There is nothing quite like reading Little, Big, John Crowley’s epic and elegantly subtle fantasy novel about a New England family and their mystifying relationship with the Fairy World.
In language and style and vision, in action that veers from the curiously fantastic to the magically mundane, this book is unlike anything I’ve ever read, and something I’ll reread at least a dozen times more.
Reading it is akin to wandering in a haunted yet inviting autumnal landscape of tall grasses and warm winds; or getting lost in a mansion strewn with false doors and meandering staircases, or roaming through a garden with weathered statues, each representing a different hieroglyph from a forgotten alphabet.
Much of the book does takes place within the creaking walls of the mysterious and immense house called Edgewood — “not found on any map” — where a certain, nondescript young man named Smoky Barnable is summoned to marry the tall, beautiful and charmingly eccentric Daily Alice Drinkwater.
With their emerging and long-lasting love — and for my money it is one of the most charming, erotic love stories I’ve read in forever — comes interesting stipulations: namely, the Drinkwater family has, for nearly a hundred years, been entangled in the shadowy affairs of the Fairy World. So Smoky has to come to terms with the strangeness of this situation as well as with the turmoil in the world at large that comes to be centered on his own home of Edgewood.
With asides and allusions to E.B. White, Lewis Carroll, the Renaissance scholarship of Francis Yates, the tarot, Sufism, the history of Harlem, the aesthetics of Art Nouveau, and the notorious episode of the Cottingley Fairies, the book creates a complex world where the dark and the light often blend seamlessly and where love only comes with attendant losses and where nothing is as fantastic as the day-to-day rituals that keep us vital and sane.
What makes this fantasy novel different from so many others is Crowley’s deft reticence about lifting the veil too high on the world of the supernatural; although fairies and golem abound and tarot cards often predict harrowing winters and a certain intellectual president (bizarrely, in my opinion, presaging some uber-patriarchal Obama) might actually be the reincarnation of a long-dead emperor, Crowley never shows too much and the book’s beauty lies in its constant flow of insinuations, enigmas and half-revealed clues.
All that being said, this wonderful book is celebrating its 25th anniversary and to commemorate this event, it is being reprinted in a sumptuous, meticulously-edited special edition, complete with illustrations and an introductory essay from one of its biggest fans, Harold Bloom. According to the editor of the new edition, Ron Drummond, the reason for this new edition is simple enough:
“We want to fulfill the author’s dream of how the book should be presented, by creating an edition that in every respect, from beauty of design to accuracy of text to excellence of manufacture, will reflect all the artistry, insight, imagination, and care that John Crowley poured into every sentence of Little, Big. And second, we want to create an edition that fans of the book will cherish, an edition that is a joy to behold and to read, an edition made to last several lifetimes.”
This limited edition of Little, Big, which is slated to come out in August of this year, can only be bought on a subscription basis, an idea proposed by Crowley himself. The creation of the book, from illustrations to printing to distribution, will be paid for by its readers in advance, a notion that personally I find quite satisfying.
For collectors, for lovers of the book, for Crowley fans, for lovers of the fantastic in general and for people who want to participate in a collective act of literary and aesthetic commemoration, I can think of no better contribution to make than to the publication (and subsequent ownership!) of the 25th Anniversary edition of Little, Big.
(Sneak peak of the title page spread and a sample chapter here.)
(Also: John Crowley’s excellent blog.)