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Literature: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland...
"Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents' house."

September, terribly bored of her mundane life in Omaha, is delighted when she's visited by the Green Wind and the Leopard of Little Breezes, who spirit her away to Fairyland. There, she takes on a quest for a witch to take her magical spoon back from the terrible Marquess, ruler of Fairyland. She gains great friends and allies in A-Through-L, a half-wyvern half-library crossbreed, a blue marid named Saturday, and many other residents of the land, both friendly and dangerous.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a children's and young adult fantasy novel by Catherynne M. Valente, with illustrations by Ana Juan. The novel started as a book within a book in Palimpsest. It was originally published for free online, but was finally put onto paper in May 2011. It deals with the adventures a young girl called September has in Fairyland. That Sounds Familiar, but the book provides a broad knowledge on folklore, and reads like a love letter to those odd Victorian classics with a twist of sardonic humor to them (such as Alice in Wonderland).

The book has spawned a series, which is projected for five books in all. A sequel called The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There was published in October 2012. A second sequel The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two was published in October 2013. A prequel, The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland—For a Little While, tells the story of the young girl who became Fairyland's Queen Mallow (and is full of Major Spoilers for the first book, so only read it after that one).

The Fairyland books contains examples of:

  • 0% Approval Rating: The Marquess. Everyone is too afraid of her power to do anything.
  • 100% Adoration Rating: Queen Mallow.
  • Abusive Parents: Maud's father.
  • All Just a Dream: Averted. Everything that happened to September in Fairyland really did happen, although many characters say it feels like having been in a dream in the end. But September still knows it all really happened when she returns.
  • And I Must Scream: In the second book we learn that shadows are intelligent creatures with their own wants, personalities, ambitions, and so on. Until Halloween took over Fairyland-Below, they were trapped attached to the denizens of Fairyland-Above, unable to speak or move independently.
    • In the third book, there is a new law stating Tools Have Rights. September believes this is completely silly, though she begins to wonder if tools can have wills when her Model-A sometimes runs and sometimes doesn't. As it turns out, the tools of Fairyland are the fairies that we haven't seen much of through three books, trapped as inanimate objects.
  • Became Their Own Antithesis: Mallow/Marquess
  • Black Magician Girl/Lady of Black Magic: The Marquess combines elements of these, having the body of a child but the manner of someone much older.
  • Blood Magic: The Tithe.
  • Body Horror: As far as you can go in a children's novel when September begins turning into a tree.
  • Broken Bird: The Marquess.
  • Came Back Wrong: A variant. The death involved is more metaphorical than literal. Mallow originally came to Fairyland an ordinary little girl who grew up to become a queen. When forced to leave, she desperately looked for another way in, despite no such way existing. It was only through turning her clock back—not at all unlike cheating death—that she could come back. As a very angry, bitter woman in a twelve-year-old girl's body.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The narrator comes right out and tells the reader that the shoe September lost will become a plot point later.
  • The Chosen One: The story flirts with this concept, but ultimately subverts it. The Green Wind points out that it was September herself who decided to go on a quest for Goodbye's spoon and all the adventures that followed; she could have done what other children do in Fairyland and had fun, but she didn't.
  • Classical Mythology: The Ravished—those who come to Fairyland by being stolen away and bound to Fairyland by eating the food—are covered in Fairyland's laws under the Persephone clause.
  • Coming of Age Story: September is right on the verge of puberty. Over the course of the books she grows up and grows a heart.
  • Creepy Child: The Marquess, who has no problems killing and threatening others and is physically twelve.
    • Halloween too.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: The Marquess's backstory is awfully sad and touching. In her life in the human world, her mother died when she was eight and she was abused by her alcoholic father. Then she stumbled into Fairyland, lived there for many years, fell in love and became a queen, and not by marriage, and became pregnant. And then she was snatched back into her dull world, all the ones she loved and who loved her in Fairyland gone, stuck with her abusive father and in a twelve year old's body, no husband, no child, nothing. Doesn't really surprise one that she became so bitter and full of hatred for Fairyland, first giving her so much love, and then taking it away again.
  • Deal with the Devil: September is tempted by a pair of shoes offered by the Marquess as thanks for going on a quest for a magical sword.
  • Distinguishing Mark: The mole on September's cheek. This is how people recognize her relation to Halloween and how Saturday recognizes their daughter.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: The whole reason for Mallow's Face-Heel Turn. When she returns to Fairyland, she finds that Fairyland has moved on and forgotten her.
  • Exotic Extended Marriage: The witches Hello and Goodbye are both married to the werewolf Manythanks.
  • Evil All Along: Not exactly evil, but the shadows of Ell and Saturday were always loyal to Halloween, not to September.
  • The Fair Folk: Interestingly lacking from Fairyland, though there are a few.
