Little, Big (Book 1: Edgewood)

photo credit here

photo credit here

I live on a street called Edgewater. It has trees all the way down a gently curving path lying parallel to the river. I’m sure it has tunnels harboring unseen creatures who live hidden in the bramble. But, it doesn’t have quite the same aura which Crowley has created for Edgewood, the first book of Little, Big. I don’t have quite the same home that his characters live in, try as I might to establish one.

Take for example, the domicile of the Junipers:

“It was a white bungalow snuggled within bushy evergreens. Roses just blown grew up trellises beside the green dutch door. White-painted stones marked the path from the door; on the darkling lawn a young deer looked up at him immobile in surprise, and dwarves sat cross-legged on toadstools or snuck away holding treasure. On the gate was a rustic board with the legend burned on it: The Junipers. Smoky unlatched the gate and opened it, and a small bell tinkled in the silence…

The house was tiny and tidy and stuffed with stuff. An old, old dog of the dust-mop kind sniffed at his feet, laughing breathlessly; he bumped into a bamboo telephone table, shouldered a knickknack shelf, stepped on a sliding scatter rug and fell through a narrow archway into a parlor that smelled of roses, bay rum and last winter’s fires. Jeff put down his newspaper and lifted his slippered feet from their hassock. “Edgewood?” he asked around his pipe.

“Edgewood. I was given directions, sort of.” p. 20

I’d practically like to stay there, with Smoky, with the Junipers. But Smoky is on his way to Daily Alice’s house, named Edgewood, being careful to follow her great-aunt Cloud’s directions. He is to arrive on Midsummer Day, walking not riding, with a wedding-suit in his pack old not new, and food made not bought. If he needs a place to spend the night he must beg for it, or find it, but not pay for it. This is what Nora Cloud has read in the cards.

And why might Smoky follow such an odd order? Because he loves Alice, to be sure. But also because he has been invisible and anonymous until he met her. And then he became solid.

It all seems very serious and fulfilling, until we come to the marriage ceremony which I had to read over several times, smiling for the way it turned a typically solemn occasion upside down:

Doctor Word fluttered the pages of his book and began to speak quickly, his words shot through with champagne and tremblings and the harmonium’s unceasing melody; it sounded like “Do you Barble take this Daily Alice to be your awful wedded life for bed or for worse insidious in stealth for which or for poor or to have unto whole until death you do part?”

“I do,” Smokey said.

“I do too,” Daily Alice said.’Wring,” Doctor Word said, “And now you pounce you man on wife.”

Aaaah, said all the wedding guests, who then began to drift away, talking in low voices. (p. 64)

There’s only one nagging question in the back of my mind. When Smoky follows Alice out of the wood, after their marriage, he loses her for a moment. He comes to a house in the Woods, where Mr. Woods welcomes him and Mrs. Underhill takes out a single hot-cross bun on which is drawn a five-pointed star in white icing sugar. Five pointed stars have appeared before, but what is also curious is that Smokey sees the wet woods he had come through with Alice, and far off, Alice herself, within the doors of a tall wardrobe. How strange that a wardrobe should appear here as well as in C. S. Lewis’ works, a magical wardrobe through which one leaves to follow one’s dream. Or, to find one’s Destiny.

Find thoughts on Book Two: Brother North-Wind’s Secret, tomorrow. If you wish to leave links to your posts, or thoughts on any part of Little, Big please feel free to do so. I’m looking forward to seeing the parts you highlight.

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27 comments

    1. Isn’t it fabulous?! I loved it, too, and probably should have used that minister for my first wedding ceremony, the marriage of which turned out to be as bizarre as his address. 😉

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  1. I’m glad I’m keeping up…just finished book two. I think the reference to the wardrobe is completely intentional. There are also many references to Alice in Wonderland (such as the names of Smoky and Alice’s children in book two). Books and stories come to life in this book, which is one of the things that make it so much fun (if you love books anyway).

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    1. So glad to have you confirm that, Lory, and point out Lucy’s name as well. I’m not terribly familiar with Alice in Wonderland, never liked it much,mbut I see C. S. Lewis and Tolkien all over. Isn’t Underhill somewhere in Lord of the Rings? I can’t wait to read your thoughts when you post!

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      1. That is interesting that Crowley never read the Narnia books, but I’m sure he was aware of the wardrobe idea through the famous book title at least. In LOTR Underhill is Frodo’s pseudonym, as his real name of Baggins was known by Sauron. It’s also a part of Hobbiton.

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    2. It is likely that a number of references or associations that look like C. S. Lewis actually refer back to George MacDonald, Lewis’s great inspiration.

      Within Crowley’s novel, the other strange thing to come out of “a sort of wardrobe or armoire” is a bed, or an entire bedroom, Drinkwater’s invention, the “bedroom within a bedroom.”

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      1. I have George MacDonald’s book At The Back of The North Wind (I think that’s the title!) which I’ve been wanting to read for quite some time. As of yet, he’s an unfamiliar author to me, although I know that he did influence Clive Staples.

