Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Girl Who Cirumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Catheyne M. Valente

So, Catheryne Valente has this series - five books planned, through published to date - about September, a girl from Nebraska who is transported to Fairyland once a year and has an adventure there.  The titles all start with "The Girl Who..." and conclude with some act performed in Fairyland.  Oh, how I love this series.  I hope that someday it take a place alongside The Chronicles of Narnia as one of English literature's best examples of the "child has adventures in a magical world" theme.  However, I seriously doubt that it will.  Let me tell you why.

The Fairyland the Catheryne Valente has created is a singular place.  Fairies, reindeer, Winds, living machines, stifling bureaucracy, and djinni who live unstuck from the normal movement of time are all found in Valente's made-up world.  And somehow, she makes them all fit.  This Fairyland doesn't have a single unifying theme (except maybe unfettered imagination); it doesn't have a logical set of rules (you kind of make them up yourself as you go along); and sometimes the magic looks a lot like science.  Or maybe the science looks a lot like magic.  Anyway, it's a delightful place, wonderfully realized, unlike any other Fairy realm I've encountered before.

And September, the Girl of the title, is an extraordinary main character.  She is snatched away from her ordinary late-1940's Nebraska home and embarks on her first adventure with hardly a backward glance.  She is bold, and daring, and smart, and thoughtful, and caring.  She has a romantic interest, but their relationship develops with subtlety and care; there's no love-at-first-sight Disneyfication here.  She struggles, and has doubts, and the occasional selfish thought. And that's why I think these books, however wonderfully written they are, won't ever reach the heights of Narnia or Harry Potter; September is just a little too real to fit what most people want from a fairytale.  And similarly, Valente's Fairyland itself isn't a saccharine fantasy of unicorns and rainbows; there is real trouble, real fear, real danger, and real courage in Fairyland and in September and her friends.

I hope, if you have some space in your reading list, and you like a good children's story that also appeals to adults, you'll give Fairyland a try.  My favorite character is the Ell, the literate wyvern who believes his father was a library.  An excellent dragon if you ask me; Ell could hold his head up next to Smaug and Temeraire with pride. 

Hey, speaking of Temeraire...I'll have to put his series on the list for a blog post.  Go look him up if you can't wait!

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