Tag Archives: fairy tale

…in a Ship of Her Own Making

“Am I to save Fairyland, then? Did you choose me to do that? Am I a chosen one, like all those heroes whose legs were never broken?”

The Green Wind stroked her hair. She could not see his face, but she knew it was grave.

“Of course not. No one is chosen. Not ever. Not in the real world. You chose to climb out of your window and ride on a Leopard. You chose [….] You are not the chosen one, September. Fairyland did not choose you—you chose yourself. You could have had a lovely holiday in Fairyland and never met the Marquess, never worried yourself with local politics, had a romp with a few brownies and gone home with enough memories for a lifetime’s worth of novels. But you didn’t. You chose. You chose it all. Just like you chose your path on the beach: to lose your heart is not a path for the faint and fainting.”

The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

by Cathrynne M. Valente

illustrations by Ana Juan

Feiwel & Friends, 2011.

247 pages, hardcover.

September is a girl who longs for adventure. When she is invited to Fairyland by a Green Wind and a Leopard, well, of course she accepts. (Mightn’t you?) But Fairyland is in turmoil, and it will take one twelve-year-old girl, a book-loving dragon, and a strange and almost human boy named Saturday to vanquish an evil Marquess and restore order.

Not since Oz has there been a land—or a cast of characters—so rich and entrancing. ~inside cover.

While that last line sentence in the inside cover is a stretch, “Not since Oz has there been a land—or a cast of characters—so rich and entrancing,” the Fairyland and characters in Cathrynne Valente’s The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making are rich and entrancing. The narrator (third omniscient) lathers it on in the storytelling, so you may want to pace yourself with this one and savor the whimsical imagination of Valente’s telling. Steep a bit in her thick descriptors.

The Girl who Circumnavigated began as an on-line book project where legions of people apparently followed the installments. (I am ever late to these sorts of parties, sigh.) Valente was an author looking for support and expression of her talent while her partner looks for steadying employment. I was delighted to find this reference to its beginnings at “Folk and Fairy:”

This is not only a way to enjoy a really fun story, but it is also a way for you to help out an author and fellow faerie-lover in her time of need.

Catherynne Valente and her partner recently fell on hard times. Though they were able to survive for awhile, jobs are scarce and action had to be taken. They didn’t have enough to last a month! Then, she had a brilliant idea: she would share the story that is referred to in her (decidedly mature) novel, Palimpsest.

It is called The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. And it is provided for entertainment and in good faith that the donations made to her through this effort will keep she and her partner afloat (it is a ship of her own making! Think of that!) until he finds a new job.

The Girl who Circumnavigated is apparently Valente’s first foray into Juvenile fiction. And while it might be found on Juvenile shelves the novel is sure to be a pleasurable read to those who love tales and fairy lore, and their possible and probable reference. This is especially for those who like the storyteller narrator, and the use of big words. For those who could easily see themselves in Victorian (or earlier) dress sitting near a fire with something covertly alcoholic and telling a story to the wee ones slouching not-so- primly-and-properly on the couch and floor. You would begin with this:

Chapter 1

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.

Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents’ house, where she washed the same pink-and-yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog. Because she had been born in May, and because she had a mole on her left cheek, and because her feet were very large and ungainly, the green Wind took pity on her and flew to her window one evening just after her twelfth birthday. He was dressed in a green smoking jacket, and a green carriage-driver’s cloak, and green jodhpurs, and green snowshoes. It is very cold above the clouds in the shantytowns where the Six Winds live.

“You seem an ill-tempered and irascible enough child,” said the Green Wind. “How would you like to come away with me and ride upon the Leopard of Little Breezes and be delivered to the great sea, which borders fairyland? I am afraid I cannot go in, as Harsh Airs are not allowed, but I should be happy to deposit you upon the Perverse and Perilous Sea.”

“Oh, yes!” breathed September, who disapproved deeply of pink-and-yellow teacups and also of small and amiable dogs. (1-2)

The Girl who Circumnavigated will end quite beautifully as well, and by ending I do not mean the last two-paged chapter. Valente pulls the story together with an exhilarating flourish. I am conflicted by the desire to hear more, and the need for everything to remain as is.


