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Literature / Little, Big

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Little, Big: or, The Fairies' Parliament is a 1981 epic World Fantasy Award-winning novel by John Crowley. It tells the multigenerational tale of an eccentric family and its compact with the world of fairies. A lengthy, bittersweet story of familial love, double-edged inheritances, and loss, the book is a celebrated touchstone of the modern-fantasy genre.


Contains examples of:

  • Another Dimension: Faerie, which seems uniquely semi-accessible around the Edgewood mansion and its inhabitants. In the end, the surviving Drinkwater family becomes full residents.
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  • Arc Words: "The further in you go, the bigger it gets."
  • Badass Bookworm: Ariel Hawksquill is a one-woman brain trust for a cabal of the country's most powerful men ... and a redoubtable wizard.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For:
    • August makes a deal in exchange for true love ... only to learn that the emotions the fairies will manipulate to bring this about are his own.
    • Ariel casts a spell that will transfer her soul to a different host after her body dies. however, she fails to follow due diligence in ensuring the suitability (or species) of the body.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The family is brought back together in Faerie, but Smoky does not live to see it, Ariel is eternally trapped in a stork's body, and America will take generations to recover from Eigenblick's misrule.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: The fairies are not malicious, but their priorities are only mildly parallel to anything that humans are about. As in many traditional fairy tales, kidnapping, mind control, and destructive insistence on the letter of a deal fall well within their notions of "fair play."
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  • Brick Joke: At the very beginning of the book, Smoky's working as a clerk in the City, and notes that the computer can't tell which meaning of "St" to use, throwing up the Seventh Saint Bar and the Church of All Streets. Later, Auberon goes to the City, and it turns out the computer was actually right about the names.
  • Cards of Power: Aunt Nora Cloud's mysterious Tarot deck, with its unique "Greater Trumps," are an infallible (though often ambiguous) guide to the future.
  • Changeling Tale: Sophie's baby Lilac is switched soon after birth, with a duplicate whose creepifying nature soon becomes clear.
  • Court Mage: Ariel Hawksquill uses her unique arts of memory and divination to advise the "Noisy Bridge Rod and Gun Club," a group of the country's most powerful politicians and financiers.
  • Despair Event Horizon: After Sylvie's disappearance, young Auberon collapses into ruined, half-mad vagrancy.
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  • Door Stopper: The story's epic scope is fully matched by its page count.
  • Drugs Are Good: George Mouse's huge crumbling old townhouse in (what used to be) New York used to be a Middle Eastern shopping center back in the 19th century. Hashish was not only legal, but candy shops used to sell bars of it for a nickel. George still has a basement full of old and by now extremely good stock.
  • The Fair Folk: The little folk live in a world parallel with our own, but are only "little" from exterior perspectives.
  • Foreshadowing: All over the place. For example, when Auberon meets Sylvie family, the narrative notes she has so many nicknames that he often doesn't realize an amusing childhood story is about her. In the end it turns out the much-storied Oberon and Titania are him and Sylvie.
  • Friendless Background: Smoky Barnable has grown up following his ne'er-do-well father from town to town, from one anonymous hotel to other. Having grown to young manhood, he is virtually a social blank slate at the beginning.
  • King in the Mountain: The crusading Emperor Frederick Barbarossa has somehow been waiting centuries to return from death and rule over a new kingdom. Enter the mysterious Russell Eigenblick.
  • I Have Many Names: Sylvie's family has a wide array of nicknames for her, the most significant of which is Tita, as it eventually turns into Titania, as in, Queen of the Fairies.
  • Incest Is Relative: If you count cousins, George and Sophie. And, if he was right about sleeping with her mother, possibly George and Sylvie, but also possibly not. At the end it's also noted that the new monarchs of Faerie will, in their time, end up sleeping with some of their grown offspring - but being Faeries, presumably this is not as much of an issue as it is for humans.
  • Land of Faerie: More of a dimension than a clear-cut kingdom, Faerie becomes bigger the deeper in one goes.
  • Magic Realism: Until Eigenblick's wintry despotism begins, the non-Faerie Earth of the novel is essentially our present-day world.
  • Meaningful Name: Auberon is a variant of Oberon. Who he turns out to be. Also, almost everyone important to the Tale has a nature-themed first or last name (Violet, Sylvie, Mouse, Flower, etc).
  • Mysterious Past: Russell Eigenblick seems to come out of nowhere, and his powerful sponsors are too struck by his usefulness to question more deeply before cultivating him.
  • Oh Look, More Rooms!: This is true of the Edgewood house. Due to the building's already-large size and complex layout, it takes a while for people to realise this, which helps with The Masquerade.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Smoky's real name is mentioned approximately once. (It's Evan.) Daily Alice is also properly Alice Dale, but nobody ever calls her that either. And Sylvie, once she disappears into Faerie, is only ever called Titania.
  • Perpetual Motion Machine: The orrery in Edgewood, which is powerful enough to power the entire house when necessary. This is because it's powered by the actual movement of the planets via sympathetic magic.
  • Really Gets Around: August (the elder). After asking for power over women, he finds that what makes women attracted to him is him being attracted to them, and ends up sleeping with every girl of appropriate age in the towns surrounding Edgewood, leading to a great many illegitimate cousins.
  • Statuesque Stunner: The sisters Drinkwater, Daily Alice and Sophie, both tower over the respective fathers of their children. Smoky's initial impression of the pair is "delicate giantesses."
  • The Quest: Smoky is only allowed to marry into the family if he comes to Edgewood on foot, all the way from the City. His wedding suit must also be old, and he can't pay for food or lodging, only make, find, or be gifted it.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: The stork who works for Mrs. Underhill believes she is a woman who was transformed into a stork for some offense and will eventually regain her human shape at the end of the Tale. However, when she receives Hawksquill's soul upon the wizard's murder, she realizes she was always a stork—being turned into a Soul Jar gave her human intelligence, and the resulting confusion convinced her she was born human.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Smoky cheats on Alice with Sophie.

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