Something Like a Review – The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
As superfluous as the title may sound, it actually has some bearing on the book, even ouside of it’s obvious connection to the story line. This story was a quirky adventure tale that reminded me of an odd combination of Neil Gaiman, dark Disney (a la The Black Cauldron or The Black Hole), a gothic Victorian tale and traditional mythology. It was intelligent without being pandering and yet, I can imagine little geek-seedlings loving it as much as their parents.
What I liked most about this book was that it wasn’t a traditional “fairy tale” with a princess damsel in distress, or moral that if one is pretty or desirable enough, the prince will come to the rescue. September, our heroine, is quite independent and persevering, and has to learn that sometimes sacrifices have to be made, that winning can suck as much as losing, and that you can’t do it all on your own. That may seem grim, or too heavy for a kid, but the ideas are distilled in the story and are not didactic. I think this is one of the most balanced kid stories I’ve read that don’t promise a perfect happily ever after, but show that even with sacrifice, happiness is possible.
An interesting hallmark of this story is that both the protagonist and the antagonist are female characters, and the ones who are “rescued” are male (though an argument could be made for the Green Wind, or the resolution of the story – but I won’t spoil it). The message isn’t one of superiority or inferiority, but seemed more of empowerment and reminding girls that just because we have girly bits doesn’t automatically qualify us from rescue from the tower. Sometimes, the story reminds us, we have to save our own asses.
Now, don’t get all excited. I’m not a super-feminista, nor am I saying that romantic fairy tales don’t have a place in the world. What I am saying is that there needs to be a balance and not every girl can sit at her tower window dreaming of when her prince will arrive. There are some animated female characters that are starting to break this mold (Fiona, from Shrek starts as one and morphs into the anti-princess), but the predominance is still the dependent female. In my not so humble opinion, this is not a good precedent to set and there need to be more stories like this one to help break that mentality. If I were to have a daughter, I’d make sure this book, and more like it, would sit among her fairy tales. And if there weren’t more when she was old enough to absorb those lessons? I’d write ’em myself. 🙂
This story sunk its hooks into me, and the writer-ly quips kept me looking for the next bit of wisdom. Like current kids animation from Pixar, Disney and Dreamworks, there’s plenty in the book to keep a parent entertained, a few inside jokes the kids won’t see and a little inoculation against the world at large. I’m keeping this one for my collection, and because I’m flagging my favorite quotes, it’s going with the rest of my writing books. I’ll share one with you here, because I think it rings the most true and I’ve already used it a couple of times. I hope you enjoy too:
It is true that novelists are shameless and obey no decent law, and they are not to be trusted on any account, but some Mysteries even they must honor.
Medium: Hardcover from Amazon.com
Overall rating:4 stars
Potential re-read?: Most likely, especially if I were to ever consider having kids of my own. This is the anti-princess fairytale that I’d mix in with the traditional ones. Maybe this more than some of the others.
Dead tree worthy?: Yes. Especially for the writer-ly, artistic, or otherwise uniquely creative types with kids. This is a step away from the traditional fairy tale and what I loved most was that September wasn’t a damsel in distress, but neither was she superwoman. I think that’s a great lesson for all kids to learn, particularly the girls.
Crisis seems to be chasing me around and trying to make me lose my mind this semester. With everything going on, I’ve really only got a tenuous grasp on my sanity, so it’s not going to take much to tip the scales in favor of actual crazy. I’m hoping things will be settling down by the time this post actually pops up in your email/RSS feed/Facebook newsfeed. As of right now, which is late Sunday morning, I’ve spent my entire weekend cafe camping so I can complete homework, papers and projects for school. While I enjoy having access to amazing food and pastries (with salted caramel brownies and creme brulee from Amelie’s and still-warm cast iron skillet cinnamon buns from Just Baked Cupcakes, how could this be terrible? Expensive since you’re digging out the plastique for every other cup of coffee or so, but not terrible), it’s not home. I have to peel myself out of bed, get cleaned up, put on actual clothes and interact with people in order to get caffeinated and fed. And then there’s the seats. Office chairs are designed for you to park your ample butt in and remain there for extended periods of time. While the after-effects of this sedentary lifestyle that aren’t pleasant, these chairs at least make it bearable.
