Every child wants to be whisked away to a magical land, have adventures, and set out on a fantastical quest against a tyrant.
It's a pretty typical fantasy storyline as well, and it takes something special to make such stories stand out. Catherynne Valente's "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making" is an enchanting example, filled with delightful nonsense, wryly witty prose, and a wonderfully oddball world that reminds me of a more lyrical Lewis Carroll.
A young girl named September is whisked away from her boring Nebraska home by the Green Wind, who takes her to Fairyland. But September soon finds herself traveling through Fairyland herself, encountering a soap golem, a half-library wyvern named A-Through-L, a wairwulf, the Perverse and Perilous Sea with its golden beaches, The House Without Warning, gnomish customs agents, a jeweled key, a migration of bicycles.
She also is given a quest by a pair of witches -- find the magical spoon that the cruel Marquess stole from their dead brothers. So she and the Wyverary set out to the city of Pandemonium, but soon find themselves (and a flying leopard named Saturday) on a new quest, with overwhelming results for all the people of Fairyland.
Normally, Catherynne Valente has a lush, lyrical, sensual writing style, and there's a fair amount of that in this book ("... the moon slowly fall down into the horizon and all the dark morning stars turn in the sky like a silver carousel"). Her Fairyland is a weird, sometimes dangerous place filled with countless oddball creatures (migrating bicycles!), making her story feel like a more plotcentric "Alice in Wonderland."
But since this book is meant for children, she also weaves in a wry, arch style that reminds me of some classic British prose ('As you might expect, the geographical location of the capital of Fairyland is fickle and has a rather short temper"). This gets a little twee sometimes, but Valente also weaves in a bittersweet thread as the story goes on, as well as some dark, delicately heartrending moments.
It takes a little while to warm up to September, since she is initially Heartless (like many children), and doesn't care much about what worry she might cause her parents. Then again, it's pleasant to have a heroine who goes happily into another world without moping about going home -- and despite being Heartless, September proves herself to be a sweet, compassionate girl who is just childlike enough to accept the weirdness.
Catherynne Valente blends her velvety prose with a quirky magical twist in"The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making." And she leaves the door to Fairyland open... just in case.