Tag Archives: witches

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland – Catherynne M. Valente

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is not your Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. Catherynne M. Valente has concocted a mash-up of pun, wit, traditional fairytale conceits, cautionary fable and pure, unadulterated insanity. This is a very Earnest Story about a Deadly Serious twelve-year-old who seems a little reflective for an American pre-teen and a lot naive for a kid that age. It’s somewhat Dorothy Does Oz After Abandoning Kansas and as full of epic challenges and unusual traveling companions as anything Judy Garland sang her way through.

September is disaffected with her life in World War II Nebraska as mom goes off to play Rosie the Riveter each day and dad has vanished into the European front somewhere. When she is whisked away to Fairyland she goes without a backward glance. Children that age have yet to grow a heart, we are informed, and September is mercifully unencumbered by one. Things begin to go haywire immediately. September receives any number of warnings about the laws in Fairyland and promptly forgets a few and misinterprets the rest. She does try to have an Adventure with No Strings Attached but she isn’t as cool and calculating as she imagines herself to be.

Fairyland seems to be under a deeply wicked spell and the magical creatures that cross paths with September all need something important from her–she gives it without much hesitation. The girl isn’t aware that she is beginning to grow a heart. Hearts are dangerous things and September’s will cost her dear. But she acquires a good soaking in courage and a jeweled sceptre that provides convenient rubies when she needs a bit of change and a faithful flying key and a warm green jacket, although she has lost a shoe. The shoe thing isn’t Cinderella all over again as there are no princes in this tale but there are dragonish creatures and pirates who trade in shadows and covet pookas and a wicked girl with sausage curls who has designs on the powers of September’s new-found heart.

It’s a really unique and fascinating book, although I found it tiring to read–there is so much cleverness crammed into every sentence that it takes effort to stay focused, line by line, so you don’t miss anything. After I finished it I discovered that the book started out as a chapter-by-chapter online serial story, which may account for my sense that I had just read a whole collection of fairytales and not one book. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland is pretty good but a kid will have to be a VERY accomplished and dedicated reader to stick with it.  Terrific vocabulary and word plays. Not for the faint of heart. And not for cramming into a one-day read like a crazed marathon. But, oh well, all my reading is like that now. One month to go. Battling evil forces in Fairyland seems like child’s play compared to reading a book a day on pure adrenalin and not much sleep. But then, I’m living several hours a day inside books and  nothing about an imaginary world is exactly easy.  Dragons? Wicked spells? Dashed hopes and broken promises? Deadly storms and impenetrable gaols? Bring ’em on.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making   Catherynne M. Valente | Macmillan  2011

Spellbound – Jacqueline West

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Elsewhere is a mysterious world inside framed paintings in the haunted house where Olive Dunwoody and her wonky parents live. Olive is nearly twelve and pretty much on her own. Her mathematician mother and father teach in the university and are absentminded even when they are present at home. Olive is missing the math gene but she makes up for it with extreme right-braininess—she lives in a powerful imaginary world that is, unfortunately, not imaginary.

The house is as alive as those paintings. The three gigantic and ornery cats who came with the house are not actually cats—by any common definition, in any case. They speak English, for one thing. And they boss Olive around like crazy for another. She puts up with this because they have the ability to move in and out of the living pictures—into and back from Elsewhere dragging Olive along—and Olive is desperate to know more about that world.

Morton is a frail, apparently albino boy who was trapped in a painting decades ago by an evil witch and has gradually faded into paint. He isn’t precisely alive, in a conventional way, but he is lonely and Olive is the only kid he ever sees. She would like to figure out a way to return him to the world but even her imagination can’t solve that one. And there is the little matter of the deadly nature of a few inhabitants of Elsewhere. Olive was close to killed by one or two of them in her last adventure.

Rutherford Dewey is an irritating boy about Olive’s age who comes to live with his grandmother next door and invades Olive’s backyard and her half-haunted existence. He seems to be able to read her mind, whenever there is something she wants to hide from him. Mrs. Niven lives on the other side. She has the neatest yard on the block but there is something off about her, especially in bright sunlight. The McMartins no longer live in Olive’s house. They were inherently evil and met unhappy ends, abetted by Olive whom they nearly succeeded in murdering.

The cats, Horatio, Harold and Leopold, grow more eccentric by the day. Leopold guards a trapdoor in the dark basement 24-by-7. Harold is usually a pirate or a knight or a secret agent on a mission. Often this involves painting himself green or black so he can blend in with his environment. Horatio hangs around Olive but he is very grumpy and seldom wants to take her inside a painting. When Rutherford asks Olive if the house has a grimoire, a witches’ spellbook, she begins to see a way to help Morton and to tap into the peculiar powers around her. But what happens when Olive looks for the grimoire is way outside her expectations and puts her and every living and a few non-living creatures in the neighborhood in mortal peril.

Spellbound is well-written and full of surprises. The dangers feel real and the characters—feline and otherwise–are engaging and believable. Olive’s parents are as clueless and unavailable as any obliging parents in a children’s book so she is free to pursue her questionable escapades at all hours. Jacqueline West’s series is entertaining enough for anyone who likes a good fantasy based on an original premise.

Vol. 2 Spellbound (The Books of Elsewhere)   Jacqueline West | Dial Books   2011