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

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland, #1)by Catherynne M. Valente
Square Fish, 2012

“How far is it to Pandemonium, Ell?” yawned September. She stretched her legs, flexing the bare toes of her left foot. 
“Can’t say, small one.” The beast thwacked into the tree again. “Pandemonium begins with P, and, therefore, I don’t know very much about it.” 
September thought for a moment. “Try ‘Capital’ instead. That starts with C. And Fairyland starts with F, so you could, well, cross-reference.” 
A-Through-L left off the nearly persimmon tree and cocked his head to one side like a curious German shepherd. “The capital of Fairyland is surrounded by a large, circular river,” he said slowly, as if reading from a book, “called the Barleybroom. The city consists of four districts: Idlelily, Seresong, Hallowgrum, and Mallowmead. Population is itinerant, but summer estimates hover around ten thousand daimonia—that means spirits—” 
“And pan means all,” whispered September, since the Wyvern could not be expected to know, on account of the p involved. In September’s world, many things began with pan. Pandemic, Pangaea, Panacea, Panoply. Those were all big words, to be sure, but as has been said, September read often, and liked it best when words did not pretend to be simple, but put on their full armor and rode out with colors flying.
* * *

Twelve-year-old September, bored with teacups and small dogs, is only too happy to be Ravished away by the Green Wind and sent into Fairyland. Immediately upon entrance, she follows the path to losing her heart and accepts a quest to retrieve a spoon from the tyrannical Marquess, without beginning to know what she's undertaking, or how she might be breaking the Rules of Fairyland—but September is rational and determined, and she will do what she must to succeed.

* * *

One of the problems most folklorists have with Disney fairy tales is that said tales rarely point out that Fairyland and the majority of its inhabitants are out to bamboozle you. Valente obviously knows the facts, however, as does protagonist September by the end of the novel—and yet, Fairyland's trickery does not destroy its attractiveness.

September, like MacDonald's Anodos, ends up Shadowless; unlike Anodos, however, September's narrator suggests this is a bad rather than a good thing. The imagery only hints at future things, so I'll have to read the sequel to discover the point of all that.

Valente presents Fairyland in extravagant prose, dropping hilarious wordplay into depiction of a wildly colored landscape full of things unexpected. Her scientific and self-reliant little heroine faces it down with the help of two sidekicks: one prone to spouting encyclopedia quotes, and the other shy and blue.

I loved the book for the humor and the characters—which included a jacket, a lamp, and a soap golem—and appreciated it for its beautiful vocabulary and thoughtfulness. The one strongly sympathetic character I could not always quite keep up with was September herself, as she and I had to communicate from the extreme furthest reaches of the Jungian thinking/feeling dichotomy. Fortunately, I had Ell and Saturday and the aforementioned jacket and lamp and soap golem to help relay messages. If I go for the sequel, which I well might, it will very much be for love of September's friends.

Advisory, aimed solely at parents who have serious cautions about Harry Potter—some of whom, for friendship to me, bravely go on reading this blog: This being Fairyland, there are witches and dragons. Well, dragon—or rather, wyvern—or rather, Wyverary. I loved the Wyverary; I ain't gonna lie. Speaking of verbal dishonesty, however, Valente cheerfully and openly subverts the concept of the "good child," starting by requiring September to lie in order to enter Fairyland, upon which I thought to myself (perhaps not entirely justly), "Oh. Well. I guess I'll never get in, then." Homeschooling absolutely crippled me on the dishonesty front. For better or for worse. ;)


  1. I keep picking this one up! And then putting it down again when I remember my previous commitments. But! It sounds so much like an idea for a Carroll-esque story I once had (have?), I'd probably devour it one sitting if if it were in front of me.

    I can't get a library card unless I have something to prove my address, but I'm going to try to get John out tomorrow to get one on my behalf. Then we just have to pray that there's a copy of HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban there. If not, I can always scour the charity shops.

  2. Okay, I read it! And LOVED it!

    I think September was a good-child-trying-to-be-naughty or maybe a naught-child-who-became-much-more-good at the end. Because there's a lot of her wondering why she isn't acting "irascible and ill-natured," isn't there?


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