“You’re not a changeling! There’s no poppet or goblin in your bed, taking your place at supper. There’s more than one way between your world and ours. There the changeling road, and there Ravishing, and there’s those that Stumble through a gap in the hedgerows or a mushroom ring or a tornado or a wardrobe full of winter coats.” (186)

Fairyland is necessarily a fantastical place. The narrator and September mind their observations with suitable wonder, and clever wit.

The sun hitched up her trousers and soldiered up into the sky. September squinted at it and wondered if the sun here was different than the sun in Nebraska. It seemed gentler, more golden, deeper. The shadows it cast seemed more profound. But September could not be sure. When one is traveling, everything looks brighter and lovelier. Thad does not mean it is brighter and lovelier; it just means that sweet kindly home suffers in comparison to tarted-up foreign places with all their jewels on. (50)

Fairyland is an adventure through stories, many familiar, but all woven spectacularly with Valente’s own needle. For all the references, this is Valente’s Fairyland, and one of her characters has been up to mischief.

“Before I came, Fairyland was a dangerous place, full of brownies spoiling milk and giants stomping on whomever they pleased and trolls telling awful punning riddles. I fixed all that, September. Do you have any idea how difficult it was to invent bureaucracy in a world that didn’t even know what a ledger was? To earn their submission, even to the point of having their wings locked down? But I did it. I fixed it for children like you, so that you could be safe here and have lovely adventures with no one troubling you and trying to steal your soul away.” (94)

Such may sound like it could come from any number of mouths, doesn’t it? But the above quote is attributed to the The Marquess.  The Marquess is a brilliantly rendered villainous, much more complicated than she seems (not that any character is left flat). And even as you might come to feel some sympathy for her (near the end), her hideous actions are hard to forget. What might appear at first to be a fun little jaunt of a story, to amuse and meander a bit, is actually a well-crafted vessel.* So if there are moments that might feel a bit sluggish or exhausted, do not leave this adventure unfinished. And if you are of some agreement with the above sentiments that Fairylands are a too dangerous for children, you mightn’t open this novel (even for yourself). There is peril and volumes of unpleasantries; and biting criticism. No world can be made safe and ordered without horrible sacrifice, whether in the getting or the having.

September does not have it easy. There are all these choices with consequences with which to struggle. She makes friends whom she comes to love and cannot envision abandoning (and neither can the reader). She is starving and has to eat a raw fish and the blood goes everywhere. September is a fascinating character, “ill-tempered and irascible”–importantly so, but oh, so much more.** September gets to experience the danger of Fairyland, yet not wholly as a cautionary tale. Like any world (our own and Neverland), a realm is capricious and subject to its own rules and rulers. Life is unfair, but you still have choices. You can navigate in a ship of their making, or one of your own.


*although I am a bit unsure about the Key bit. Its treatment reminded me a bit of Jodi Lynn Anderson’s Melancholy Kitty in the first of the May Bird trilogy, only not as good. Still it worked…

** September is (to our good fortune) not Alice or Dorothy or Wendy, more in line with Alexandra Morningside (of Adrienne Kress’ Alex and the Ironic Gentleman), very much like Mosca (of Frances Hardinge’s Fly By Night).

***The first image is from page 39,  Chapter IV: The Wyverary: In Which September Is Discovered by a Wyvern, Learns of a Most Distressing Law, and Thinks of Home (but Only Briefly). The image below is from page 144, Chapter XII: Thy Mother’s Sword: In Which September Enters the Worsted Wood, Loses All Her Hair, Meets Her Death, And Sings It to Sleep.

A link to the book’s site where you can preview some chapters. Valente’s website.

Illustrator Ana Juan’s site. (You may recall she did the beautiful cover of Margarita Engle’s The Firefly Letters.)


Foiled by Jane Yolen Illustrated by Mike Cavallaro

First Second, 2010

160 pages, tradepaper

Continuing my odyssey through the First Second catalog

A quirky, fast-paced urban fantasy by esteemed author Jane Yolen

Aliera Carstairs just doesn’t fit in. She’s always front and center at the fencing studio, but at school she’s invisible. And she’s fine with that . . . until Avery Castle walks into her first period biology class. Avery may seem perfect now, but will he end up becoming her Prince Charming or just a toad?

