The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (c) Catherynne M. Valente, 2011
A word of caution: If you value ‘logic’ above all in your choice for books to read, avoid this one like you would a train wreck. If, however, you are partial to whimsical and bizarre plotlines with not much obvious sense behind them, then grab a snack and your tea of choice and prepare your brain to be turned inside out, because ‘The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making’ is every bit as odd, as its title is a mouthful.
The story follows September, a twelve-year-old girl from Nebraska, who’s grown very tired and bored of her everyday uneventful life. Her father went off to fight in a distant war, and her mother spends most of the day away from their home fixing engines, leaving September alone with a dog the girl is not very fond of, and a pile of teacups and gravy boats to wash clean.
Because September was born in May, has a mole on her left cheek, and large and ungainly feet, a magical being called Green Wind took pity on her one evening and flew with his steed (The Leopard of Little Breezes) to September’s window inviting her to Fairyland.
He was quick to confess though, that being a Harsh Air, he wouldn’t actually be able to take her all the way to the place, but at least as far as the Perverse and Perilous Sea.
Of course September immediately agreed to it without question. How could anyone possibly say no to such an out-of-the-blue and bizarre invitation made by a complete stranger dressed in green from head-to-toe and riding a flying leopard, after all?…(*insert dubious stare of choice*)
So off goes September to a place which existence she was unaware off only 5 minutes ago, without sparing so much as a thought to her parents, or to the life she leaves behind (although we are soon informed by the narrator that September’s apparent emotional coldness is mostly due to the fact that, like most children her age, she is still Somewhat Heartless).
All is not well in the realm of fairies though, and September soon realizes that Fairyland and its inhabitants are in a bit of a predicament, crushed under the strict rules of the evil Marquess, who dethroned (and presumably killed) the beloved Good Queen Mallow.
After befriending a dragon-like creature called A-Through-L, who claims his father was a library, and after saving a tattooed, blue skinned boy named Saturday, who has the power to grant wishes when badly wounded in battle, September sets off on a mission (instructed by the Marquess herself) to retrieve a weapon hidden deep in the dangerous depths of the Worsted Wood – a weapon that can change Fairyland forever.
The amount of characters/ creatures/ magical beings September meets throughout her odyssey in Fairyland is only surpassed by their intrinsic weirdness. From two witch sisters who share the same husband, who also happens to be a Wairwulf (the word is not misspelled, trust me), a golem made out of soap mourning the loss of her creator, a little girl who can shapeshift into a dog and whose mother can shapeshift into a shark, a fairy who rides wild, untamed bicycles (or ‘Velocipedes’, as they are known in Fairyland) during their annual mating migration through the land, a furry little creature that claims to be Death and uses a mushroom-girl-suit to impress visitors that go into the Worsted Wood, people who only have half their bodies and that can merge with other people’s half bodies, 100+-year-old furniture and junk that develop speech faculties and very bitter personalities… Everything and everyone in the story is just so bizarre and all over the place, it is difficult to make sense of any of it most of the time.
I mean, sure, the good guys are good guys, the bad guys are bad guys, the little plot twists are easily resolved to fit the short chapters, but most of the time I felt as though there was nothing substantial connecting any of the characters or the events they went through.
Without wishing to make any sort of direct comparisons, I found ‘The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland…’ reminiscent of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, as well as Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’.
In similarity to ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, ‘The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland…’ is pretty much nonsense writing from start to finish, but unlike the former, the latter’s plotline has little to no logic or obvious connections behind it. Stuff happens, just because it happens. Characters show up, only to disappear right afterwards, just because they do. Why is something happening in chapter III and not in chapter X? Because it is handy for it to happen in chapter III and not in chapter X. *shrugs*
Why does ‘The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland…’ vaguely remind me of ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, you ask? Because if you know nothing of the two stories prior to going into them, you will be equally baffled by them.
If you look at the official movie poster for ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, and at the book cover for ‘The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland…’, you’ll probably find yourself thinking they are both aimed at middle grade kids, or maybe at a pre-YA crowd… They’re not. Don’t be fooled by the fact that in both cases the protagonists are young girls.
‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ and ‘The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland…’ were both created with an adult audience in mind. They are both dark fantasy stories that aim to awake and shake-up the residual inner child still living inside most of us.
If you don’t believe me, watch ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’. Trust me, five minutes into the movie and you will be whisking any kids away from the room, while protecting their eyes from what’s playing on the TV screen.
As for ‘The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland…’, you don’t even need to take my word for it. The story’s narrator addresses the Reader multiple times throughout it, and it is more than clear that she expects you to be of a grown-up age.
Besides, the writing style used in ‘The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland…’ is not exactly kid-friendly to begin with. The story is very eloquently written, mind you, even despite the wackiness of it all, but I don’t really think kids care much about the excessive use of a thesaurus that ends up at times distracting the reader from the actual story.
I really think this is one of those reads you’ll either love, or just don’t get the point of it, and if you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m part of the second group (which, according to goodreads, seems to be a minority o_O).
Oh well, if anything, ‘The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland…’ has made me realize that my inner residual twelve-year-old self is more logical than whimsical. And you know what? After reading this book, I don’t mind that it is!
+: It’s certainly not your everyday, average read. It’s as out-of-the-box as any novel of the genre can probably get.
-: There are a lot of scenes in the story I have issues with, but the fight scene at the end killed the book for me. WTH was that? ! Oh yeah, and the Key part too. So much build up for that? Really?
Where to buy online: http://www.bookdepository.com/Girl-Who-Circumnavigated-Fairyland-Ship-Her-Own-Making-Catherynne-Valente/9781780339818
Format: Paperback – 328 pages