Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland... by Catherynne M. Valente



The full title of this book is The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, and I have been meaning to read it since I first read about its publication. Now, thanks to Lovereading, I have finally got round to it. And I was enchanted. I knew within ten pages that I was entirely happy and going to love it.

You are swept away from the start very much as young the young heroine is. Young September, a 12-year-old living in Omaha, is fed up at home - her mother is never there (she's busy making airplanes for the war effort), her father has gone to be a soldier, and she's lonely. But the Green Wind takes pity on her and arrives on the Leopard of Little Breezes to take her to Fairyland, where she finds everything is not just lovely, because the wicked Marquess has imposed stringent laws which mean that no one is allowed to fly and witches can't work their witchcraft properly -- in short, what is needed is a girl who is willing to go on a Quest to put things right. And despite discomfort and difficulties and even enormous setbacks, September is prepared to take on the task. After all, she reasons, why else was she brought there?

I love the way in which the storyteller addresses the reader directly and says things like "you must remember from your own adventuring days how harsh a task lies before her"... I love the way everything isn't explained all at once, even though we have an all-knowing narrator. I love the names of the characters: September who was born in May, the Wyverary A-Through-L whose father, he thinks, must be a Library, the frightening Glashtyn...

I found myself thinking a lot about the literary influences behind this delightful book -- I detected, I think, a soupcon of The Wizard of Oz (not, I admit, my favourite book), a little smattering of Lud in the Mist (practically required reading for Fairyland aspirants), a suggestion of Thurber (a glorious teller of fairytales) and more than a hint of The Phantom Tollbooth, a book which should be an admission ticket to Faerie in its own right.

This is only the first of September's adventures in Fairyland and I'll be reading the next one very soon.

12 comments:

  1. I've had this on the shelf for a while - I couldn't resist the title. Glad the contents live up to it.

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    1. I'm dying to get to the next, Annabel - the only delay is having other things I ought to read first.

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  2. You're so right about this book's influences -- I loved seeing the ways it was shaped by all its predecessors (which of course are books I also adore). I'm so pleased you shouted out Lud in the Mist! I love that book and it doesn't get enough recognition these days.

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    1. Glad to find another lover of Lud-in-the-Mist - I must re-read it one of these days.

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  3. My Fantasty reading days have been over for decades (Harry Potter does not count - those books are a class of their own), but your review made me want to check if I can find this at the kindle shop.

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    1. Do give it a try - perhaps you might even feel persuaded to give fantasy another go?

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  4. I need to do better with this series. I keep buying them, but I have only read the first one!

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    1. Well, that's the thing about having them on the shelf, isn't it? The desperate urge that made you buy it is ameliorated and you can afford to let them sit until the right moment... which may take 3 years, in my case :-)

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  5. Another book to add to the ever growing 'keep an eye out for' list.

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  6. You give a lovely review of this book! I have heard quite a lot about it, but not in such a way that I understand why it's such a good book. Now with your review, I do. And I really want to read it now, too, by the way :-) I like the Lud in the Mist connection - I haven't read the book, though I have seen it many times. At one point I was starting to read all the old Ballantine fantasy classics, because I had a good friend who was collecting them all to read (this was many years ago). I have read William Morris's Well at World's End, though so I'm not a total loss for reading the earliest fantasies! And only occasionally does anyone reference that one! lol so I threw it in for a freebie for me ;-) since you brought up early fantasy classics. Any book that does draw on them has to be an interesting read, at the very least.

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    1. I'm glad I've made you want to read it :-) The Ballantine series was brilliant, wasn't it, I read several strange books that I might never have got round to else. I've noticed, too, that the Morris books don't get referenced often - my theory is that they only have an indirect influence these days, along with other writers like Lord Dunsany. Their fantasies were hard work to read, because they are so mannered, so we read the next generation of early fantasy writers, like Mirrlees and C.S. Lewis, who tell stories in a more accessible manner. It's a theory with a lot of holes in it, of course - maybe Lang's Fairy Books are the exception, but no-one seems to read his own stories (Prince Prigio etc) which are fun.

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