Yesterday afternoon I took a detour while shopping in Oxford to drop into The Bodleian Library’s exhibition of Magical Books. As with any Bodleian library exhibition, this did not disappoint. It was so exciting to see hand written manuscripts, art work and artefacts that some of my favourite writers created or were inspired by.
Along with the usual suspects like C.S. Lewis, JRR Tolkein and Philip Pullman who you would expect to see at an Oxford based exhibition of fantasy literature, there were some real gems that I hadn’t expected to see like medieval manuscripts on divination, the Rawlinson necromantic manuscript and, my personal favourite, the plates which inspired Alan Garner’s The Owl Service.
We read The Owl Service when I started secondary school and I can remember how I used to get told off for reading ahead in lessons when we were meant to be reading along with the class. It’s the first time I’d really appreciated that a story was updating and twisting an ancient myth into something new and modern (even though the book was at least 30 years old by the time I read it). I think that this is where my love of fairy tale and myth inspired novels has come from so it was really nice to be able to trace out the flower owls like Alison did in the story.
Unfortunately, I’m not able to share any pictures from the exhibition here, but the lovely people at the Bodleian have made the entire exhibition available online for anyone who wasn’t able to make it to Oxford to see it.
When a Green Wind arrives at the kitchen window offering to take September to Fairyland, she puts aside her washing up and climbs straight onto his Leopard to fly away and seek adventure. When she arrives at Fairyland, she discovers that a wicked Marquess is ruling by terror- fairies and dragons are banned from flying, witches who displease her are being killed and children are being selected at random to be sacrificed as a tithe to the Glashtyn. With the aid of a Wyvern (who thinks his father was a library) and a Marin, September sets out to set Fairyland to rights. But will she succeed? And will she ever make it home?
Reading this book, I began to suspect that my copy had magic powers. It seemed to be circumnavigating my house, aided by some mysterious force. Whenever I put it down, I would find that it had moved by the time I came back to it. And it found the most cunning places to hide…
These vanishing acts were the only thing about the book that I found unsatisfactory. Otherwise, it was a great book to read as my first book of 2013.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in A Ship of Her Own Making is the first book in a planned series of five by Catherynne M Valente, and having read the first, I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. It has all the makings of a brilliant cross over novel which will appeal to both children and adults- great characters, a strong plot and a seemingly simple but hilariously knowing narrative. Fairyland was charming and enticing while retaining a sufficient threat of danger beneath the surface, and even though this is a book which would make a great bedtime story for children aged eight and up, there were moments when I felt genuinely anxious for September and her motley crew.
I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led The Revels There, which is released in the UK this month.