What would you say if instead of needing a wardrobe made from a primordial tree or a genetic tendency toward control of magical energy, all you had to do to enter a world full of wonder and adventure was exit I-80/90 and drive into rural Indiana? This is exactly what Daniel McInerny brings to life with his new company, Trojan Tub Entertainment. With the release of a new website on November 1st, a door is opened into the Kingdom of Patria. Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits is the first volume in a series of e-books on this kingdom full of castles, knights and antique Studebakers.
When the Stoop family moves to Indiana, eleven year-old Oliver has no idea that it will be anything but boring. That’s until he meets a biscuit-wielding Prince living nearby. Discovering secret after secret, nothing can prepare Oliver for the centuries old mystery that will take all his ingenuity, and the help of a girl, to solve.
At a time when bookstores (and e-stores) fill their shelves with Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Eragon, Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits brings us a healthy sense of adventure and an even healthier sense of virtue. The hero, Oliver Stoop, may be a normal American boy, but it takes an extraordinary boy to face treachery, stupidity and overdone biscuits. Oliver’s story asks the reader to believe that the unexpected is just around the corner and when it encounters our ordinary lives, no one can tell what will happen. The results of this encounter aren’t always pretty, but McInerny’s writing mixes conflict with a well-placed shot of the comical. It brings something magical into the landscape of the American Midwest.
However, according to McInerny, magical isn’t the right word at all. “Early on,” said McInerny in an interview appropriately conducted over Gmail Chat,“I eschewed writing about a magical world. I wanted something closer in tone to a Roald Dahl book, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Interestingly enough, Mr. Dahl was also an inspiration for another author, J.K. Rowling. When I asked McInerny about the influence of the Potter books on his project, he explained that while the story itself was not a “primary inspiration”, Rowling’s new project “Pottermore” was what really pushed him to make his idea a reality. “Like Pottermore,” he said. The Trojan Tub website is “attempting to reach a children’s audience that is increasingly reading ebooks–I just don’t have the multibillion dollar, world pop icon cultural platform!” Well, as we know, Rowling wasn’t always what she is now.
One of the criticisms of Rowling’s writings is that it sets sorcery and divination and such in the real world. Having sidestepped this problem neatly, McInerny says that “due to a set of highly comical reasons, Patria exists very much in our world.” (emphasis original) Truly, the juxtaposition of the modern capitalist America with a not-quite-medieval kingdom inhabited by the descendants of Trojans, Vikings and Potawatomi Native Americans produces such hilarity, as can be expected. McInerny refers to the Patria stories as “P.G. Wodehouse for kids” in that, like the subject of Wodehouse’s Blandings Castle books, Patria is “something of its own alternative comic world[...] a world of eccentric characters and comic hijinks.”
Although McInerny intends to the books to be “light comic stories”, he admits to occasionally letting his “philosophical ‘slip’” show. However, he doesn’t “look at the Patria Books as ‘primers’ in philosophy.” As he says, “That’s much too serious.” Relatedly, McInerny doesn’t see the books as Catholic or Christian literature per se. On the other hand, he calls the stories “faith-based in the sense that they are a product of a Catholic writer attempting to bring a Catholic ‘mind’ to the craft of writing children’s stories.” Adding that “it helps to have a supernatural outlook on the nature of what a good children’s story is.” The story doesn’t, however, shy away from explicitly Catholic elements such as a group of monks from the order of St. Brendan.
Speaking of Saint Brendan, McInerny admits, “I play around with history a lot…the Trojan War, Virgil’s Aeneid, the legend of St. Brendan’s voyage to the New World, the history of the Vikings in the New World.” His intention was not to create an alternate world full of developed mythologies and traditions. “Unlike those of Lewis and Tolkien,” he explains, “my stories are broadly comic and so I feel much more free to do whatever I like to keep my read smiling.” Of course this is not to say that McInerny sees himself outside the tradition of 20th-century Christian literature indeed he says that he is specifically indebted to Tolkien’s philosophy of fairy-stories.
The series is set in McInerny’s native Indiana, and he told me that although the original Patrians settled in Virginia, “darn it, I wanted Patria near where I grew up.” He also cited his father, the late writer Ralph McInerny, as an “inspiration…in so many ways,” pointing out his father’s humor as a particular inspiration as well as his “craftsmanlike, workmanlike attitude toward writing fiction.” Both McInernys wrote about Indiana where the younger McInerny was born. Noting that while it is perhaps common for writers to write about the place where they live,“writers shouldn’t feel compelled to write explicitly about their place of upbringing.” Adding that, “What you know may involve you going out and learning something new.”
McInerny certainly knows about learning something new. With the Patria series and Trojan Tub Entertainment, he is entering a new frontier of literary progress. This explosion of e-literature is exactly the reason why he chose this medium for his project. E-books have been outselling hard-covers for more than a year now and paperbacks for almost as long. The Amazon Kindle has become a staple gift for Christmas and Birthdays. McInerny believes that kids will definitely start reading even more books electronically in the coming years. In the wake of Pottermore’s launch in October, McInerny says that “Trojan Tub Entertainment looks to play a part in this growing trend, to meet kids and their parents where they are.” What will meet these kids is more than they bargain for: Permission to dream of their very own Patria.
Trojan Tub Entertainment becomes available on the web on November 1st 2011. Click here to join the fun! You can also follow Patria on Twitter @kingdomofpatria and get regular updates from Trojan Tub’s Facebook page. You can order Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits from Amazon.com at here.
The Patria Series is illustrated by Theodore Schluenderfritz. The website was designed by Snap Design.
Daniel McInerny, founder and CEO of Trojan Tub Entertainment and honorary member of the order of the Blue Sock, is a native of South Bend, Indiana (just downriver from Patria). He holds a PhD in philosophy, and taught for many years at various universities in the United States. He currently lives in Virginia with his wife, Amy, and his children, Lucy, Rita and Francis. He also writes the blog, High Concepts, devoted to the arts, entertainment and culture. Please write to him with questions and comments: firstname.lastname@example.org.