Catherynne Valente’s writing has been compared to that of Lewis Carroll and Neil Gaiman, to name a few, in a review of The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home, the fifth volume in the New York Times bestselling Fairyland series that came out this week (Michael Berry, Maine Sunday Telegram 2/28/16). Perhaps it’s the teen heroine named September who encounters octopus-assassins, sentient bathtubs, changelings, wombats, and a Moon-Yeti in her Fairyland adventures that begs the comparison. When I asked Catherynne how she felt about the flattering comparison, she said,
“Oh, I love the Alice books so much. They are certainly a deep influence, as are all the children’s classics–Narnia, Phantom Tollbooth, Peter Pan, The Neverending Story, The Hobbit, The Secret Garden, The Wind in the Willows. And one of the things we never think about with Alice is how intellectual those books are! Sometimes people tell me I use words that are too big for kids–but we think nothing of giving six-year olds these novels full of allusions to Victorian Prime Ministers, Latin puns, chess strategy, higher level math, and references to military battles and politics few children could possibly understand in this day and age. And that’s part of what I love about it! you can read Alice as a child and simply enjoy the nonsense and the adventurous girl, and read it again as an adult and see that it isn’t nonsense at all, enjoying the references and added dimensions of Carroll’s work. Best of both worlds, and I hope kids can do the same with my books.”
Fairyland itself is an island, the very one my title character – September – circumnavigates in the first book. The climax of the book also occurs at a place inspired by Peaks Island’s Battery Steele. I have written the entire series on the island, in two houses and my office down front, the Ministry of Stories (the Umbrella Cover Museum in the summer). I even named my home after the place where the queen lives in Fairyland – the Briary.The beautiful Peaks Island autumn shows up in the magical country of the Autumn Provinces, as does the sense of community in all the little villages of Fairyland. One of the beloved companion characters in the later books is actually a Model A Ford named Aroostook, after the burlap sack over its spare wheel. Think Chitty Chitty Bang Bang but with a wilder magic. Maine shows up in so much of my work, though sometimes it goes by another name.
My young readers are wonderful, and they’ve really embraced September. I always have girls dressed in orange at my readings, and so many of them identify with September’s struggles and plain spokenness and tendency to rescue herself. I never tried to make a perfect protagonist, but a real one, one that was the kind of kid I wished I was when I was young–bookish but brave, loyal, but talks too much, and full of longing for excitement and a magical life.
In the year marking the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, what could be more appropriate than a celebration of a new “Wonderland,” one with Maine island roots? Here are the titles of the five books in the series, in order:
- The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
- The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
- The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two
- The Boy Who Lost Fairyland
- The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home
What do you think?