This week I’m reading The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, the first in the Fairyland series, by one of my favorite authors, Catherynne M. Valente.
Catherynne M. Valente is of course the author of the kind-of-YA Six Gun Snow White and the most-definitely-A Palimpsest, among many other books. TGWCFiaSoHOM is well on the YA side of the spectrum, reading like a fable in a way that’s reminiscent of The Thief of Always or The Graveyard Book. Like those books, it has one of the most appealing opening scenes I’ve ever seen:
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. Because she had been born in May, and because she had a mole on her left cheek, and because her feet were very large and ungainly, the Green Wind took pity on her and flew to her window one evening just after her twelfth birthday. He was dressed in a green smoking jacket, and a green carriage-driver’s cloak, and green jodhpurs, and green snowshoes. It is very cold above the clouds in the shantytowns where the Six Winds live.
“You seem an ill-tempered and irascible enough child,” said the Green Wind. “How would you like to come away with me and ride upon the Leopard of Little Breezes and be delivered to the great sea, which borders Fairyland? I am afraid I cannot go in, as Harsh Airs are not allowed, but I should be happy to deposit you upon the Perverse and Perilous Sea.”
“Oh, yes!” breathed September, who disapproved deeply of pink-and-yellow teacups and also of small and amiable dogs.
“Well, then, come and sit by me, and do not pull too harshly on my Leopard’s fur, as she bites.”
September climbed out of her kitchen window, leaving a sink full of soapy pink-and-yellow teacups with leaves still clinging to their bottoms in portentous shapes. One of them looked a bit like her father in his long coffee-colored trench coat, gone away over the sea with a rifle and gleaming things on his hat. One of them looked a bit like her mother, bending over a stubborn airplane engine in her work overalls, her arm muscles bulging. One of them looked a bit like a squashed cabbage. The Green Wind held out his hand, snug in a green glove, and September took both his hands and a very deep breath. One of her shoes came loose as she hoisted herself over the sill, and this will be important later, so let us take a moment to bid farewell to her prim little mary jane with its brass buckle as it clatters onto the parquet floor. Good-bye, shoe! September will miss you soon.
By way of comparison, here’s the opening scene from The Thief of Always, which, coincidentally, also involves the name of a month. It’s just not also the name of a person, in this case.
The great grey beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive. Here he was, buried in the belly of that smothering month, wondering if he would ever find his way out through the cold coils that lay between here and Easter. He didn’t think much of his chances. More than likely he’d become so bored as the hours crawled by that one day he’d simply forget to breathe. Then maybe people would get to wondering why such a fine young lad had perished in his prime. It would become a celebrated mystery, which wouldn’t be solved until some great detective decided to re-create a day in Harvey’s life.
Then, and only then, would the grim truth be discovered. The detective would first follow Harvey’s route to school every morning, trekking through the dismal streets. Then he’d sit at Harvey’s desk, and listen to the pitiful drone of the history teacher and the science teacher, and wonder how the heroic boy had managed to keep his eyes open. And finally, as the wasted day dwindled to dusk, he’d trace the homeward trek, and as he set foot on the step from which he had departed that morning, and people asked him — as they would — why such a sweet soul as Harvey had died, he would shake his head and say: “It’s very simple.”
“Oh?” the curious crowd would say. “Do tell.”
And, brushing away a tear, the detective would reply: “Harvey Swick was eaten by the great grey beast February.”
Anyway, this is Teaser Tuesday, not Opening Scene Tuesday, so that doesn’t really count as the teaser for this post. Here’s the real teaser:
September smoothed the lap of her now-wrinkled and rumpled orange dress. She liked anything orange: leaves; some moons; marigolds; chrysanthemums; cheese; pumpkin, both in pie and out; orange juice; marmalade. Orange is bright and demanding. You can’t ignore orange things. She once saw an orange parrot in the pet store and had never wanted anything so much in her life. She would have named it Halloween and fed it butterscotch.
Hmm, I think September may now be my favorite fictional character of all time, just on the basis of her fondness for things that are orange. Of course, things that are cherry are good too. Especially if they’re lollipops, as in this bit from Father’s Books, where a reporter is trying to get some information out of a detective who also happens to be her dad:
Rose sidled over to her father. “So you don’t think this is a crime scene?” she said under her breath. “What are we talking about then? Suicide? Was there a note?”
“No comment,” Art said. Then: “You carry lollipops around now?”
Rose shrugged. “You want strangers to talk to you,” she said, “sometimes you have to give them candy.”
“Uh-huh.” He extended his hand. “Cherry, if you’ve got one.”
Well, you know how it is with detectives and lollipops …