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The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a…

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (original 2009; edition 2011)

by Catherynne M. Valente, Ana Juan (Illustrator)

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1,7321554,083 (4.19)258
Title:The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Authors:Catherynne M. Valente (Author)
Other authors:Ana Juan (Illustrator)
Info:Feiwel & Friends (2011), Hardcover, 256 Seiten
Collections:Hardcovergröße, Your library

Work details

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente (2009)

  1. 130
    The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (aarti, calmclam)
  2. 110
    Stardust by Neil Gaiman (aarti, Jannes, rakerman)
    Jannes: Gaiman might be inspired by Dunsany and Mirrlees while Valente leans slightly more toward Carroll and Baum, but both of them are modern authors tackling the classic fairytale, both are great stylists, and both books are highly enjoyable.
    rakerman: Stardust is also a modern fairy tale, but I found it to be a much stronger book. The flow of chapter by chapter standalone encounters in The Girl was light and entertaining but for me had a weaker narrative flow than in Stardust.
  3. 110
    Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (kaledrina, Crumble_Tumble)
    Crumble_Tumble: Both of these fantasy tales are a bit out there, a little crazy, a little hard to undestand. But once you get it, it's amazing. I LOVE these kinds of books
  4. 82
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  5. 61
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  6. 30
    The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (ErisofDiscord)
  7. 30
    Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente (Jannes)
    Jannes: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland was first concieved in Palimpsest as one of the protaginists' favourite book. Then it sort got a life of it's own, so to speak. Palimpsest is probably not for children, though.
  8. 42
    Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie (lorax)
    lorax: Both are beautifully written fairy tales about young people traveling to another world, readable by kids but with much for adults to enjoy.
  9. 20
    The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (clfisha)
    clfisha: Its not a fairytale but if your looking for more inventive, rich and dark YA try this.
  10. 20
    The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (MyriadBooks)
  11. 20
    At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald (rakerman)
    rakerman: Wind spirits play an important role in both The Girl and At the Back of the North Wind. The books both have aspects of wonder and sorrow, with a similar idea of a child taken away into a magical land.
  12. 10
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(see all 24 recommendations)


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» See also 258 mentions

English (150)  German (1)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (152)
Showing 1-5 of 150 (next | show all)
This book is a delight, but some stage-setting before getting to specifics:

Like Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, this is a fantasy that is also a commentary on fantasy, a fairy tale that is also a commentary on fairy tales. Such works are more common now because the fantasy genre has a long enough history that, inevitably, current work is read to a significant extent in light of previous work. Cliche avoidance has become a major concern. Indeed, we are now in the second generation, at least, of cliches, in which the reactions against first-generation cliches have themselves become cliches. One example is the “sand-blasted with grit” approach, as one commentator put it, in which everyone says the F word a lot, rape and incest abound, elves become terminally depressed and drink themselves to death, etc. Another second-generation cliche, closely associated with the first, is the dark, conflicted anti-hero or sort-of-hero who has significant flaws. (Reviews of such works inevitably use the phrase “shades of gray.”) Another is the princess who feels stifled as a princess and wants to be a warrior or scholar. Typically the irony is leavened with a large measure of affection for the classics. I don’t think I’ve ever read such fantasy-commenting-on-fantasy that seemed spiteful in its intent.

One more prefatory point: Certain things are “cliches” because either they’re artistically sound (e.g., the protagonist’s achievement comes only after a struggle, otherwise there’s no dramatic tension) or because people like them (the good guys win in the end). People like the classic coming-of-age story because it involves struggle and because it’s everyone’s story (excepting people who are still living in their parents’ basement when they’re 35, I guess). People like to see a person confronted with a hard choice and, in the end, make the right choice. Also, there are only X basic plots, as we are often told, where X is typically a single-digit number. This unavoidably biases things in the direction of “cliches” (many of which might equally aptly be termed “eternal truths of the human soul”).

