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The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of Her Own Making

October 9, 2012

I’m still sitting around reading fairy tales; they’re about my mental speed right now. I’ve also watched a lot of TV on DVD (Castle, The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, Gilmore Girls, Dr. Who, Supernatural, Sherlock…and then, of course, the SuperWhoLock Youtube videos). This weekend I was officially allowed to drive again after surgery, which I’ve been kind of cagey about describing to anyone because it was a hysterectomy on account of I had fibroids and they were interfering with my insides. I went to the drive-through bank machine, but my mind was still foggy enough that I couldn’t remember my secret number until the third try. So you see why I need some fairy tales. It’s good to get immersed in things that turn out right in the end. Prufrock’s “I grow old, I grow old” keeps going through my head and I need something to drown it out.

I haven’t read Catherynne Valente’s Palimpsest yet, which I meant to do before reading the fairy tale novel based on a reference in it, but I did find a copy of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making in Eleanor’s room, so I went ahead and read it. And it was charming, very reminiscent of Victorian-era fairy stories and set in the human world during WWII.

It was, of course, Nymeth whose review convinced me that I would like The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, and she outlines the plot better than I ever would.

Although things do turn out right in the end, at first I didn’t find that this story was much good at drowning out Prufrock. Passages like this made me feel very old:
“By the time a lady reaches the grand, golden evening of her life, she has accumulated a great number of things. You know this—when you visited your grandmother on the lake that summer you were surprised to see how many portraits of people you didn’t recognize hung on the walls and how many porcelain ducks and copper pans and books and collectible spoons and old mirrors and scrap wood and half-finished knitting and board games and fireplace pokers she had stuffed away in the corners of her house.”
Oh, but then I remembered that last spring I gave away the fireplace poker we had from a house we moved away from twenty years ago, and felt slightly better.

The best part of this story, the story of how September went to Fairyland and then built a raft to circumnavigate it and tied it together with her own hair (who doesn’t think of Jack Sparrow when you hear of someone making a raft with human hair?) is its specificity about types of magic:
“’But witches do all kinds of spells—‘
‘That’s sorceresses,’ corrected Goodbye.
‘And magic—‘
‘That’s wizards,’ sighed Hello.
‘And they change people into things—‘
‘That’s thaumaturgists,’ huffed Manythanks.
‘And make people do thing—‘
‘Enchantresses,’ sneered Goodbye.
‘And they do curses and hexes—‘
‘Stregas,’ hissed both sisters.
‘And change into owls and cats—‘
‘Brujas,’ growled Manthanks.

The story plays with the conventions of fairy tales, like how September and her friend A-Through-L find the capital of Fairyland:
“’if we act like the kind of folk who would find a Fairy city whilst on various adventures involving tricksters, magical shoes, and hooliganism, it will come to us.’
September blinked. ‘Is that how things are done here?’
‘Isn’t that how they’re done in your world?
September thought for a long moment. She thought of how children who acted politely were often treated as good and trustworthy, even if they pulled your hair and made fun of your name when grownups weren’t around. She thought of how her father acted like a soldier, strict and plain and organized—and how the army came for him. She thought of how her mother acted strong and happy even when she was sad, and so no one offered to help her, to make casseroles or watched September after school or come over for gin rummy and tea.”

It’s the abrupt hormone loss that makes me tear up at the slightest thing, I’m almost sure of it. I got teary several times, and nowhere more than here, thinking about my oldest child off in the world and my youngest child–who will now always be my youngest—going off next year:
“When they are in a great hurry, little girls rarely look behind them. Especially those who are even a little heartless, though we may be quite certain by now that September’s heart had grown heavier than she’d expected when she climbed out of her window that long-ago morning. Because she did not look behind, September did not see….Death stand on her tip-toes and blow a kiss after her, a kiss that rushed through all the frosted leaves of the autumnal forest but could not quite catch a child running as fast as she could. As all mothers know, children travel faster than kisses. The speed of kisses is, in fact, what Doctor Fallow would call a cosmic constant. The speed of children has no limits.”

