Sophie was a dreamy person who luxuriated in sleep, spent more time asleep than awake, was forever falling asleep or catnapping, and dreaming interesting dreams.
Sophie slept so hard that faeries were able to sneak into her room one night and steal her baby, Lilac, leaving a changeling in its place. After that, of course, Sophie's sleep was stolen also.
I feel my sleep has been stolen as well.
I write this to you at 2 o'clock in the morning, after unsuccessful tries at falling asleep. My bed is comfortable and welcoming, but all the down comforters and feather pillows in the world will not quiet my mind.
So instead I will tell you about Little, Big, a book I judged by its cover, which in 1987 looked like this, green and sort of psychedelic and intriguing:
I reread Little, Big more than once during a magical part of my own life. It's impossible now to sort out the impressions of my Bohemian life in Santa Cruz from the things I read in Little, Big, impossible to tell which came first.
If you buy it from bookstores now, it looks like this:
It's about this family that lives on the threshold between worlds. Quite by accident, their house is a doorway between faerieland and our ordinary world.
The book follows several generations of family members who interact with the faeries in different ways. The children play with them, the teenagers seek their advice, the young adults strike treacherous bargains with them.
One man writes children's stories about them, another spends his time trying to capture them on film, while an old woman reads messages from them in a deck of special cards.
I am not a particular fan of faeries, or Elementals as they are obliquely called in the book. What entranced me about Little, Big are the images Crowley paints with his artful language.
Little, Big are both familiar and mythical at the same time. The author describes a marbled-cover notebook, a roadmap ("confetti-colored"), a peacock wicker chair, a brown cigarette and a swan-shaped boat--as if everything is an archetype. The City, for example. The Tale, for another.
Great-aunt Cloud's peacock chair, image courtesy of desiretoinspire.blogspot.comUnexpected words pop up in descriptions of ordinary things:
Image courtesy of childrensauthorbjlee.com
Image courtesy of childrensauthorbjlee.com
"The gregarious weeds that frequent roadsides, dusty, thick and blowsy, friend to man and traffic, nodded from fence and ditch by the way."
"The kitchen was papered with baskets of impossibly luscious fruit, blue grapes and russet apples and cleft peaches that protruded like bottoms from the harvest."
The house the family lives in, Edgewood, is intriguing to say the least. There is, for example, an Imaginary Bedroom and a Back Front.
"Hidden Cities" by Peter Milton who illustrated a fancy recent edition of Little, Big. Image courtesy of bioephemera.comThe Cathedral Bathroom always captured my imagination: a bathroom with great stained glass windows, where rays of colored sunlight would cast themselves on steam rising from a hot bath.
This guy Ricky Boscarino has a similar idea with his Luna Parc bathrooms, image courtesy of lunaparc.com
I love the way Crowley writes, although I never have found the same satisfaction in any of his other books, which are a little vague and indistinct (except Engine Summer, out of print now, is pretty damn wonderful. I'll tell you all about it sometime).
Crowley, as a writer, infuses ordinariness with richness in a way I don't know how to describe or emulate. Now that I have studied language analysis, I need to read Little, Big again, so I can read it like a writer and discover exactly what it is he does to produce this effect.
In one section of the book, the whole household of Edgewood is asleep and we, the readers, get to peek into their dreams:
"While the moon smoothly shifted the shadows from one side of Edgewood to the other, Daily Alice dreamed that she stood in a flower-starred field where on a hill there grew an oak tree and a thorn in deep embrace, their branches intertwined like fingers.If there were ever a book I wish to see turned to film it's this one. I want to see these things, these characters, these places, come to life.
"Far down the hall, Sophie dreamed that there was a tiny door in her elbow, open a crack, through which the wind blew, blowing on her heart.
"Dr. Drinkwater dreamed he sat before his typewriter and wrote this: 'There is an aged, aged insect who lives in a hole in the ground. One June he puts on his summer straw, and takes his pipe and his staff and his lamp in half his hands, and follows the worm and the root to the stair that leads up to the door into blue summer.' This seemed immensely significant to him, but when he awoke he wouldn't be able to remember a word of it, try as he might.
"Mother beside him dreamed her husband wasn't in his study at all, but with her in the kitchen, where she drew tin cookie-sheets endlessly out of the oven; the baked things on them were brown and round, and when he asked her what they were, she said 'Years.'"
But now that I've talk about them, envisioned them in my imagination, and now that it's coming on 3 in the morning, maybe I can go to sleep and dream of Daily Alice and Smoky, Auberon and Sylvie, Lilac, Violet and Cloud.
"A Fairy Tale" by Arthur Wardle , image courtesy of victorianweb.org.