I came away not sure what to say about Jane Yolen’s Foiled. (Natalya had the much more readily enthusiastic response after she took her turn with the book.) Foiled was good. A book one. A beginning. I think this comic will appeal to those who follow the urban fantasy genre, especially the young and female contingent. Fills the niche between the superhero and memoir, mass market novelization and indie fare.

Foiled begins after the end; the day after all the following events in the book occur; which is why the story must be told, our narrator explains. Because at that moment, it is the day after several life-changing discoveries have begun for herself, the protagonist, Aliera Carstairs.

Aliera tells us at the beginning that the story isn’t about Avery. And she goes ahead and explains the meaning found in the story she is about to tell. This could be an invitation to relax the critical reader’s brain or to motivate the mind to interrogate the verisimilitude of Aliera’s claims—likely it is to create intrigue, a good traditional start despite the contemporary setting.

This is an urban fantasy by Jane Yolen: Will Foiled prove to be an urban fantasy with a strong heroine whose adventure does not revolve around an epic romance and an unforeseen destiny? Aliera is an adolescent daughter of a mother who has no familial history. And it is improbable that romance should escape the purview of Foiled. The interest in a boy is what draws Aliera outside herself and her small, comfortable sphere. For a novel that introduces the probability of a magical realm coexisting amongst our relatively colorless one, Yolen is going for a level of normalcy/plausibility. Aliera is fairly recognizable. Life feels pretty normal. The story might have the feel of an average adolescent drama. Girl likes boy, but its awkward because she is invisible. The world shifts because her focus does. However, the opening puts the reader on alert that there is something more to this girl crushes on boy story. That not everything is as it seems! And then there are the visual cues. The sinister is most effectively relayed through the recurring images of the black birds, the jagged bare tree limbs.Cavallaro is playful, and not hard to follow.Using the form, language, and context of fencing, Foiled is molded into chapters named after positions and maneuvers; moving from “Engagement” to “Disengagement.” The chapters then incorporate the idea of the move. The format isn’t odd as it Aliera Carstairs (our first person narrator) is quite focused on fencing; it’s what she’s good at, what she understands. Fencing also allows/supports the mask metaphor and creates an opportunity for a special (magical) sword motif.A fail-safe for young female comic book readers (or novices), especially fans of fairy tales and urban fantasy. Tamora Pierce fans will pleased to see her referenced; I’m sure Pierce was.

Reminds me a bit of Hope Larson’s work, though she introduces the magically-real a bit differently.

The Graphic Classroom’s review & 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast’s review

the secret footprints

The Secret  Footprints by Julia Alvarez

Illustrated by Fabian Negrin

Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

That it was Alvarez caught my eye when the daughter and I were browsing the 398s. I had never heard of ciguapas, and now I am just flat out captivated by the idea of their existence.


As a little girl growing up in the Dominican Republic, I remember hearing stories of the ciguapas. (See-goo-ah-pas.) This tribe of beautiful women live underwater but come out at night to hunt for food. No one has ever been able to track them down because they have a special secret. I’d lie in bed, struggling to stay awake, hoping to spot one. I never did, until I wrote this story about one little-girl ciguapa, Guapita, who almost gives away the special secret by befriending a human boy. The illustrations by the Italian artist, Fabian Negrin, are fabulous. ~Julia Alvarez, here.

In Julia Alvarez’s tale, The Secret Footprints, a fearless young ciguapa, Guapa, has a curious nature that nearly costs her tribe their freedom. “If people find out where we live, they will capture us because we are so beautiful. Doctors will want to put us in cages and study us. We will be forced to live on land” (8). But are all humans so terrible? Her boldness gets her into trouble, but the human boy she’s found interest in proves kind.

I am just going to go ahead and share their secret, because I thought this to be a interesting invention (and it won’t ruin the story). “Their feet were on backward! When they walked on land, they left footprints going in the opposite direction” (3).  No prints are seen rising up out of the sea. An added enchantment is how Julia Alvarez imagines some of the difficulties of having backward feet on land. This is a story that truly captures the imagination.

