S.A. Mahan

A Pigeon’s Tale

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A Pigeon’s Tale Summary

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A Pigeon’s Tale is a science fiction and fantasy novel for middle-grade readers by author and fiber artist S.A. Mahan. Published in 2015, the novel combines elements of mysticism, Christianity, climate science, and fable to tell the story of an eight-hundred-year-old pigeon who helped save the world from a natural disaster. Orphaned before being fully-fledged, the pigeon learns to fend for himself in the big city and eventually becomes the linchpin in a scientist’s experiment to avert The Big One.

The novel opens as Walter, a homing pigeon—scientific name Columba livia—who is hundreds of years old, explains that he is slowly pecking out his life story to record for posterity.

Walter is born as Young Squeaker in a rancher’s coop, where his parents are proud to be direct descendants of Cher Ami, the real-life female pigeon who saved the famed Lost Battalion of US forces in World War I. (Critics point out that the novel incorrectly identifies Cher Ami as male.)

One night, a crazed wildcat attacks the coop after the rancher accidentally runs it over with his truck. His family is caught, but Squeaker manages to escape through a small hole in the back of the structure. To get away, he flies for the first time—he is still a fledgling.

Squeaker makes his way to New York City, where the veteran city pigeons that make their home there take him under their wings—literally. A wise bird named Old Dude explains that finding food is easy—all Squeaker has to do is follow the “little-uns” at fast-food play areas because they invariably drop their food. Another pigeon, Hawk-Watcher, who is missing an eye from a hawk attack, teaches Squeaker how to look for predators. Margie, a funny and brash pigeon from the boroughs, provides comic relief in her ceaseless quest to find new male pigeons to flirt with.

After Squeaker knows how to fend for his physical needs, Old Dude explains elements of language, philosophy, and politics to him. Still, no amount of knowledge will keep Squeaker safe when winter comes, so he decides to fly south to find a human family to take him in. With some help from a flock of snow geese, he makes it to a college dorm room where he befriends a student named Kenny.

During winter break, Kenny takes the pigeon home to a ranch in Texas. His family is delighted—the pigeon, whom they rename Walter, joins their motley collection of other pets.

Walter takes a particular shine to Dottie, Kenny’s little sister who is dying from untreatable cancer. Walter also grows close to Kenny’s grandfather, the famous scientist Sir Alfred Jerome, who is building something secret in a mysterious shack behind the main ranch house. Unlike the rest of the family, Sir Alfred isn’t surprised to see Walter; it’s almost as though he’s known all along that the pigeon would be coming.

Spending every day together, Sir Alfred teaches Walter about science, explaining that the world is in great danger from the soon to come Big One: a giant storm that threatens to destroy the world. As Walter realizes that he is the key to stopping the danger that The Big One poses, he taps into heretofore-unknown abilities. It turns out that the bird can inexplicably access the vast collective memory of all pigeons of all time. He also figures out how to generate “morphic resonance,” a sub-quantum level instantaneous communication between all living birds. Finally, Walter gains the power to commune with Cher Ami, his great-great-great-grandmother (or, as the novel has it, grandfather).

At this point, the novel becomes a Christian allegory of earth, heaven, and the promise of Noah’s Ark. It turns out that the benevolent Sir Alfred knows how to save all the world’s children from the coming destruction: He has built a beautiful city in the clouds called Skynest, and has also constructed a space capsule that will withstand the cosmic shift of the planet while carrying the children up to their new home.

While helping Sir Alfred, Walter uses his newfound abilities to beg for the help of The Great White Stork, the god of all birds, to save the life of Dottie. The god agrees, and she is cured of cancer when Sir Alfred and Walter bathe her in the sacred red waters of life. Walter affirms his belief in the life hereafter, and the novel completes its Noah’s Ark narrative by evacuating the world’s children to their new, better place.