In this context comes Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (2009), a pleasurable and occasionally profound mezcla of classic fairy tale elements. At the start September, a 12-year-old girl, is whisked off to Fairyland by the Green Wind, the embodiment of a Harsh Air. He tells her, before bringing her to Fairyland, “Obviously, the eating or drinking of Fairy foodstuffs constitutes a binding contract to return at least once a year in accordance with seasonal myth cycles.” They pause at a border town where he explains, “Fairyland is an old place, and old things have strange hungers.” Accordingly, some of the requirements for entrance into Fairyland: Give something up. There must be blood. Tell a lie. Right here at the start, it is plain that Valente is pulling this stuff straight from some sort of fairy tale Well.

The book’s ancestors are both the ancient oral fairy tales and the written ones of relatively recent provenance like the Narnia books. In Fairyland September encounters dragons, witches, and marids. She frees someone from an evil queen’s prison. She learns that True Names contain great magical power; you must guard yours closely. In several cute little meta moments the author directly addresses the reader, a common occurrence in the written tales in Fairyland’s bloodline. She also occasionally addresses the reader indirectly, as when a dragon tells September, “[T]he geographical capital of Fairyland is fickle and has a rather short temper. I’m afraid the whole thing moves around according to the needs of narrative.”

A human can enter Fairyland as one of the Stumbled or one of the Ravished. For the Stumbled, think of Alice plummeting down the rabbit hole into Wonderland and Lucy wandering through the wardrobe into Narnia. The Ravished, in contrast, are taken to Fairyland by magical beings (e.g., the Wild Hunt, people made prisoner of faeries because they’ve eaten faery food, the abductions carried out by Susanna Clarke’s Gentleman in Green and Raven King). Brought to Fairyland by the Green Wind, September is technically one of the Ravished. This turns out to be important later.

Soon after arriving September learns that Fairyland is in the thrall of a powerful evil queen. Cliche? No. Yes, but… no. This is where things get thick, and events both do, and don’t, develop in ways you expect. September agrees to help some witches get their magical spoon back from the queen, who stole it. At that point her adventures become less meandering and more purposeful.

Valente creates some gorgeous moments. E.g., just arrived in Fairyland, September sees a signpost shaped as a four-armed woman. The arm pointing east says, To lose your way. The arm pointing north, To lose your life. The arm pointing south, To lose your mind. The arm pointing west, To lose your heart. September goes west. The narrator remarks,

You and I, being grown-up and having lost our hearts at least twice or thrice along the way, might shut our eyes and cry out, Not that way, child! But as we have said, September was Somewhat Heartless, and felt herself reasonably safe on that road. Children always do. … Behind her, the beautiful four-armed woman who pointed the way closed her eyes and shook her birch-wood head, rueful and knowing.

I won’t give away the ending, but Holy Crap it’s not what you expect. You will not see it coming.

Mostly this is a paean to fairy tales. If it were an academic monograph, the back of the book would say that it “Summarizes and extends the crucial research in the field.” What’s the fiction-ish equivalent of that? That’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. ( )
5 vote TFleet | Mar 29, 2015 |
Both lyrical and quirky, the writing in this book is beautiful; it will make you want to find someone who will sit and let you read it aloud. The narrative voice is impeccable, possessing a certain wonderful drollery that makes this book so difficult to put down--even when you have reached the end!

Catherynne Valente's story is exquisitely whimsical, a charming fairy tale for the modern world, with just the right mixture of Alice and Oz. This book is practically perfect: it has the feel of a classic and will appeal to all ages.
( )
  etborg | Mar 21, 2015 |
It's a book that shares more in common with Discworld books than Alice In Wonderland. It's something that I regret. The book also feels like the middle of a series. I didn't understand what happened to the Marquess. She seemed alive but nothing is sure in Fairyland. I simply did not care about the characters, alright? Like with most books that seem to cheat, it was again a case of a weak effort that kind of redeems itself with a strong finish. My disappointment with books, and my inability to find pleasure in reading is not the only factor in me not being impressed with The Girl Who[...]. The adventures are bland and nonsensical. The author makes her heroine, September, suffer, but there's a complete lack of tension. I rated this 3 stars because of the twists at the end, and the really beautiful language. That's the best I can muster. I recommend this book to children who have not read Lewis Carroll and the Narnia books and The Hobbit. I'm curious about the sequel to The Girl Who. But I need to read something not experimental for the moment. I need comfort food for thought. ( )
  Jiraiya | Mar 21, 2015 |
What a joy this was to pick up again! I have two and three thanks to my aunt Sabrina, so I wanted to marathon this series, as the fourth is coming out near my birthday in March 2015 {fingers crossed for a square shaped gift next year!}