Those familiar with Ondine, The Little Mermaid, and/or Selkies will be intrigued by the ciguapas, fairytale figures originating in the Dominican Republic.Alvarez adds a letter at the end of the book, “About the Story,” where she talks about growing up with the tale and shares some of the different versions she’s encountered. I love that she includes people’s ideas about where the ciguapas stories come from, but I am even more charmed by the influences ciguapas have had on the author’s life, how they’ve still managed to make it to Vermont, backward feet and all.

“Sometimes I leave my wash out on the line overnight and stick a piece of candy or an apple in the pocket of my pants or jacket, just in case. I know it’s a long way from the Dominican Republic to Vermont, especially if your feet are on backward. But I have to tell you, sometimes that piece of candy or apple is gone from that pocket in the morning. My husband says it could be squirrels or maybe even a raccoon.

I know better.”


to view more of Fabian Negrin’s work. Julia Alvarez’s site.

my review of Tia Lola Learns to Teach.

read for the Once Upon a Time Challenge (V) as well.

ah, nicoletta

It has been some months since I featured one of my favorite Illustrators Nicoletta Ceccoli. The blog “7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast” posted on a new picture book by Ceccoli and they had this video where Ceccoli talks about her work. I immediately went to see if the Library has some picture books with Ceccoli’s name on them.

The Girl in the Castle inside the Museum

written by Kate Bernheimer, pictures by Nicoletta Ceccoli

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2008.

Once there was a small castle on display in a museum. When children visited, they’d press close to the glass globe in which the castle sat. For they’d heard that if they looked hard enough, they’d see a tiny girl inside….

Can you see her?

Here is an original fairy tale that feels like a dream—haunting, beautiful, and completely unforgettable. ~dust jacket

Inside the Castle inside a Museum that is Inside the Story that is this book, which was inside the imagination of Kate Bernheimer and Nicoletta Ceccoli. Dreamers inside dreams who have dreams wherein the reader is brought to mind.

The story and its images would defy the dimensions of a page. Ceccoli plays with dimensions (some Escheresque details), media, and shadows, while Bernheimer acknowledges the reader in a theatrical violation of the fourth wall. The story resides in simultaneity, multiple planes living and interacting. Reader and character alike are enlivened; the reader inspired to dream by the one they would dream about.

Even if the reader doesn’t leave their photograph in the frame on the girl’s wall, the reader has already kept her company.

The Girl inside the Castle inside the Museum is an equal parts disturbing and enchanting fairytale. I highly recommend it.


“Well, now that we have seen each other,” said the Unicorn, “if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you. Is that a bargain?” ~Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll (and epigraph to A Dignity of Dragons by Jacqueline K. Ogburn)

A Dignity of Dragons: Collective Nouns for Magical Beasts 

by Jacqueline K. Ogburn, illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli.

Houghton Mifflin, 2010.

With inventive groupings, luminous artwork, and a fact-filled glossary, A Dignity of Dragons makes for a bestiary to treasure. For within its pages, you’ll learn about all the creatures you may be lucky enough to see, if know where to look. ~dust jacket.

“Everyone has heard of groups of animals—a pride of lions, a charm of hummingbirds, a school of fish. If you came upon magical beasts gathered together, what would you call them?” (2) Jacqueline K. Ogburn is marvelous in her response to this question. A Dignity of Dragons is a fun and enchanting read.

A dazzlement of Quetzalcoatls/An arch of rainbow snakes

A few groupings I especially liked (that are not already mentioned): A grapple of griffins. A resurrection of phoenix. A continent of kracken. A flurry of yetis. A pandemonium of fauns. A faculty of centaurs.

A flame of feng hwangs/A resurrection of phoenix/A flash of firebirds

If the reader is curious who some of the creatures are, or to whom they belong, there is a glossary at the back. This is a beautiful book and a must see for lovers of magical creatures. And Nicoletta Ceccoli was the perfect fit as an illustrator for this collection of collective nouns. Kirkus writes,

Every figure is pretty, but the illustrator staves off preciosity by injecting plenty of drama into her compositions — like a scary “riddle of sphinx” gazing down clinically on a small pilgrim or a ship of ancient design being attacked simultaneously by a “vengeance of harpies,” a “tangle of gorgons” and a (bare-breasted) “chord of sirens.” Enthralling fare for addicts of myth and fantasy…


my two other posts featuring books Nicoletta Ceccoli illustrated: here & here.

