Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Publication Date: 10/2/12
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Blurb(GR): September returns to Fairyland to reunite with A-Through-L, Saturday, and Gleam, and to confront her shadow-self, who has become the queen of Fairyland-Below, the upside-down world beneath the Fairyland of the first novel, filled with creatures of water and shadow, tales of ancient Fairyland before the human world was born, and not a few hungry buffins, blind birds of ice and moonlight. The yearly revels of Fairyland-Below climax in a mysterious rite September must avert or else lose her shadow forever.
“A book is a door, you know. Always and forever. A book is a door into another place and another heart and another world.”
I can’t wait to open the doors to Catherynne Valente's Fairyland with my daughters, and maybe even my grandchildren. These books are destined to be placed among the classics of children’s literature; I’m absolutely sure of it. I know they’ll each have a permanent home with me, right next to Alice in Wonderland, Coraline, A Wrinkle in Time, Alanna, The Witches, and all of the other fantasy stories that are just as enjoyable for me to read out loud as they are for my girls to hear.
Earlier this year, Catherynne Valente addressed the fans of this series, writing in particular about some concerns that these books are “too old” for kids. She wrote, in part:
“There is always a balance in literature for the young–you write to teach and entertain the kids, to delight their older selves, and to amuse their parents while they read aloud or watch along. The best books, to my mind, accomplish all of these at the same time.”
And that is precisely what she has accomplished with these books (also, if you haven’t read that post in full, you need to). Not only are her Fairyland stories magical and fun, not only will they whisk you away on whirlwind madcap adventures through strange and highly imaginative landscapes – they’re also beautifully written, deeply profound, and intelligent.
I have to admit that sometimes the million quirky little oddities in these books feel a bit overwhelming to me. Don’t get me wrong; I love over-the-top imaginative detail. I guess I just don’t love it for its own sake. There has to be solid emotion and truth tethering it to reality for me to truly connect with it. And I think that is where Catherynne Valente really shines. How else can I explain how an underground tribe of antlered people made me think about freedom in marriage? Or how a mining kangaroo made me think about how important it is to hold onto the memories that hurt – maybe even more important than holding onto the ones that heal? How can I explain how a rogue shadow made me think about our secret selves and how they change as we grow up? I just have to sit in awe of this woman a little bit, for managing to suffuse these surreal, odd little books with so much wisdom. For example:
“Poor September! How much easier, to be hard and bright and heartless. Instead, a very adult thing was happening in that green, new heart. For there are two kinds of forgiveness in the world: the one you practice because everything really is all right, and what went before is mended. The other kind of forgiveness you practice because someone needs desperately to be forgiven, or because you need just as badly to forgive them, for a heart can grab hold of old wounds and go sour as milk over them.”
I loved The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, but I love this one even more. September has grown up in this book, and as a result everything here is more complex and grey. Her chief foe in this book, “Halloween” the Hollow Queen, is her own shadow – cut from her body and living the life she never dared to. As September descends into Fairyland Below, populated by “devils and dragons” and all the lost shadows of Fairyland, she confronts the hidden, secret selves of her best friends, her enemies, and herself.
“She did not know yet how sometimes people keep parts of themselves hidden and secret, sometimes wicked and unkind parts, but often brave or wild or colorful parts, cunning or powerful or even marvelous, beautiful parts, just locked up away at the bottom of their hearts. They do this because they are afraid of being stared at, or relied upon to do feats of bravery or boldness. And all of those brave and wild and cunning and marvelous and beautiful parts they hid away and left in the dark to grow strange mushrooms – and yes, sometimes those wicked and unkind parts, too – end up in their shadows.”
However, just as in the first book, September’s “enemy” The Marquess stole the show for me. The Marquess just seems to leap off the page whenever she appears – and in this case, it’s actually her shadow. Everything about her hits me right in the heart. I just adore a grey villain. Her story in this book, as small as it was, nearly broke me.
“Just above us, the light shines golden on daffodils full of rainwine and heartgrass and a terrible, wicked, sad girl I can’t get back to. I don’t even know if I want to. Do I want to be her again? Or do I want to be free? I come here to think about that. To be near her and consider it. I think I shall never be free. I think I traded my freedom for a better story. It was a better story, even if the ending needed work.”
I simply can’t wait to read these out loud to my daughters – because they’re imaginative and profound and beautiful, yes, but also because there’s a wonderful current of feminism running through them both. September, The Marquess, September’s mother, and Halloween are all examples of strong, daring, passionate, bold, wild, logical, clever women and I love them all. There’s one small bit of romance in this book near the end that actually made me press my hand to my heart and say “Oh Saturday…” in a huge dreamy sigh like a young girl. So yeah – you definitely have that to look forward to (and also, as a side note: loving a woman for her self and not her (lack of) experience is always romantic).
Everyone, please buy these books and support this woman. That is all I have left to say.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Joanna Newsom – Autumn