What I am hanging onto this week, as I make my first forays back into the world, are the parts about how clothing defines a person:
“Any child knows what a witch looks like. The warts are important, yes, the hooked nose, the cruel smile. But it’s the hat that cinches it: pointy and black with a wide rim. Plenty of people have warts and hooked noses and cruel smiles but are not witches at all. Hats change everything. September knew this with all her being, deep in the place where she knew her own name, that her mother would still love her even though she hadn’t waved good-bye. For one day, her father had put on a hat with golden things on it and suddenly he hadn’t been her father anymore, he had been a soldier, and he had left. Hats have power. Hats can change you into someone else.”
That passage reminds me not only of Jack Sparrow and Captain Barbossa and their excitement over “a really big hat,” but also of the Assassin from Blondel, who doesn’t recognize his King at first but then exclaims “of course, look at the hat!”

Today I have planned what to wear not only around what will fit over my tender middle, but from the ground up, because
“Shoes are funny beasts. You think they’re just clothes, but really, they’re alive. They want things. Fancy ones with gems want to go to balls, big boots want to go to work, slippers want to dance. Or sleep. Shoes make the path you’re on. Change your shoes, change the path.”
Good shoes seem possible. I will not wear my trousers rolled.

Before I finish recuperating, I hope to get my hands on a copy of the next book about September, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2012 8:26 am

    Since you’re driving again, I assume your recovery has gone well. I had a fibroid too, but mine shrank when I hit menopause.

  2. October 9, 2012 9:34 am

    Yes, the recovery is going well. I kept waiting for menopause and the promise of shrinking, but when they got to ten pounds and twenty inches long, something more sudden had to be scheduled.

  3. October 9, 2012 4:14 pm

    Those are wonderful excerpts, I would tear up too. I’m glad your surgery is behind you. Like old age, recuperation sucks, but when you consider the alternatives…

    What does our modern hatlessness say about us, do you suppose?

    • October 9, 2012 4:17 pm

      It says that we are gormless.
      I asks my guests to wear hats when they come to tea and poetry readings, because I like an occasion to wear some of my fabulous feather hats.

  4. October 9, 2012 5:03 pm

    I have some lovely new shoes, but it’s not cold enough to wear them yet. It’s really not cold enough for pants. Pooh.

    • October 9, 2012 5:17 pm

      Unless they’re fur-lined, it’s hard to imagine shoes that you can only wear when it’s cold. But what do I know? The first time I went to Boston, I had my mother’s coat from Memphis (a nice wool coat with no buttons) and my winter shoes from Conway, AR (suede). I vividly remember cold, wet feet and the wind in my coat. When I moved to Ohio, the first things I bought were boots and a parka.

      • readersguide permalink
        October 9, 2012 5:34 pm

        It’s not so much that the shoes are too warm as that they’d look funny with a skirt and bare legs, which is all I can bear to wear at the moment. They’re for pants, or for tights. I think your purchase were a good idea.

  5. October 9, 2012 5:04 pm

    Well I hope you are continuing to recover well. Any kind of surgery can be vexing … and “lady” surgery can just mess you up in all kinds of ways.

    I am just in love with the title of this book. How could one not fall in love with it? It sounds like a little poem all by itself.

    • October 9, 2012 5:24 pm

      It is a great title, and conveys some of the Victorian tone (“of her own making”).
      I am recovering well; I can drive myself to work, the grocery store, and the doctor’s office, and have been back to work (with some working at home) this week.
      As a plus, I have a “bikini scar,” which is amusing me because I hadn’t planned to wear a bikini ever again, but now I’m really thinking about it because who can resist that kind of provocation? Oh, yeah, a mature woman.

  6. October 9, 2012 10:06 pm

    Glad that you’re making progress at recuperating and finding mostly appropriate entertainment while you do so. I need to ditch the half-finished knitting and old mirrors. And read this book to keep me young.

    • October 9, 2012 10:12 pm

      I do think reading children’s books can keep you young, to a certain extent. Maybe that’s “second childhood,” though.

  7. October 9, 2012 10:07 pm

    This book has sounded delightful in every review, and this is no exception . I’m glad to hear your recovery is going well.

  8. October 9, 2012 10:14 pm

    Especially to those of us who read and re-read the tales of E. Nesbit and Edward Eager, the delights of this book are intensified.

  9. October 11, 2012 7:41 am

    You have done this before, but it never ceases to amaze me: the things you chose to highlight about a book cause me to look at it in an entirely new way.

    I’m glad to hear your recovery is going well.

  10. October 11, 2012 7:58 am

    I take that as a compliment since my intent as a blogger is to get people to see what I’m reading from my very personal point of view, at least for a minute. You’re so much younger that I wouldn’t expect you to see it as I do, except when I lead you through for a moment.

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