A Dignity of Dragons images from 7 Impossible Things for Breakfast on their review of said book.

Both these books fit into the Once Upon a Time Challenge (V): The first book being a fairytale, the second dealing in myth

castle waiting

When I picked up Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting as recommended by “no flying, no tights”* I didn’t realized the novel was a collection of previously serialized work, nor did I know it was only volume 1. When I finished reading it, I hoped there was more, because it is brilliant, and two, it seems to wander off and once finally returning—dangles. A second volume was published December 2010. Now, to hunt down that volume.

That Castle Waiting doesn’t look like a graphic novel is part of its charm; Natalya’s eyes had already lit on the cover, but they melted when she saw it was full of b/w frames. That is Castle Waiting, smart and provocative.

Castle Waiting (vol.1) by Linda Medley

(w/ Intro by Jane Yolen)

Fantagraphics, 2006.

456 pages, hardcover.

The 456-page Castle Waiting graphic novel tells the story of an isolated, abandoned castle, and the eccentric inhabitants who bring it back to life. A fable for modern times, Castle Waiting is a fairy tale that’s not about rescuing the princess, saving the kingdom, or fighting the ultimate war between Good and Evil — but about being a hero in your own home. The opening story, “The Brambly Hedge,” tells the origin of the castle itself, which is abandoned by its princess in a comic twist on “Sleeping Beauty” when she rides off into the sunset with her Prince Charming. The castle becomes a refuge for misfits, outcasts, and others seeking sanctuary, playing host to a lively and colorful cast of characters that inhabits the subsequent stories, including a talking anthropomorphic horse, a mysteriously pregnant Lady on the run, and a bearded nun. ~publisher’s comments, link.

Castle Waiting the novel is refuge for the eccentric, for “misfits, outcasts, and other seeking sanctuary,” for those looking for original and amusing tale telling. Linda Medley isn’t reinventing the tradition but is following its lines by embracing its malleable nature, and introducing her own perspective through her own choice of medium. Drawing from folk tales, fairy tales, nursery rhymes, classic myth, bible story, and more, Linda Medley creates her own highly imaginative take on the modern fairy tale.

Castle Waiting is a marvelous comic in how it has wide appeal. The black and white line-drawing is pleasing and expressive. There is a great deal of humor and the bizarre.  The stories, both over arcing and small, are interesting. The most novice reader of tales will be entertained and intrigued. The veteran tale reader will enjoy the scavenger hunt as Medley honors traditional storylines and figures even as she uses them at will—up-cycling, repurposing. Castle Waiting isn’t just feminist, its also green. I think the hipster (?) “mustache club” crowd** should get into it just fine as well—facial hair is in: female’s not excluded.

As the publisher’s comments shared, the opening chapters are about Brambly Hedge (Sleeping Beauty). There is a great deal of humor and general silliness in these chapters; this creates a harmless sensibility that will capture and trap the reader. For example, that humorous lullaby leading us into the castle as the narrator introduces us to the village? It takes us right into the room of a queen holding a pillow bundled in a blanket, “Just practicing…heh!” she says. “Again?!!” the King returns. A black-inked frame with a segue; an empty space, like the emptiness the Queen felt. The third frame in this bottom row: She sits in an unadorned chair, eyes downcast, chin in hand, despondent, with her hand open, palm upward, empty, in her lap. Her body is angled toward her husband but her face is turned away. The King’s look of concern in the upper frame wasn’t just from his wife’s questionable song lyrics.

As the publisher notes: “Medley tells the story of the everyday lives of fantastic characters with humor, intelligence, and insight into human nature. Castle Waiting can be read on multiple levels and can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.”

The effect of some of the more serious topics or situations addressed in Castle Waiting really depends upon the age and experience of the reader. The daughter of 10 3/4s didn’t blink at some of the frames that I mulled over or was moved to sadness by. She found a light-hearted humor over details I skimmed past, partly because she knows more tales than I do, but also because the story can be read with an eye for only adventure and humor.

