Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own MakingUnknown

Catherynne M. Valente

R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. Harrisburg, VA  2011


I relished this book.  I just finished it and I already want to read it again.  The language is delicious.  The story is charming and the protagonist heartless, as: “All children are heartless.  They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror.”

The child is carried away into Fairyland, at her own consent, by the Leopard of Little Breezes and the Green Wind.  There she finds herself in the middle of a story.  As is typical of Fairy stories September, our heroine, is given the rules and structure at the beginning.  She’s a bright girl and works very hard to keep in line.  She avoids eating Fairy food for instance by convincing herself she’s eating Witch food and Wyvern food and all sorts of things that couldn’t possibly be Fairy food.

As she enters into the land she’s given a visa, something all travelers to strange countries must have of course.  September’s visa reads: “Temporary Visa Type: Pomegranate. Housing Allotment: None. Alien Registry Category: Human, Ravished, non-changeling. Size: Medium.  Age: Twelve. Privileges: None, or As Many As You Can Catch.”  Which of course gives us the whole story, without giving away a thing.

There is an evil queen and odd beasts.  There are wonders to behold and an arduous journey.  There are things destined to entrap her and friends to be made.  There are choices along the way of course and there is the key.  The Green Wind tells September he came for her, only her.  She feels chosen, yet she doesn’t feel as though she is anything special.  Truth is she’s not chosen.  She makes her choices and those choices have consequences and in the end take her through the story and out the other side.

I have seen some of Catherynne Valente’s other work, but this is the first that I’ve actually read.  I have a fellow blogger to thank for recommending it. (If I could remember who (sorry, it took me awhile to get here) I’d throw in a link to their site.  If you read the comments maybe she’ll show up.)  Looking through listings of Valente’s work I can see she has a background and interest in fairy and folklore.  I’m intrigued enough by her writing style to look both further in this series and also at her more adult works.

I suspect this book would be a delight to hear read aloud.  It is a fairy story, but there are plenty of hints at things older children and adults might enjoy as well.  The allusion to mythic adventure is palpable, without this being simply a retelling of an old story.  Every little detail becomes relevant at some point in the tale, even the fact that September neglected to wave goodbye to her mother as the Leopard of Little Breezes carried her past the factory where her mother built airplanes.

There is something about being a twelve-year-old girl.  The composure and self-confidence in your ability to accomplish anything, standing on the brink of something you can’t comprehend but feel drawn toward, and desiring to escape yet needing the security of home that make them ideal for this kind of story.  Dorothy in the Frank Baum books was about this age.  Susan is twelve when she first steps into the wardrobe to Narnia.  September holds her own in her adventures along with the best of them.

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Posted by on August 25, 2013 in Fantasy, Teen Fiction, Uncategorized


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by Dan Brown

Doubleday New York, NY  2013

ISBN: 978-0-385-53785-8

All the things people say about Dan Brown’s writing are true.  His books are entertaining but his prose is repetitive.  I suspect that makes it easier for distracted summer readers.  Brown takes conspiracy theory to an absurd level and twists some of the facts.  He is, however, a best-selling author for a reason.  He appeals to some inner sense of desire to tie things together, to make connections in odd places.

It takes me forever to read a Dan Brown novel and this was no exception.  Not only is the writing labored but I can’t read one of his books without Google.  He proliferates his novels with art and visual references, and they are actual pieces.  I can’t read about them without “knowing” what he’s talking about.  I have to look them up and LOOK at them.  If Dan Brown’s novels weren’t already so long I’d be begging for an illustrated edition!

This story is based on Dante’s famous Divine Comedy and specifically the first section the Inferno.  It starts in Florence with Robert Langdon in the hospital with a concussion.  The subsequent memory loss is so atypical for someone with an eidetic memory that it adds interest to a familiar character.  But, thanks in part to Brown’s “stick it in your face” writing style, it is not necessary to approach this book with any familiarity with previous works or with Langdon as a character.

In the Da Vinci Code explored a question central to Christianity.  He expanded upon a mythology (much the way the National Treasure movies with Nicholas Cage do) that Mary Magdalene fled to Europe after the crucifixion.   In Angels and Demons he explored the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and the mysteries of the Papacy.  This book focuses on a moral conundrum as well, but the issues go beyond the scope of any one religion or religious practice.

Dan Brown’s Inferno relies heavily on Divine Comedy for its clues and codes.  The premise, like the poem, is that in order to get to heaven it is necessary to go through hell.  Robert Langdon explores the twists and turns of this mystery relating them (very loosely) to the levels of hell immortalized by Dante.  The moral dilemma: Are acts of terrorism justified when they truly (scientifically) are for the greater good?, is explored from several angles.  It’s food for thought, or just another Dan Brown summer read.

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Posted by on August 1, 2013 in Fiction


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