t a good knowledge.  Knowledge of sin isn’t good knowledge.  Knowledge of black magic isn’t a good knowledge to expose yourself to.   But the Owls are acting in response to their captivity where all knowledge was forbidden and everything was censored.  Censorship was an act of control, a way to keep the other owls ignorant and subservient.  And in light of that, censorship is spoken against quite strongly.

The Negatives

  • They don’t call it purgatory, but essentially, the owls have their own version of purgatory, of souls in limbo. 
  • Cussing – they have their own words that are cuss words.  They aren’t our words, and as such may seem insignificant.  However, I found it noteworthy and frankly a little unnecessary that the book makes such a point of having the owls assert their strength and independence by using shocking cuss words and also by telling their versions of dirty jokes (“wet poop” jokes).  It doesn’t seem shocking to us as the words are silly by English standards, but the book is clear those words and the wet poop jokes are foul and shocking by owl standards.  It seemed to me that the hidden implication is that cussing (and dirty jokes) is a part of growing up, maturity and becoming leaders, and is perfectly acceptable.
  • Unitarianism—The various animals have their various names for God and heaven, names and descriptions which fit who they are, their ideas of what heaven should be.  They say that it’s the same thing, just their different name/version of it.  This is concerning as it indicates that all religions are the same and Buddha, allah, Jesus – all just different names for the same thing.  The Bible says that we are not to make God in our image, rather we are made in His.  It also says that Jesus is the ONLY way – this book indicates that there are many ways to God and heaven…all roads lead to Rome, right?

Hopefully these themes will help you to engage in more meaningful discussions.  You can use these books as a great springboard for a lot of meaningful discussion! 

For additional information and resources, click here to see a list of quotes from books 1-9.

[1] Lasky, Kathryn. The Capture. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2003, 14.