Monday, January 25, 2010


Little, Big, John Crowley, Bantam Books, 1981, 538 pp

This is the first book I read in 2010 and will possibly be my favorite book of the year. I used to read fantasy as a child, especially The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Story of the Amulet by E Nesbit. I also liked The Borrowers by Mary Norton. By about fifth grade I got into Nancy Drew and that was the end of fantasy for me.

Then in early 2000, I read the first Harry Potter book and re-discovered magic. The Lord of the Rings movies came in 2002 and I finally read the trilogy, liking it just fine. Next came Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which made me recall how much I used to be fascinated by fairies and the idea that they lurked just beyond our awareness in everyday life. (I am just looking back here and tracing the path of fantasy re-entering my reading life.) Actually, the "little people" first re-emerged for me in the 1980s with Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon.

So, in the ways of being a reader, I wound up reading The Magicians by Lev Grossman for the reviewing job at BookBrowse, which launched me into a search for adult fantasy. (What did I ever do without the Internet?) And that is how I learned about Little, Big, a book which is praised by everyone from Harold Bloom to Ursula K Le Guin.

It is truly a wondrous book; very literary (I came across numerous words I had never seen before, yet they turned out to be easily found in dictionaries), extremely philosophical, clearly influenced by life in the 60s and 70s, and just packed with love of all kinds. There are fairies, there are characters with deep fairy connections, descendants with fairy characteristics, all this culminating in lives lived in "the thin place" where ordinary human life and the supernatural blend.

It is also a multigenerational family saga. The characters have names like Daily Alice Drinkwater, Cloud and Oberon. The Tarot is much in use, the family home is called Edgewood, there are "doors" to another realm. The constant image in the story in infundibular, meaning the further in you go, the bigger it gets. Hence, the title of the book.

In an emotional range from deepest despair to wildest exhilaration, the story takes the characters and the reader through all the terrors and hopes of existence. Though the book is long and only intermittently a page-turner, it passes like a dream. Reading it is like going to Narnia and living for years only to emerge and find that no time has passed. All I can say is, take a week off and read this book.

(Little, Big is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. I am urging our buyer to stock it on the "back list" shelves, but for now you have to order it.)

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