  • Fallen Hero: The Good Queen Mallow became the Marquess due to her anger at being returned to the mundane world. She still considers herself the hero.
  • The Fantastic Trope of Wonderous Titles
  • Faux Affably Evil: The Marquess can be all sweetness and light, but once you displease her she's going to hurt you.
  • Food Chains: September is warned not to eat any of the food in Fairyland, or else she risks becoming like Persephone. She fails to properly heed this warning, but it ends up working out for the best.
  • Forceful Kiss: Saturday's shadow does this to September in the second book. She dislikes it.
  • Freudian Excuse: for Marquess.
  • Gender-Blender Title: The Marquess. Technically a woman would be a Marchioness or a Marquise.
  • Genre Savvy: Most of the inhabitants of Fairyland have lived through or studied stories for so long that they recognize patterns long before September does, and even have formulas for conceivable plots. This results in frequent Lampshade Hanging to the point of Affectionate Parody.
  • God Save Us From the Marquess: The Marquess has no problem killing her subjects, stealing their possessions, forcing them to wear iron chains around their wings (which, for the fey, is very painful) or splitting Fairyland forever from the human world).
    • Played with in regards to Halloween. She does some cruel and terrifying things, and her non-shadow subjects are terrified that she'll send the Alleyman after them, but she is adored by her shadow subjects for giving them their own lives. The ending hints that with a way devised for the shadows and regular people to co-exist, Halloween can be a better ruler for everyone, and is left in power.
  • Growing Up Sucks: According to September. She is afraid that when she grows up, she will not be able to come to Fairyland anymore.
  • The Hero's Journey: September's path through the first two books, though her journey each time is very different.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: September sacrifices her shadow to save a Pooka girl's life.
    • Giving your life to protect the Green Wind turns that person into the Green Wind.
  • The High Queen: Mallow is remembered as being this.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: September is afraid she isn't special enough for the Green Wind to bring to Fairyland. Through the rest of the first book she wonders if she is brave enough to be a proper heroine.
  • I Know Your True Name: Knowing someone's true name gives you power over that person. September wasn't suppose to tell anyone her true name, though she never lied about her name when in Fairyland, until she finds out that the true name is actually a person's full name, which in her case would be September Morning Bell. She also finds out the Marquess's true name.
  • In Which a Trope Is Described: with chapters like "In Which a Girl Named September is Spirited Off By Means of Leopard, Learns the Rules of Fairyland, and Solves a Puzzle."
  • Insistent Terminology: Everywhere in Fairyland. Different creatures correct September constantly as to what they are and what they do.
    • September argues that witch food and dragon food is not the fairy food that she should beware. She's wrong.
  • Interspecies Romance: The Good Queen Mallow (human) and Mr. Map (who has wolf ears), September (human) and Saturday (a Marid), and Ell's parents (as he is supposedly a Wyvern/library hybrid).
  • Jerkass Has a Point: many things that Marquess says are logical, including the fact that taking away one's father, is much worse than taking away one's spoon.
    • While Halloween does many unsavory things (steals shadows from Fairyland Above, cuts shadows off of her own people, plans to force Fairyland Above to join the human world, etc), she does have a point when she argues that the shadows deserve to have their own lives, independent of the people they mirror.
  • Jumped at the Call: September happily climbs out of her window when the Green Wind comes to take her to Fairyland. In the sequels she not only continues to do this, but gets impatient for the way to Fairyland to open.
  • Kaleidoscope Hair: The Marquess uses magic to change her hair color at will.
  • Land of Faerie: Obviously. It's called Fairyland, it's a separate magical dimension from Earth, there are fairies though there used to be a lot more of them, and most of the monarchs we see or hear about are queens. However, it still feels rather more like The Wonderland, partly because fairies are so thin on the ground.
  • Legend Fades to Myth: No one knows quite what happened to Queen Mallow. Her reign ended so long ago that reports vary as to whether she died or disappeared.
  • Lemony Narrator: Common in Valente's work, but this is the most lemony one of all.
  • Loners Are Freaks: September didn't have any friends before going to Fairyland, and going only makes her stranger to the other kids.
  • Missing Mom: Maud's mother died when she was eight.
  • Mythology Gag: In a dream, Ell calls September "November" instead. He goes through October and December as well, but November is still his first effort.
    • The kingdom of Buyan makes a peace treaty with Fairyland in the first book.
  • Narnia Time: No time passes in the Human world for a Human in Fairyland, with occasionally cruel results like growing to adulthood in Fairyland and then being thrust back into an abusive family as a twelve-year-old. Adds a serious element of Fridge Horror to the more famous example of the Pevensies returning to England and becoming young again. The third book ends on a cliffhanger where it seems this has not happened and September's mother finds she is missing.
  • Nice Hat: The Marquess has a very fine hat.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: September trading her shadow for the Pooka girl did in fact save that girl's life. It also later ended up putting Fairyland in great danger.
  • Not So Different: September and the Marquess/Mallow.