This is a perfect stay in bed sick book. a perfect curl up in your reading nook during rain/snow book. a perfect everything book. A practically perfect adult fairytale disguised as a quirky children's book--it enfolds you into its world, not gracefully, but rather violently {whenever I had to get up for something, my room felt strange, as though it didn't exist, I had to shake myself a few times} though you shan't refuse such a wondrous and strange world ...as gory as a Grimm, as mad as a hatter world.

How satisfying it was to read this final note before I shut the book slowly, eager for the second and yet, ending so perfectly. "All stories must end so, with the next tale winking out of the corners of the last pages, promising more, promising moonlight and dancing and revels, if only you will come back when spring comes again."

( )
  ShyPageSniffer | Feb 4, 2015 |
I am reading this as slowly as I possibly can. Savouring each paragraph, loving the freah hit to my imagination, feeling like a child again: wacthing a new world emerge in my head. There are herds of migrating bicycles, snarky good advice and lots of little things to chuckle at.
I can't wait for my children to be old enough to discover this for themselves. ( )
  littlel | Dec 8, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 150 (next | show all)
I won’t lie. Some folks do NOT like this book, and I can understand why that is. For me, though, this is just one of the smarter juxtapositions of the fantastical with the tongue-twisted. Here you have an author who clearly enjoys writing. And if that enjoyment seeps through the page and into the reader’s perceptions, then here is a book that they’ll clearly enjoy reading. A true original and like nothing you’ve really ever seen before.
added by PhoenixFalls | editSchool Library Journal (Jun 1, 2011)
Told by an omniscient narrator who directly engages readers, the densely textured text deftly mixes and matches familiar fairytale elements, creating a world as bizarre and enchanting as any Wonderland or Oz and a heroine as curious, resourceful and brave as any Alice or Dorothy. Complex, rich and memorable.
added by melonbrawl | editKirkus Reviews (Apr 1, 2011)
The book's appeal is crystal clear from the outset: this is a kind of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by way of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, made vivid by Juan's Tenniel-inflected illustrations.
added by PhoenixFalls | editPublisher's Weekly (Mar 14, 2011)

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Valente, Catherynne M.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Juan, AnaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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For all those who walked this strange road with me,
and held out their hands when I faltered.
This is a ship of our own making.
First words
Chapter 1

Exeunt on a Leopard
In Which a Girl Named September Is Spirited Off by Means of a Leopard, Learns the Rules of Fairyland, and Solves a Puzzle

Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents' house, where she washed the same pink-and-yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog.

One ought not judge: All children are heartless. They have not grown up yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one.

Hats have power. They can change you into someone else.

When one is traveling, everything looks brighter and lovelier. That does not mean it is brighter and lovelier; it just means that sweet, kindly home suffers in comparison to tarted-up foreign places with all their jewels on.

Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.
In September's world, many things began with pan. Pandemic, Pangaea, Panacea, Panoply. These were all big words, to be sure, but as has been said, September read often, and liked it best when words did not pretend to be simple, but put on their full armor and rode out with colors flying.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.

With exquisite illustrations by acclaimed artist Ana Juan, Fairyland lives up to the sensation it created when the author first posted it online. For readers of all ages who love the charm of Alice in Wonderland and the soul of The Golden Compass, here is a reading experience unto itself: unforgettable, and so very beautiful.

[retrieved from Amazon, 8/2/2012]
Haiku summary
Fairyland has rules.
Magical, but uncaring.
Like laws of physics.


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Twelve-year-old September's ordinary life in Omaha turns to adventure when a Green Wind takes her to Fairyland to retrieve a talisman the new and fickle Marquess wants from the enchanted woods.

(summary from another edition)

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