Rescued teen tells author how story helped him survive
A popular fantasy author whose writing inspired a Burien teen to "go feet first ... kick off the rocks" while propelling toward a Snohomish County waterfall contacts the teen.
Seattle Times staff reporter
In his popular series of books and movie projects, author D.J. MacHale's characters have battled magical tyrants, fought wars and survived all manner of near-death situations.
But never in his 30 years of writing fantasy books and for TV did he think his work would be credited with helping save a life.
Not until William Hickman, a 13-year-old Burien boy, said that one of MacHale's books provided the guidance that helped him during his wild ride Saturday down the Wallace River, which ended just before he reached a 265-foot waterfall. Hickman would later say a part of MacHale's first book, "The Merchant of Death," ran through his head during his ordeal: "Go feet first ... kick off the rocks."
And just like MacHale's fictional teenage hero Bobby Pendragon, the Burien teen survived a brush with death.
After hearing about Hickman's tale of survival, MacHale, who lives in Los Angeles, called the teen. They talked about Hickman's ordeal, the Pendragon books and Bobby Pendragon's similar encounter with a rushing river.
MacHale says he couldn't immediately recall which book the scene was from, but remembered the scene because it was based on a lecture he once heard from a rafting guide.
"It's pretty cool," MacHale told The Times. "I just had a conversation this past weekend with another author. We were lamenting that we're given a lot of caution about what we write in books for fear that kids will get hurt. It's nice that it can work the other way, too."
For his own part, Hickman said that talking to MacHale "was awesome."
"It was nice. He told me the story about why he put that in the book," Hickman said.
In his Pendragon series and on other projects, MacHale said he has tried to instill some realism while placing his characters in dangerous situations. In "The Merchant of Death," MacHale incorporated tips he received from a rafting guide on the Hudson River in upstate New York some 20 years earlier.
"He said that if you find yourself in the water what you do is go face up down downriver; that way you can see where you are going," MacHale said. The guide recommended the rafters use their feet to bounce off rocks.
Fortunately, MacHale added, he did not fall out of the raft,
"It's really pretty amazing that that guy's safety lecture, round-aboutly, found its way into William's head," MacHale said.
Last weekend, Hickman was determined to go for a dip while on a family hike. But within seconds of wading in to his knees, in what he thought was a calm spot in the river, he was swept away through treacherous whitewater. Hickman, fortunately, found safety on a small rock ledge. More than 50 sheriff's deputies and volunteers came to his rescue and pulled him from his precarious spot.
The teen miraculously survived — with just a few cuts to the feet and nausea from swallowing water — something he attributes to his rescuers and to Bobby Pendragon.
MacHale is an author, director, executive producer and creator of television series, including the former popular Nickelodeon series "Are You Afraid of the Dark?"
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or email@example.com. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.