Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Like, Wow

So I finally got my hands on a copy of Little, Big, and finally finished reading it this weekend. What a long book. I felt like I've lived a few lifetimes since I started it, sometime back in early April. It was a world and a landscape unto itself and excuse me if I blush just a little bit when I say that its main plot is about a family who seem to be related to, or at least are very close to um, the wee folk. As in fairies (faeries?).

But the book and it's many subplots and tone are about so much more than just the fairy-folk, and the reader is given only passing, sly glimpses of them throughout most of the story. Since I have a nasty sinus infection and my head feels too stuffed with cotton to create a single, lucid sentence, let me just give you some of the critiques and credentials listed on my copy: Let's see...the book and it's author, John Crowley, won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel back in 1980. The Washington Post writes that it's "the greatest fantasy ever written by an American." And finally, the esteemed and very crotchety academic and critic, Harold Bloom, says, "It is literally the most enchanting twentieth-century book I know."

So there. Let me not spin my wheels any longer justifying my reading of this 538-page work that concerns a very old and powerful deck of tarot cards, a grandfather trout who lives in a deep, cold pond and surfaces when summoned by members of the Drinkwater family, or a very old and powerful wizard of a woman who turns into a stork in the book's final chapters. Or the fiesty Puerto Rican girl who lives in the City and has a Destiny, which turns out to be turning into a fairy princess and sailing upon a craft made of spiderwebs and acorns.

Forgetting the plot entirely, I was enchanted early on by the gorgeous prose and lovely, crafted sentences, and also the humor and intelligence that guided my way. I smiled and leaked a happy little tear onto my pillow when I saw that I was in the care of someone who could write:
"The gregarious weeds that frequent roadsides, dusty, thick and blowsy, friends to man and traffic, nodded from fence and ditch by the way. Less and less often he would hear the hum of a car; the hum would grow intermittently, as the car went up and down hills, and then suddenly it would be on him very loud and roar past surprised, potent, fast, leaving the weeds blown and chuckling furiously for a moment; then the roar would just as quickly subside to a far hum again, and then gone, and the only sounds the insect orchestra and his own feet striking."

Yes, exactly -- the weeds blown and chuckling furiously. For some reason, this mix of high intellect and lowbrow, sort of slapstick humor reminds me of Annie Dillard in her nature essays -- abstract, obtuse and terribly brainy, and then she throws in a knock-knock joke to prove a point. I'm such a sucker for that sort of thing, and I suppose that's why Dillard is high on my list of all-time favorites.

But I digress. Little, Big was a great read, a good companion for a lot of late and troubled nights of late. I only wish I'd read it first in darkest December, for it's mysterious big house of Edgewood that the story revolves around reminded me of winter nights and crackling fires. But I hear that many people, Harold Bloom included, reread this book often to uncover further meanings and discover new things, so I suppose a winter reading isn't out of the question.



Blogger Ron Drummond said...

There's something magical about that first reading of Little, Big -- I got quite drunk on the gorgeous, suggestive prose, prose that always seemed to evoke something greater, something hidden and numinous and awaiting discovery. Your own enthusiasm for the book is infectious and a pleasure to read.

The only thing that troubled me about your post is that it contains numerous spoilers -- you might want to forewarn your readers of that fact.

Bloom et al. are quite right -- Little, Big gets a little bigger with each re-reading. So much so that a group of the book's fans have made possible the publication of a museum-quality 25th anniversary edition, currently in production. I am honored to be that edition's editor and publisher. You can read about it here:


I hope you will seek out more of Crowley's work -- he is consistently superb.

Best Wishes,

Ron Drummond

10:02 AM  

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