Cafe chairs are not designed for this kind of commitment. A couple of hours, sure, but beyond that? When you’re in the middle of a marathon homework session digging out the facts and Google Maps screenshots of Superfund sites on the National Priorities List and building a case on why clean-up is important, cafe chairs pretty much suck. Especially since you don’t want to wander far from your computer, iPad, phone and the pile of books you’re working with lest someone with light fingers swoop by in your absence. You are pretty much trapped until you’re done and ready to pack it all up. Well, mostly trapped. I have to admit that my fellow cafe campers have somewhat bolstered my belief in the ultimate good of humanity, though. They’ll watch your stuff when you finally have to give up and go to the bathroom, as long as you don’t mind returning the favor later.
My hope is, my fervent, desperate hope is that my phone line will be repaired and my internet connection at home restored before long. Finals are coming and while I can focus well enough to do homework in these wonderful little haunts, the prospect of doing a timed final in one makes me nervous. Very nervous. The people watching is as good as the food, and that’s where I can lose precious minutes just gazing at the strangeness I see, and then there’s the mixed blessing of writing inspiration that seems to waft around in the sweet, roasted-bean scented air…
Without my internet connection at home, I feel somewhat cut off from the world, as if I’m missing an integral part of my life. As I was getting ready to set off on my cafe camping adventure on Sunday morning, I thought about someplace I wanted to hang out, and couldn’t remember if they had wi-fi. So, I picked up my iPad and went about looking it up…only to get slapped in the face with a “Safari cannot connect to the internet” splash page. Right. That’s why I’m leaving. Duh, me. This kind of alienation is something I’m pretty familiar with right now, because it’s the same thing I experience with regards to TV. I’m not saying I really “miss” TV, because I don’t, but there are a few shows I really enjoy and faithfully record on DVR. Not that I have time to watch them very often, but they are there when I have a chance. What makes me a little sad is not being able to plug in to the pop culture miasma lingering at the edge of my world. Daily, I get the “Have you seen…?” or “O-M-G did you see (whatever show) last night?!” Sometimes, it’s not something I’d ever consider watching in a million years, like the Bachelor/ette, but sometimes, it’s something that is intriguing like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones. I have to sadly say no, and explain that a.) I missed out on the beginning so I’m waiting on its release on Netflix, or b.) I have it in my Netflix queue and I haven’t yet had the opportunity to watch it, or c.) I have so much going on with school and work that the only TV I regularly watch is the 4 to 5 minutes of The Chew or whatever show is on at work while my lunch is being irradiated and maybe part of an episode of Robot Chicken that I will fall asleep in the middle of when I lay down. I feel somewhat left out of the conversation, yet not watching TV regularly lets me watch things I want to watch almost like a movie (when I do find the time). I watch Once Upon a Time in two and three episode blocks, and I get to fast forward through the inane commercials and I can watch both The Office and The Big Bang Theory in about 45 minutes or less (depending on whether I forget that I’m watching a recording or not…). A bonus of no time is that as long as my DVR settings are right and I’ve been diligent about cleaning out the stuff I have watched, I can keep an entire season of shows to re-watch before the next season kicks off (True Blood, American Horror Story) and I’m ahead of the DVD-release game.
One of the strange benefits of not having an internet connection at home is that I have been forced to compress the work that needs to be done into one marathon sitting. Last night, after spending much of the day sitting in Panera being a wi-fi leech, I took a nap and then actually watched an entire movie, caught up on some TV and cleaned out the DVR. It was pretty…strange, actually. I had nothing to distract me from reading when I laid down later, and when I finish up this post and schedule it to publish, I’ll actually have plenty of time to do the dishes, laundry and even get the recycling to the transfer station. That will leave me an entire evening free to write. Just the prospect of that chokes me up a little.
I wonder how fast I can do the dishes and get the recycling out of the house, anyway?