As reward for your patience reading my longer posts, here’s a short one:
Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (2011)
12-year-old September is whisked away to Fairyland by the Green Wind on the back of the Leopard of Little Breezes. Her job: retrieve a long-handled spoon taken by the Marquess. Take a bit of Alice Liddell, add Dorothy Gale and the Reluctant Dragon, plus a large dollop of the Snow Queen, and you’ll have an idea of this fantasy novel’s tone.
But the book is neither pastiche nor parody. Valente builds a world whose rules frequently require cruelty. September is repeatedly faced with choices: Lose your way, life, mind, or heart? Lose your voice or your shadow? As she should, September is joined by a trusty comrade, and aid appears just in time, although in unusual forms.
One such form is Lye, a golem made of soap. Lye washes September’s courage, explaining
When you are born … your courage is new and clean. You are brave enough for anything: crawling off of staircases, saying your first words without fearing that someone will think you are foolish …. But as you get older, your courage attracts gunk and crusty things and dirt and fear and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like. By the time you’re half-grown, your courage barely moves at all, it’s so grunged up with living.
I bet we could all use someone like Lye.
Valente’s whimsy starts strong, and nearly put me off. But I’m happy I kept at it. The story surprises as it satisfies. Yet I have to admit that certain points brought to mind Monty Python’s Storytime, with Eric Idle — especially the third story Eric attempts. With Valente’s book, I kept waiting for the moment when I could cry, in astonishment, “With a melon?!”