Home > Books, Fiction, Something Like a Review, The 25 Book Challenge, The Blotter, Writing > Something Like a Review – The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Something Like a Review – The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Longest. Title. Ever.

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. đŸ™‚

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

Other: Multiple formats available from Amazon.com and Audible.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.

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