Castle Waiting shifts from “Sleeping Beauty” riding off into the sunset to a next “Once upon a time…”  So, the first part paints Medora (the princess) as foolhardy, unwise; indeed, one of the witches regrets being robbed of her opportunity to gift the babe with wisdom (30). I thought that the young woman in the following chapters was the princess running from an abusive prince charming. [The trouble I have with b/w line-drawing, not minding features and hair texture; shouldn’t read so rushed.] Perhaps the potential mislead is meant, after all, we don’t know anything more about the Prince Charming than Medora did… Then it seemed that Jain has been gifted in some of the same ways Medora was, easy to make friends, beautiful…natural graces?

Jain is a wonderful character, a strong female protagonist, though still an unusual pitch for children. I kinda like her though. What interests me is her depiction as a Mary figure withheld. There is a room at the Inn at Bremen (75). Jain is not saintly or sainted. Her husband beat her, will kill her if he finds her, and she’s pregnant by another man (creature?). Medley isn’t building role-models but reflective surfaces. Messages and morals are of a more organic derivative, more so in the first half of the book than the latter.

Jain makes it to the refuge Castle Waiting. She becomes a part of the hodgepodge of a castle family where everyone has a story. This volume does not explore them all, nor most to any depth. There are allusions to a few that I think a knowledge of Medley’s references would flesh out. I really want to know more about Pindar’s father.

One character’s story that is delved into in the second half of the read is Sister Peace, who is a nun in the order of the Solicitine. Really, you have to read it. Sister Peace is already intriguing enough with her Wimple that looks to have horns (or ears) and her demonic looking pet, then it is revealed she has a beard. Oh the fun a body could have writing essays from the feminist perspective on what follows! When I own this volume, perhaps I will indulge. Jain gets Sister Peace to tell her about herself and how she came to Castle Waiting. A pub, a circus, and a refuge for bearded women are involved.

The daughter was curious why the second half spent the majority of its length on the bearded women, but she was fascinated and entertained. I’m not sure how attuned politically she is,or metaphorically savvy she can be, but Peace’s antics are witty and wild regardless. Highly charged reads can be daunting and alienating to certain ages, but Medley pulls it off. Regardless of how you choose to approach the stories, or with what you have to approach the stories, Medley entertains and provokes, both through written and illustrated renderings.

[a bit of a caution for my Christian friends who may slam the book shut at ~page 326, just think about Nejmah’s story, and give Medley the benefit of the doubt here. course, Catholic friends might find it mocking (?)—curious: tell me what you think.]

It is an enchantment of the book that so many oddities or social outcasts are portrayed as normal; if not acceptable, certainly not judged. Medley draws eccentricity in more human, and thus accessible, terms. Her compassionate gaze has a humored perspective that is not keen to humiliate; which is such a wonderful and refreshing part of the experience of reading Castle Waiting. If you believe books can be refuges, this one is an unusually engaging one.


Please read this review by Chris @ Graphic Classroom. He is eloquent as always and addresses some of the things I did not (as I intended to provide this link). Also, since Chris (and crew) reviews comics for their potential use in the grade school classroom, he provides a good age recommendation of 10 & up, and some cautions if you are thinking of handing this to your child.

As for you adults: if you like comics that are nicely done and tales that are as simple or as complicated as you want them, Linda Medley will meet expectation.


* site is dedicated to comic/graphic novel reviews/recommendations.

**don’t ask, but do tell. have observed the trend, but as to how or why it started/exists?–do instruct.

images: (1) page 60, after Medora rides off into the sunset.  (2) p 68, Jain (battered) leaves her husband, and home.  (3) p 275, a glimpse of Peaceful Hortense Elaine Warren’s story.

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley was read as a part of the Once Upon a Time Challenge (V).

once upon a conversation (b)

The husband and I are reading Pat Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind together. The bulk of the book is the protagonist Kvothe recounting his youth and essentially fleshing out the man behind the Legend, relaying the sources of many a story about him. Still Kvothe, a figure of Legendary/mythic proportion (of which we have yet to fully realize), exists within a realm of already conceived mythical figures that would pre-date him. The Name of the Wind recounts songs and stories of varying folk lore, some specific to regions or a people, and some shared by everyone (the Chandrian, Lenre and Lyra, etc).

