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Little, Big, or The Fairies’ Parliament

July 14, 2007

John Crowley’s Little, Big. Having typed that, I hesitate.  Go and read it.  It is the best book written in English in the second half of the 20th century.  It’s a very strong contender for best book written in English in the 20th century, period. 

Melancholy, vivid, painfully lovely; crammed to bursting with off-hand arcana from Little Sammy Sneeze (Winsor McCay’s predecessor to Little Nemo’s Adventures in Slumberland) to Frances Yates’ The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, from Thornton Burgess’s animal tales to Victorian cottage orné pattern books.  It gets better each time I read it, which is at least once a year for the last 20 years.  The title of this blog, in fact, comes from the book.

One of my favorite memories of reading Little, Big was seven years ago this month.  Joan and Little Sunshine were visiting in North Carolina; Baggy and Papa were visiting my sister, Legally Brunette, in Boise.  I was alone in the house.  (Sweet, rare words to appear in one sentence.)  Except, of course, I wasn’t quite alone:  there was a burgeoning Tuxedo Boy tucked away in my belly for the ride.  I was reading the elegiac, fantastically sad and beautiful last pages of the novel, and crying, as I do each time I read them:

“Came from his burial, none knew where but she, Daily Alice came among them like daybreak, her tears like day-odorous dew.  They swallowed tears and wonder before her presence, and made to leave, but no one would say later that she hadn’t smiled for them, and made them glad with her blessing, as they parted.  They sighed, some yawned, they took hands; they took themselves by twos and threes away to where she sent them, to rocks, fields, streams and woods, to the four corners of the earth, their kingdom new-made.

“Then Alice walked alone there, by where the moist ground was marked with the dark circle of their dance, her skirts trailing damp in the sparkling grasses.  She thought that if she could she might take away this summer day, this one day, for him; but he wouldn’t have liked her to do that, and she could not do it anyway.  So instead she would make it, which she could do, this her anniversary day, a day of such perfect brilliance, a morning so new, an afternoon so endless, that the whole world would remember it ever after.”

And as I read, tears running down my face and landing on the page, Tuxedo Boy jumped in my belly like a salmon heading upstream.  He flipped and rolled; he elbowed himself sideways across my stomach.  We made contact for the first time in our lives over the sorrows of Daily Alice.

All I can say is, read it.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. July 15, 2007 8:22 pm

    Wow! What an amazing anecdote! Thank you for sharing your love for this wonderful book, it comes through very powerfully.

    Best Wishes,

    Ron Drummond
    Publisher, Little, Big 25

  2. Melynda permalink*
    July 15, 2007 8:56 pm

    Thanks for stopping by, Ron Drummond! I’m counting the days till the publication of Little, Big 25–couldn’t quite afford the super-duper edition, but can’t wait to own my own slightly less luxe version. Thanks for making this miraculously cool project happen.

  3. Jo Fothergill permalink
    July 15, 2007 11:07 pm

    so – i’ve looked and looked online and can’t find anywhere in NZ where i can buy this book – it’s not listed in my local library either … however – it is listed in wellington central library and i have a meeting there late on thursday – so crossing fingers and hoping it’s actually there for me to take out … will keep you posted on my success or otherwise

  4. Jo Fothergill permalink
    July 19, 2007 2:20 am

    and we have success – i’m sitting here with Little, Big beside me … am heading off to bed shortly with it

  5. gimble permalink
    July 26, 2007 11:12 am

    For years, I’ve picked up every copy I could of this book – literally, I have probably in excess of twelve copies from different publishers and editions – hardcover, softcover, first edition, first trade paperback – it goes to show how obsessed I am with it. (I’d purchase Ron Drummond’s 25th anniversary edition if I had the $$$.)

    In the beginning, I acquired copies to lend out to people. However, Crowley IS (and you’ll hear this time and time again) a writer’s writer. You have to write to really appreciate his extraordinary gift of language. Otherwise, many are bored silly or find it just sails over their ability to grasp what’s going on.

    Clearly, you write. It comes through in your description of how this books has affected you.

    Glad to see that there’s another annual L,B reader out there. It’s about time to tackle it myself this year – but first, I must reread all of the Aegypt series before I tackle his conclusion, newly released “Endless Things.”

  6. melyndahuskey permalink*
    July 26, 2007 8:29 pm

    Dear Gimble,

    Thanks for stopping by! I love to find other L,B fans; as you say, lots of people just don’t get it. I think some of it is familiarity with the texts Crowley alludes to: the Thornton Burgess books, for example, were part of my childhood–and I, like Smoky, found them both comforting and rather dull.

    I’m looking forward to Endless Things, too. Maybe we can compare notes, once we finish it!

  7. November 10, 2010 8:56 pm

    I finished Little, Big this morning, having picked it up on your recommendation, among others’. Far as I’m concerned, it belongs on the same cumulus cloud as Gravity’s Rainbow and A Love Supreme. As I turned the last page, our infant son gave one of his wonderful laugh/moan/cry sounds that bubble up during happy experiences of perhaps too-great intensity – I think this time it was just the blinking lights of his playpen that set him off. He wants and needs more than any human being can provide, so my wife and I have learned, are learning, to become something more than human beings; I mean to say a Family, that elevated form, always new. This is who I am, I thought. I was at peace. Little, Big can never be my ‘favourite book’ – that honorific was given away a decade ago and can never be taken back or transferred – but it is pure, and perfect, and happily I’ll carry it with me as long as I live.

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