that kind of a dream

Let him follow love.” Little, Big – John Crowley

When I mentioned to the author, John Crowley, that I was reading his book Little, Big I told him that I came to choose it for several reasons, one of which, was the title. I liked it. It reminded me of Little Big Man, a wonderfully strange book I read when I was pregnant with my third child, which reminded me of the other book I read at that time- War and Peace. I bring this stream of recollection up because as it turns out, Little, Big is the bridge between the two. No, I didn’t realize there was a bridge either, but there it is.

Little, Big, like Little Big Man is a fantastical tale, but like War and Peace it is an epic multi generational saga (including a very helpful genealogy tree) encompassing all the..little parts within and without the big. This was how my mind captured it at least, even if it was a slippery sort of tale at times. About half way into the book I happened to look at the spine and noticed a library sticker which categorized it as “Sci-fi Fantasy.” What the hell am I reading? I thought to myself. I don’t think I have ever read a sci-fi fantasy book before and was quite alarmed at finding myself fully engage, albeit accidentally, in one now.

“You will live in many houses, Mrs. Underhill had told her. You will wander, and live in many houses. She had wept hearing that, or rather later when she thought of it on trains and boats and in waiting rooms, not knowing how many houses were many or how long it took to live in one.”   Little, Big

I spent the next few days re-assessing the term. What does sci-fi fantasy even mean? Clearly I do not know. I can say that this book has the sort of oneiric quality that can leave one disoriented, grasping for a familiar matrix.  As a reader I don’t question this state of mind, I either:

a) re-read the previous paragraph or two to make sure it’s not me.
b) if applicable, look at the genealogy to make sure I know where I am.
c) keep reading.

“Forget a Tale is being told. Otherwise – oh, don’t you see, if we don’t know the little that we do, we’d never interfere, never get things wrong; but we do know, only not enough; and so we guess wrong, and get entangled, and have to be put right in ways- in ways so odd,”  – Little, Big

Keep reading. It is a long tale, but so wonderfully moving. My heart. It’s my heart that, after hundreds of pages, can feel so deeply for the characters. I love what and whom they love.

“The struggle was, as it had always been, to think rightly about what had happened, to come to conclusions that took in all aspects, that were mature; to be objective.” – Little , Big

Auberon’s attempts to make sense of and ineffectually free himself from his  broken heart is so beautifully and scrupulously detailed by Crowley that when my son (the very same third child referenced at the start) innocently played a song in the car in which the singer sang out to Sylvia- Auberon’s Sylvia! I cried.

“Why had he not known that love could be like that? Why hadn’t anyone told him? If he had known, he would never have embarked on it; or at least not so gladly.” – Little, Big

Little, Big is an enchanting, sibylline tale. I am not predisposed to take inordinate interest in fairies and magic, but in this odd tale it was hardly necessary. In a way they were just barely there and now over there and maybe it was something else altogether the way a dream is suddenly this and then that, but you understand that it is really none of these things and was always only this simple thing. It was only ever the Tale that came out the way it was meant to until it reached its end.

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8 responses to “that kind of a dream

  1. When and where did you meet John Crowley?

    George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” is a great example of how people who wouldn’t ordinarily enjoy Sci-FI really get into a well-conceived work of SF. The dystopian novel was first published in 1949, proposing what social and political conditions on Earth, or specifically Oceania; a reconstituted England, could be like if mankind allowed totalitarian regimes to dominate by the year 1984. By the time 1984 actually rolled around people remarked that although there were a number of misses, there were also a number of startling hits. Today in the 21st century, people have forgotten that Orwell’s old book is actually a profound work of science fiction.

    It is still one of my favourites.

  2. Oh, in that case I have read a sci- fi before. I didn’t realize 1984 was one. Who knows maybe I have read a myriad. I love Orwell. I had read that 1984, The Stranger and Bread and Wine are considered (by someone – according to the back flap of my copy of Bread and Wine) a sort of trifecta of sorts (English, French and Italian versions of the same meme. Only 1984 could ever be considered sci-fi I think, although… as I have amply demonstrated- what do I know?) . They are all really good books.

    But don’t you think that Brave New World is a more accurate reflection of today’s numbing “feel good” control mechanisms?

  3. This was lovely mostly because I still feel warmly clueless about what this tale would be about so to speak, while understanding that it doesn’t matter really what it is about….I especially can appreciate the 3 choices that a reader faces when they don’t know what is going on. I mostly get to that state when trying to read philosophy, as in Kant, or Kierkegaard, though it can happen in the middle of a Russian novel also. And I remember it happening when I read Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon 20 years ago. But like you say, relishing the free fall.

  4. I am honoured by your Follow at art rat cafe – thank you. If you are interested in exploring the now melting-together genres of SF / Fantasy / Speculative fiction – dip into “In Other Worlds” by Margaret Atwood. When I return from another short break I look forward to delving deeper into your site…

    • Oh geez, this is getting embarrassing, I have read a few Margerat Atwood books as well. Why, I am turning out to be quite the si-fi reader after all! I have not read the one you mention however, I will give it a look. Thank you.

  5. when people think of sci-fi &fantasy, they tend to think of the furtherest edges of it, with extraterrestrials etc, but the earliest stuff, esp the English writers like Huxley and Wyndham did stuff that was incredibly domestic and quiet – the perfect way to get hooked on it. They are the bridge between ‘normal’ literature and the outer reaches of it. Great post as always.

    • The error, is all mine. I think you are correct, I will only defend myself by saying this is exactly what is so tiresome about labels- how ill fitting they are more often than not. A good book is a good book.

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