Sean and I got to talking about the myths, fairy tales, and folk lore observed by fictional characters within a novel. Some feel more borrowed and cobbled together than others, but regardless, they can be as wonderfully entertaining and as real as a tale that comes from some other country only heard about, but never seen. A folk tale can blend quite nicely into fiction unless it is very presently culturally observed, like the man who gathers bad children in a bag near Christmas and carts them off into the woods to be brutally murdered; I was afraid of him up until we moved to a different country. Still I worry a bit that he will be waiting for me when e’er I return.

I have read little in the Fantasy genre (thus far), nor do Sean and I tend to read the same books, but I think it natural anyway that the conversation would move from Rothfuss to Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. There are many charming and terrifying tales told in the realm Tolkien created and historicized. The song of the Ent wives is a particular favorite of mine, or of the maid Nimrodel.

After Tolkien, Sean reminded me of the story he’d read in a Gene Wolfe novel that he liked so much. We since have gotten the 2nd half of The Book of the New Song: Sword & Citadel so as to read it again, and to collect it. I found the chapter/story, “XIII: Foila’s Story—The Armiger’s Daughter,” on-line last night, here. We also learned it shows up in at least one of Wolfe’s short story collections.

A collection… There are collections of fairy tales and folk lore and myths from around the world. Is there an anthology of lore/tales collected from “fictional” places?

What tale would you like to see in such a collection?  I like Jesse Ball’s tale in The Way Through Doors about the man who meets the devil on the road home to his wife and makes an arrogant and unwise deal. Or of the queen (?) who loved a count who did not return her affection so she hunted down the ugliest woman in the known world and made him marry her in their kingdom of ice. Course, the protagonist is making up stories, it is not a part of some fantastical place other than his own imagination. It isn’t Middle Earth, or Narnia, or where ever it is that Kvothe lives, or within the Wheel of Time, or A Song of Fire and Ice, or the Dark Tower

What tale would you like to see in such a collection? Do you have a favorite fairy tale, folk tale, or myth conceived in some cultural setting in a fictional realm?* Would you limit it to Fantasy/Sci Fi, or could we include  others, like Psychological fiction for example?


*Going to have to work on that wording of that question; fictional is a tricky word. How would you more eloquently word it? What would you call such a collection of tales (if it doesn’t already have a known name)?

Clarke’s Graces

While browsing for a Sci Fi Experience read in the Sci Fi/Fantasy section of the Library, I encountered Susanna Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories. Note the base of the spine in the picture. Now, I cannot say that I am an expert on the most inarguable distinctions between Science Fiction and Fantasy genres, but Faerie and Fairy Tales and Magic with no bother for scientific approaches or reasoning? Historical Settings visited without aide of a Time Machine?

I brought Susanna Clarke’s collection home to see if at least one of the stories was Sci-Fi. Also, I was curious about her. Yes, we have that enormous tome Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell at home. Sean raved about it, but I cannot make myself read it just yet. A collection of 8 stories, with the first referencing Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell seemed like a good start.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories

By Susanna Clarke

Illustrations by Charles Vess

Bloomsbury, 2006

235 pages, hardcover.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke is a collection stories involving Magic and Faerie. The introduction to the book is written by a Professor James Sutherland, Director of Sidhe Studies, University of Aberdeen (1-5). Do not skip over this, it is informative and entertaining.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu (7-35)– This story is alluded to in Clarke’s bestselling Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (Bloomsbury, 2004) in a footnote in Chapter 43 (page 478 in the edition we have). It “provides fuller explanation of Strange’s rather enigmatic actions” (2). For those of us who have not read that novel, the story is still enjoyable. (Though I wonder if it would be more sensical had the novel been read.) The 3 Ladies of Grace Adieu relay a great deal of information about women of their time. One marries a widower for money (or otherwise must take a post as a Teacher), another is an Ideal young woman (and ward of her Uncle) proposed to marry the local Rector (as a beautiful young lady should marry), and the third is a bookish-governess–All three are close in age. What these 3 Ladies couldn’t be are students of Magic, “For ladies (as everyone knows) do not study magic” (10).

