11 April 2013

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making & ...Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (Catherynne M. Valente)

Zounds and wow and holy cow. It is quite possible that Catherynne M. Valente's first two Fairyland books--The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There--are the best middle-grade (i.e. written for eight-to-twelvers) fantasy books I have ever read. Certainly the best published this century: it ranks easily with E. Nesbit and Edward Eager, with the chronicles of Prydain and Narnia, with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and The Phantom Tollbooth. Its most modern analogues are Dealing with Dragons and The Tale of Despereaux. And it's simultaneously influenced by all of these and utterly original.

The two books (a third, The Girl Who Soared Above Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Half, is out in October, huzzah!) tell the adventures of September, a little girl from WWII-era Nebraska who's one day Ravished to Fairyland by the Green Wind and his feline steed, the Leopard of Little Breezes. Here is a teeny-weeny handful of the awesome things in these books:
  • A wyvern whose father was a library, named A-through-L (he never read the other volumes of the encyclopedia)
  • A blue-skinned Marid boy named Saturday, who grants wishes only if you wrestle him into submission
  • A sweet-natured soap golem named Lye, whose baths scrub up one's courage and wishes and luck
  • A semi-sentient smoking jacket
  • Herds of wild velocipedes sweeping across the plains
  • Turquoise kangaroos called J√§rlhopps who mine memories
  • A root cellar for world mythology at the bottom of Fairyland, stocked with edibles like Idun's Apple Butter, Kali's Red-Hot Pickled Peppers and Coyote's Extra-Fine Cornmeal Floor
  • A narrative barometer with readings like Katabasis, Anabasis, Locked Room Mystery, Treasure Hunt, and Edda
  • A sly and compassionate narrator
  • And most of all: a heroine who is plucky and brave without being violent
I would quote the whole of both books for you if I could--the writing is consciously Victorian, with lots of Capitalized Nouns, and it's funny and wise and layered, and scary in the right places and in the right ways, and...oof. Just so good. Good to read aloud, good to read as a kid, good to read as an adult. I'll share one passage that my friend Michele (at whose I HAVE TOO MANY BOOKS HELP organizing/giveaway party I obtained my copy of Circumnavigated) underlined, saving me the trouble: "Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble."

I am jealous of and awestruck by and grateful to Ms. Valente for writing these books, and I want everyone to read them. EVERYONE. For an amuse-bouche of the style and the world, there's a prequel short story you can read online, "The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland--For a Little While." I dare you to read it and not want more.

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