        Loved that hidden bedroom which Auberon and Sylvie enjoyed…until they didn’t any more. And how he’d say to her that he was working in his office. At a chair in the middle of the room.

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    1. I never saw Four Weddings and a Funeral, not being much of a film fanatic, but I’m glad the gag is included in this post, too. Who knew? 😉

      As for Narnia, how interesting that he is/was unfamiliar with the Chronicles!

      I am so glad to be reading this with you, Tom, and others. I know you will have important insights for all of us.

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  2. besides the wardrobe, the idea of becoming solid shows up in Lewis’ the Great Divorce in which George MacDonald is a character. In a literary critique text I one read the author reminded his students that all writers are readers.

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    1. Ah, my brilliant C. S. Lewis-expert friend! How interesting that George MacDonald appeared in The Great Divorce. I’m only familiar with Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters, and even those I don’t know as well as you. As for “all writers are readers” what a marvelous point! I knew those teaching experts I’ve read “stole” it from somewhere. Writing, reading, my favorite parts of curricula.

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  3. I am sad to say I don’t feel very tempted to go past the 10% my Kindle tells me I’ve read so far. While I can appreciate the music of the words and the originality of the story, I don’t feel very compelled to go further at this point. Maybe it’s because I’m reading something else that feels more interesting to me, maybe it’s because I am finally coming to terms with the fact that given the choice between great language and a great story I would go with the latter. I’m not saying Little, Big is not a great story but at this point I find it too mellow and slow going for my taste.

    Now, for the things that I did like: the names – this stood out for me, even though at first I didn’t get the Alice in Wonderland reference but reading what the others have said here, that may have been an inspiration for the story. I liked the challenge Smoky has to go through to arrive at Edgewood, it reminds me of a story in which a poor girl could marry a prince if she could fulfill his conditions – to arrive at the castle not fully dressed but not naked either, not hungry but not full, not walking but not riding either. Does anybody know the name of the story? I forgot.
    Also, I didn’t get the part where Alice met Smoky and how they saw each other before he came to marry her. Did they meet in a mirror??
    That being said, I think I’ll take a break from this for now. Perhaps it was not the right time to be reading it.

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    1. I understand, Delia. It is a rather complicated, although beautiful, story. I’m not sure I understand all the nuances myself, which is part of why it makes such a great shared read. There is much insight to be gained from others’ perspectives. But, if it’s not for you, you surely shouldn’t carry on. Thanks for trying it!

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      1. Thanks for the name, Tom. That seems to be the story I was referring to.
        The mirror part happens in the City, it’s told in a flashback as Smoky is on his way to the house. A man named Mouse introduced Smoky and Alice as far as I can remember but how exactly they met is not clear to me.
        Country Mouse vs City Mouse – I got a chuckle out of that. More and more I’m beginning to feel like this book is a big melting pot of familiar stories.

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        1. Smoky and Alice meet in a “A Long Drink of Water.” Smoky sees Alice in George Mouse’s sitting room. There is a glass in the scene, but it is the kind that is full of ice and booze. A bit later (“The Young Santa Claus”) Smoky goes to the downstairs bathroom and looks at himself in the mirror, then meets Alice on the stairs. Alice looks in a mirror at the beginning of Chapter II. There are certainly plenty of mirrors.

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          1. What is “A Long Drink of Water”, a place?
            I got the feeling Alice’s family lived more or less secluded from the world, so why was Alice in the city together with her sister?
            Yes, quite a few mirrors, it confused me, but your explanations help.

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    2. Do we have a textual difference here? All of the little sub-chapters within the numbered chapters should have names. “A Long Drink of Water” is the second named sub-chapter of “Edgewood,” Ch. 1. All of these names are also in the Table of Contents of my edition.

      The Drinkwaters, the sisters but also Dr. and Mrs., are in the City “‘when Daddy has business, or… other things.'” (Edgewood, Ch. I, “At First Sight”)

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  4. And here I find that posts on Little, Big are like London buses, you wait for them impatiently and then three come along at once!

    I am so woefully behind you all. I am still wallowing in Book 1. At the moment I’m reading about Auberon and thinking about the Cottingley fairies. I am a bit shocked that John Crowley has never read the Narnia books!

    ‘a big melting pot of familiar stories’ is a nice description! I have to say I missed the Underhill reference and the precise fairy-tale reference too, but I would say you still feel the hobbityness and the logic of fairy tale even if you don’t remember the sources precisely. Maybe that’s half the charm: you’re being pulled back into the memory of childhood reading, which is so powerful and absorbing, and that feeds into the current pleasure. ‘Pleasure’ is a word that Bellezza has used repeatedly about this book and it IS all pleasure!

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    1. Helen, it’s so nice to hear from you here! I’ve been looking forward to reading posts as well, since this novel has so much to discuss. Your post was particularly in depth and thoughtful. I’m so interested in what fellow readers choose to pull out from their time spent in Little, Big. I’m half afraid I’ll miss something; all I can do is write about what strikes me. And, most importantly, keep the pleasure of Crowley’s world from fading away.

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