Vess’ illustration from Tom Brightwind or How the Fairy Bridge was Built at Thoresby

On Lickerish Hill (39-62)—Here is a nice and unexpected story that turns out to be similar to the German Tale of Rumpelstiltskin. However it does take some patience to get into, adjusting to the Old English, I like this version better. I enjoyed the fact that the characters are better developed in this tale and there are greater explanations for the situations in which everyone finds themselves.

Mrs. Mabb (65-99)—Kept drifting in and out of this one. There was plenty of humor and Fanny is amusing. But Venetia became annoying very quickly. Still, readers of Victorian Romance will no doubt navigate the melodrama quite successfully. I can’t say more on this one as I hardly remember much of it. I think Jane Austen fans will dig this one, as well as a few of the others.

The Duke of Wellington Misplaces his Horse (103-110)—this is as amusing as it sounds. And fans of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust will appreciate that Clarke sets this story in Wall, “It concerns Wall, a village in England where there is an actual wall that divides our world and Faerie” (103). The Duke meets with the most fascinating circumstances on the other side of the wall. Who actually controls this man’s destiny, his successes and failures—a woman and her embroidery?

Mr. Simonelli or The Fairy Widower (113-159)—Part of this collection of stories is to realize that Faerie are not sweet little creatures who flutter about angelically. Such is seen in this story which is actually an extraction of Alessanddro Simonelli’s diaries. He relays an early sequence of events in his life through a letter and diary entries. This one is a bit dark, and certainly strange, but compelling.

Tom Brightwind or How the Fairy Bridge was Built at Thoresby (163-206)—This was a favorite of mine. The interaction between David Montefiore and Tom Brightwind is amusing. Their encounter at Thoresby was no less so. This is an especially amusing read to entertain while catching up on House, MD (tv) episodes on DVD, David and Tom/House and Wilson… Anyway, the storytelling is interesting and not modern. This collection is for lovers of the old tales as they might be remembered.

Antickes and Frets (209-219). A story for Historical Fiction followers and those interested in Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth of England in 1568. An imprisoned Queen looking to recover her power by any means necessary to a woman; which, in this fascinating case is Embroidery. Women looking for secure futures and some availability of power mark this read. The explanation for the title Antickes and Frets, can be found on the last page 219, which is helpful to read first as it provides further illumination of the story.

John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner (223-235)—A “retelling of a popular Northern English folktale taken from A Child’s History of the Raven King by John Waterbury, Lord Portishead” (223), which is fictional by the way—the book A Child’s History and author Waterbury are made up. “A great ruler is outwitted by one of his humblest subjects” (223). The Charcoal Burner is wronged by the otherwise oblivious John Uskglass so he goes to plead his case to the appropriate saint who would avenge said wrong. “Which saint is it that looks after cheeses?” demanded the Charcoal Burner. “The Almoner thought for a moment. “That would be Saint Bridget.” (228). There is a lot of silliness here. And perhaps some seriousness… the theme of Entitlement comes to mind. It is a really nice story to close out this collection.


The Writing is good, the Storytelling is fluid and the differing approaches show-off Clarke’s flexible talent and her wonderful ability to capture the old Tales, even if they are tales of her own creation. I think she has a bit of Faerie herself. For example, would you have noticed upon first reading that the Introduction by Professor James Sutherland, Director of Sidhe Studies, University of Aberdeen is a short story as well? Loveliness. A completed collection of Fairy Tales. Clarke not-so-subtly interrogates the assertions of Fiction versus Nonfiction. Who is to say which Story or Figure is real or not?


A bit about the Illustrator, Charles Vess, whose black and white line drawings for this collection are perfectly suited. They are quite brilliant. Wikipedia records this argument:

“Mary Ann Gwinn praises them in The Seattle Times, describing them as “delightful” and inspired by art deco and Edward Gorey. Lucy Hughes-Hallett, however, argues that the volume is “insistently and inappropriately illustrated”. Agreeing that the images are indebted to Rackham, she contends that they are “anachronistic” and a “kind of mimsy-whimsy.”

I don’t know… I kind of liked them. The title pages of each story were really nice and they do look Child Storybook-ish, which is a nice touch, and probably intentional.

Charles Vess’ website.


Found this review by Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings after I wrote my review. His is excellent, of course.

If you’ve a review I will likely link it…


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