Little, Big: Weighing In

Artwork by Peter Milton.

I read the first book of John Crowley’s magnum opus Little,Big this week (my copy is a one-volume tetralogy) and my feelings about this 20th century work is a bit underwhelming at this stage. This probably has to do with the fact that it was written 40 years ago. Prose isn’t my wheelhouse but books aren’t written or paced the same as back then.

My expertise lies in dramatic works, specifically those penned for the big screen. Film and television have changed popular literature forever. Books move faster and are more tailored to the shorthand exposition that permeates the airwaves, gaming and the overall online experience. In other words Little, Big is a classical romance of epic proportions.

Now I will say (only a sixth of the way in, which is the first half of the first act in my view) that Crowley expounds upon a finer experience of reality than is usually encountered. So that fascinates. The throughline (at least this leg of it) has to do with the marriage of an unsuspecting human to a seductive faerie, Auberon’s granddaughter, no less.

Artwork by Peter Milton.

Auberon is the old English spelling of Oberon, aka, King of the faerie realm. He is best known for his role in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a comic tale tale in which faeries and humans interact. There IS a comic element to Crowley’s story, though it’s super subtle.

In this volume Oberon is a frail old man, which already says much because faeries don’t age as we do. They aren’t subject to the same natural laws or at least not in the same way. Crowley withholds the rules of this magic world. In the meantime, he weaves in multiple perspectives and timelines that are part of a much larger canvas. Enthralling yes, but it reads slow.

The number of characters is also vast, not the six or eight players you and I have grown accustomed to following. Neil Gaiman wasn’t joking when he said this is a work that’s too big for the heart and mind to hold. At present, I’m finding the narrative to be somewhat overly melancholy which is not what I hoped for. I might do well to take a cue from Shakespeare and adjust my own POV.

Still, it’s too early to make a judgment call. The mood will likely change, the plot will thicken and the author’s voyage into parallel worlds is, of course, very much in vogue today. Everything Everywhere All At Once in the human/faerie realm. More thoughts on this later.

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