“….September did not even wave good-bye. One ought not to judge her: all children are Heartless….Some small ones are terrible and fey, Utterly Heartless. Some are dear and sweet and Hardly Heartless At All. September stood very generally in the middle on the day the Green Wind took her, Somewhat Heartless, and Somewhat Grown.”

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
by Catherynne M. Valente is unique to say the least. It began life as a part of another book by the same author (Palimpsest), a book that only existed within that world, which then became a real book published online serially, available for free and only asking for donations in return, which then got picked up for print publication by a real live publisher. An amazing story in its own right, but the story the book tells is better.

Fairyland is both classic and inventive at the same time. It has an Alice or Oz feeling to it, a young girl in a strange land inhabited by even stranger creatures, on a grand adventure. But the wit, originality and twisted sensibilities (in the best possible way) of the writer make it something really special, standing on its own amidst fine company.

In this case, I’m not going to go into detail on the plot, there’s just too much to encapsulate in a paragraph or two, and besides, I want people to just go experience it for themselves – suffice it to say, September (the protagonist) makes a bold decision to leave her life behind, is guided to the otherworld, meets several companions, faces off against an adversary, and is changed. You can read the first two parts for yourself online at the link above, or wait until the print book comes out and have the whole thing. I read it as it came out, chapter by chapter, and am now eagerly awaiting owning my very own copy.

Valente is no stranger to the Girls Underground archetype. In fact, she wrote an essay that is the closest thing I’ve ever read to what I’ve been talking about all these years – Follow the Yellow Brick Road: Katabasis and the Female Hero in Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and The Nutcracker Ballet,” where she compares these three stories to the myths of Inanna and Persephone. It’s terrific stuff, and highly recommended for anyone interested in these patterns.

She also wrote a powerful essay called Choose Life which addresses, among other things, why the characters in so many stories like these seem to all want to go back to their boring, normal lives instead of staying in the fantasy lands they’ve discovered. I’ll admit, I’m always searching for those small percentage of GU stories where the girls choose to stay rather than return home.

“And so goeth Western protagonists, all of whom long to go home, escape the strange realms in which they find themselves, be they Dante or Dorothy. Their longing for home is a chief virtue, their rejection of the fantastic in favor of Kansas or Italy a valiant stance in the face of the forces of the Other, the false world, the shadows in the Platonic cave…..You must choose this world. Those who do not are beyond redemption.”