    • In the sequel, Halloween argues this of herself and September. A specific example she gives is how both of them desperately want to save their father and bring their family together again. It makes sense, seeing as Halloween is September's own shadow.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Mallow, the name Maud Elizabeth Smythe assumes in Fairyland.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Ell is a wyvern. And half a library besides.
  • Our Genies Are Different: Marids. Djinni are creatures of the air, but Marids are creatures of the sea, and they can only grant wishes after they lose a wrestling match.
  • Parents as People: More serious, less zany. September comes from a loving home, but her father is away fighting in World War II and her mother works long hours in a factory. September holds it against them enough that she doesn't wave goodbye when she goes to Fairyland, though she regrets this later.
  • Punch Clock Villain: The Glashtyn. The Marquess forced them to pull the ferry under the river, but once free of her they are really nice.
  • The Quest: September sends herself on a quest for the witch Goodbye's spoon, and finds herself going on a much bigger quest for a magic sword and to save her friends.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Ell and Saturday, which is reflected in their coloring. Ell is loud and quick to threaten to burn things down if he thinks harm may come to September. Saturday is soft-spoken and gentle and hates granting wishes because he must wrestle and he's not allowed to hold back.
  • Rightful King Returns: This is what several denizens of Fairyland-Below believe will happen if Prince Myrrh awakes from his sleep. Subverted when the prince wakes up and, as September warned, he has no idea if he wants to be a king of anything.
  • Sequel Hook: On the last page of the first book, the narrator tells us:
    "All stories must end so, with the next tale winking out of the corners of the last pages, promising more, promising moonlight and dancing and revels, if only you will come back when spring comes again."
  • Shadow Archetype: Quite literally when Fairyland's shadows come to life. Shadows are the darker, hidden parts of the people they come from. Particularly Halloween to September.
  • Shout-Out: The narration mentions an orange book of Greek mythology that September is fond of. This is undoubtedly D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, which Valente has mentioned as one of her inspirations.
  • So What Do We Do Now?: The Stumbled—human children who find their way into Fairyland through side doors—are not allowed to stay. Eventually, whether after an hour or a lifetime, they have to go back to the human world and adjust to life there. Mallow did not take this well.
    • The Ravished—human children who are stolen to Fairyland—are not allowed to leave. Not forever. They make periodic trips back. Either way, there's secrets to keep for the rest of your life.
  • Someone Has to Do It: The winds.
  • Sorceress Queen: Queen Mallow was quite the skilled magician.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Jenny Chicory and Mabry Muscat, the former and current Green Wind.
  • That Man Is Dead: Mallow/Marquess. Though for a change, it is not entirely her fault. Rather the fairyland rules literally made Mallow disappear, though what happened aftewards is another story.
  • Threshold Guardians: The Sibyl in the second book guards the way to Fairyland-Below. However as September knows what she needs to accomplish instead of going on a grand adventure to prove something, Slant ushers September right on through.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: September has a weakness for pumpkin.
  • Traveling at the Speed of Plot: A-Through-L explains that Pandemonium, the capital of Fairyland, comes to people whenever it likes; therefore, people quite literally travel at the speed of plot, no matter what.
  • Twist Ending: And a really good one. It turns out that the Marquess wants September to lock the portal which connects the human world to Fairyland, supposedly so that no child can get lost again. To persuade September, she shows her a watch with September's name on it, which determines the time she stays in Fairyland. Then it turns out that it's the Marquess's watch, whose true name is Maud Elizabeth Smythe, and that it's she who doesn't want to return or let any other child come. Then she reveals her backstory, which is really interesting and touching.
    • In the sequel, the sleeping Prince Myrrh, who September had been hoping could overthrow Halloween, is actually the unborn child of Mallow/the Marquess, allowed to grow up after his mother was taken from Fairyland and forced into a child's body. It also turns out that the Alleyman is the shadow of September's father, who Halloween brought to Fairyland so she could protect him.
  • Woman in Black: The Marquess doesn't dress all in black, but her hat—which is a very fine hat—is also a very black hat and gives off this effect.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Maud, whose life as a hero and a great queen in Fairyland was cut short when she was sent back to the real world and her abusive family, so she sought revenge after being pulled back to Fairyland by her friend.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: September thinks she knows what to expect of Fairyland, but she is constantly proved wrong. This is lampshaded early on when she tries to figure out what sort of story she is in, and can't decide.
  • You Must Be Cold: September is given a velvet smoking jacket by a Green Wind in the form of a fine gentleman. The jacket is very eager to please and fits her immediately. Throughout the course of the story it becomes various things, mainly waterproofing for the titular ship, and lengthens into a dress when September loses hers.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: Mallow became queen by overthrowing King Goldmouth.
  • Youkai: Fairyland residents include tanuki, as well as tsukumogami, who have their own island.


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alternative title(s): The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making
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