It's hard to decide just what is the most charming aspect of Catherynne Valente's fanciful novel, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of...moreIt's hard to decide just what is the most charming aspect of Catherynne Valente's fanciful novel, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.
It could very well be our spunky heroine, twelve-year-old September, "an ill-tempered and irascible enough child" who is Ravished to Fairyland. It might be September's loyal companions, A-Through-L, the fiery-breathed offspring of a most unusual union between a Wyvern and a Library, and Saturday, a blue-skinned Marid boy whom September rescues from the clutches of the Marquess.
It's certainly not the Marquess, the terrible ruler of Fairyland with a very fine hat and rainbow-hued hair. She sends her lions out to terrorize the populace and chains the fairies' wings with iron to prevent their aeronautical locomotion – decidedly not charming. Nor does charming describe the terrifying horse-headed Glashtyn or the rather creepy Tsukumogami.
But quite a number of the supporting characters might qualify as most charming. The soap-woman Lye, for example, who readies September for her arrival in Pandemonium, the capitol of Fairyland, by cleaning her courage, washing her wishes, and scrubbing her luck until it shines. Or kind Calpurnia Farthing who rescued her ward, Penny Farthing, from the changeling orchestra. Or poor Mr. Map, banished to the lands of the Winter Treaty, who once stood at the side of Good Queen Mallow and loved her.
Then again, there is Valente's playful imagination. Her Fairyland is, to quote Holly Black, "full of oddments" – from the Green Wind (a Harsh Air), the Leopard of Little Breezes, and the Panther of Rough Storms to pookas and dryads, Switchpoints and spriggans, gnomes and nasnas, not to mention witches, a wairwulf, and wild velocipedes. There's also a Closet between the Worlds, a Worsted Wood, a Lonely Gaol, and a House Without Warning.
Winsome, too, is the quaint Victorian narration in which each chapter title is followed by a brief synopsis bristling with capitalization – "Exeunt on a Leopard: In Which A Girl Named September Is Spirited Off by Means of a Leopard, Learns the Rules of Fairyland, and Solves a Puzzle" – and the echoes of such classics as Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events.
With such a profusion of whimsy, it seems positively churlish to quibble, but I must confess to finding the title – delicious though it is – somewhat misleading. September's travels on the Perverse and Perilous Sea, unfortunately, comprise a mere four chapters out of twenty-two. While this in no way diluted my delight in the book, expectations raised by the title were not entirely fulfilled.
Charm – whether in books or in people – is difficult to define and impossible to quantify. But readers in search of that ineffable quality will find themselves more than amply rewarded by the adventures of September, the Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland.(less)
**spoiler alert** I'd like to know what Cornelia Funke has done with the Meggie I met and loved in Inkheart. She was an amazing kid. Smart, imaginativ...more**spoiler alert** I'd like to know what Cornelia Funke has done with the Meggie I met and loved in Inkheart. She was an amazing kid. Smart, imaginative, and brave beyond her twelve years. When that villain, Capricorn, kidnapped Mo, Meggie's father, she set off to rescue him without a second thought. Sure, she had some help from the fire-eater Dustfinger – the least he could do after causing all the trouble in the first place – and her aunt Elinor (well, someone had to drive them to Italy) but it was Meggie and Farid, a boy not much older than she was, who found the author Fenoglio. And it was Meggie's silver tongue that gave Fenoglio's words the life they needed to save Mo and turn the Shadow on Capricorn.
Even the Meggie of Inkspell was pretty cool. Sure, the whole thing with her and Farid was kind of awkward – what first love isn't? – and seemed forced, but not only did Meggie read herself and Farid into the Inkworld, she read Cosimo the Fair, Prince of Lombrica, back to life. And when Mo and her mother, Resa, were captured by the evil prince known as the Adderhead, it was Meggie who convinced Dustfinger and the strolling players to travel to the Castle of Night to try to rescue them. And it was Meggie again who helped Mo bind the book that purchased their freedom.
I don't know where that adventurous Meggie has gone. There's barely a hint of her. Meggie's father Mo, in the guise of the Bluejay, is the hero of Inkdeath. Mo ventures into the Milksop's castle where he is saved by Violante. He's the one who is taken by the White Women and makes a bargain with death that saves Dustfinger but puts his own and Meggie's lives in jeopardy. The Bluejay surrenders to The Piper and the Milksop to save the children of Ombra. And it's Mo who succeeds, finally, in writing the three words that will kill the Adderhead.
And it's other adults, and the occasional boy like Farid or Doria, who are Mo's companions and cohorts. Time and time again, Dustfinger, with Farid's help, distracts Mo's enemies with fire. Violante, the widow of Cosimo the Fair, comes up with the desperate plan to kill her father, the Adderhead, and takes Mo to the Castle in the Lake. It's Resa, Meggie's mother, who finds the seeds that transform her into a bird and let her fly to Mo's aid. And it's Jacopo, Violante's unpleasant son, who steals his grandfather's precious White Book and gives it to Mo.
And what does Meggie do? She stays outside the castle to tryst with Farid while her father goes to visit the illuminator, Balbulus. She makes a promise to Mo to stay with the robbers – and she keeps it. She drifts slowly out of love with Farid, who neglects her in his quest to bring Dustfinger back to life, and into love with Doria, whose distinguishing characteristic seems to be that he loves her. Even this love triangle is bloodless and boring. There are no torn emotions, no fits of jealousy, no broken hearts.
And what of Meggie's literary ambitions? Not a word. Not a single, solitary word. There's plenty about writing. There are glass men stirring ink and sharpening pens, Fenoglio staring at blank pages, and Orpheus crossing out words and crumpling up pieces of parchment. Orpheus dreams up leaf-men and rainbow-coloured fairies, while Fenoglio writes songs of praise to the Bluejay. But Meggie, who is just the right age to be writing reams of self-indulgent poetry? Not a single sappy love song. And although Meggie reads Fenoglio's words into being, it's Elinor who finally managed to badger him into writing them.
In the end, Meggie, Mo, Resa, and Elinor decide to stay in the Inkworld. What does Meggie's future hold in this world that her mother admits is "not a world for women"? The best glimpse we are given is in the story of Doria the Enchanter that Fenoglio tells Meggie he wrote but never published. Doria the Enchanter, says Fenoglio, looks very much like a grown-up version of the Doria Meggie knows. He is a builder of castles and city walls and an inventor of clocks and flying machines. Doria gets the ideas for these marvels from his unnamed – "I sometimes neglect my women characters a bit," says Fenoglio – wife who is rumoured to come from a distant land.
Is that the best Funke can do for her pre-teen female readers? For Meggie? To be muse, or mother like Resa and Roxanne, but not the author of her own destiny?
Two years ago, I gave Inkheart to the little girl I mentor. Like Meggie, she loved reading. But unlike Meggie, she was shy and not in the least adventurous. I thought Meggie's bravery might inspire her and I planned to give her the whole series. I've changed my mind. My little friend is eleven now. She has no interest in boys. She's active, curious, intelligent, and very creative. And I think she's way too cool for Meggie.(less)