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Little, Big

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Overview

John Crowley's masterful Little, Big is the epic story of Smoky Barnable, an anonymous young man who travels by foot from the City to a place called Edgewood—not found on any map—to marry Daily Alice Drinkawater, as was prophesied. It is the story of four generations of a singular family, living in a house that is many houses on the magical border of an otherworld. It is a story of fantastic love and heartrending loss; of impossible things and unshakable destinies; and of the great Tale that envelops us all. It ...

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Little, Big

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Overview

John Crowley's masterful Little, Big is the epic story of Smoky Barnable, an anonymous young man who travels by foot from the City to a place called Edgewood—not found on any map—to marry Daily Alice Drinkawater, as was prophesied. It is the story of four generations of a singular family, living in a house that is many houses on the magical border of an otherworld. It is a story of fantastic love and heartrending loss; of impossible things and unshakable destinies; and of the great Tale that envelops us all. It is a wonder.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
John Crowley's Little, Big, winner of a 1982 World Fantasy Award, is one of the authentic masterpieces of modern imaginative literature. Painstakingly composed and elegantly structured, it is the sort of book that defies categorization yet lodges permanently in the memories of readers fortunate enough to encounter it. It had been unaccountably out of print for several years, but is again available in paperback.

Little, Big tells the story of Smoky Barnable, an anonymous young man from The City who marries Daily Alice Drinkwater, oldest daughter of a family which has a long-standing relationship with an ancient, powerful, and elusive race of fairies. Reaching backward to the early years of that relationship and extending outward into a bleak and inhospitable future, the novel chronicles the efforts of several generations of Drinkwaters to come to terms with their peculiar circumstances and to understand their role in the ongoing Story, which dominates and encompasses them all.

The beauty of the book lies in the elegance of its language, and in the precision with which the quotidian details of the characters' lives are played out against the slowly unfolding backdrop of their magical and mysterious destiny. Dense, complex, and richly allusive, Little, Big is not a book for the lazy or casual reader, but is, rather, one that demands and repays the closest attention. It remains, even after multiple readings, as vital, intricate, and interesting as the world, or worlds, it brings so vividly to life. Bill Sheehan

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061120053
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/17/2006
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Pages: 576
  • Sales rank: 99,193
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Meet the Author

John Crowley lives in the hills of northern Massachusetts with his wife and twin daughters. He is the author of ten previous novels as well as the short fiction collection, Novelties & Souvenirs.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



Men are men, but Man is a woman.
— Chesterton


On a certain day in June, 19—, a young man was making his way on foot northward from the great City to a town or place called Edgewood, that he had been told of but had never visited. His name was Smoky Barnable, and he was going to Edgewood to get married; the fact that he walked and didn't ride was one of the conditions placed on his coming there at all.

Somewhere to Elsewhere


Though he had left his City room early in the morning it was nearly noon before he had crossed the huge bridge on a little-used walkway and come out into the named but boundaryless towns on the north side of the river. Through the afternoon he negotiated those Indian-named places, usually unable to take the straight route commanded by the imperious and constant flow of traffic; he wentneighborhood by neighborhood, looking down alleys and into stores. He saw few walkers, even indigenous, though there were kids on bikes; he wondered about their lives in these places, which to him seemed gloomily peripheral, though the kids were cheerful enough.

The regular blocks of commercial avenues and residential streets began gradually to become disordered, thinning like the extremesof a great forest; began to be broken by weedy lots as though by glades; now and then a dusty undergrown woods or a scruffy meadow announced that it was available to be turned into an industrial park. Smoky turned that phrase over in his mind, since that seemed truly the placein the world where he was, the industrial park, between the desert and the sown.

He stopped at a bench where people could catch buses from Somewhere to Elsewhere. He sat, shrugged his small pack from his back, took from it a sandwich he had made himself — another condition — and a confetti-colored gas-station road map. He wasn't sure if the map were forbidden by the conditions, but the directions he'd been given to get to Edgewood weren't explicit, and he opened it.

Now. This blue line was apparently the cracked macadam lined with untenanted brick factories he had been walking along. He turned the map so that this line ran parallel to his bench, as the road did (he wasn't much of a map reader) and found, far off to his left, the place he walked toward. The name Edgewood didn't appear, actually, but it was here somewhere, in this group of five towns marked with the legend's most insignificant bullets. So. There was a mighty double red line that went near there, proud with exits and entrances; he couldn't walk along that. A thick blue line (on the model of the vascular system, Smoky imagined all the traffic flowing south to the city on the blue lines, away on the red) ran somewhat nearer, extending corpuscular access to towns and townlets along the way. The much thinner sclerotic blue line he sat beside was tributary to this; probably commerce had moved there, Tool Town, Food City, Furniture World, Carpet Village. Well... But there was also, almost indistinguishable, a narrow black line he could take soon instead. He thought at first that it led nowhere, but no, it went on, faltering, seeming at first almost forgotten by the mapmaker in the ganglia, but then growing clearer in the northward emptiness, and coming very near a town Smoky knew to be near Edgewood.

That one, then. It seemed a walker's road.

After measuring with his thumb and finger the distance on the map he had come, and how far he had to go (much farther), he slung on his pack, tilted his hat against the sun, and went on.

A Long Drink of Water


She was not much in his mind as he walked, though for sure she hadn't been far from it often in the last nearly two years he had loved her; the room he had met her in was one he looked into with the mind's eye often, sometimes with the trepidation he had felt then, but often nowadays with a grateful happiness; looked in to see George Mouse showing him from afar a glass, a pipe, and his two tall cousins: she, and her shy sister behind her.

It was in the Mouse townhouse, last tenanted house on the block, in the library on the third floor, the one whose mullioned windows were patched with cardboard and whose dark rug was worn white in pathways between door, bar and windows. It was that very room.

She was tall.

She was nearly six feet tall, which was several inches taller than Smoky; her sister, just turned fourteen, was as tall as he. Their party dresses were short, and glittered, hers red, her sister's white; their long, long stockings glistened. What was odd was that tall as they were they were shy, especially the younger, who smiled but wouldn't take Smoky's hand, only turned away further behind her sister.

Delicate giantesses. The older glanced toward George as he made debonair introductions. Her smile was tentative. Her hair was red-gold and curly-fine. Her name, George said, was Daily Alice.

He took her hand, looking up. "A long drink of water," he said, and she began to laugh. Her sister laughed too, and George Mouse bent down and slapped his knee. Smoky, not knowing why the old chestnut should be so funny, looked from one to another with a seraphic idiot's grin, his hand unrelinquished.

It was the happiest moment of his life.

It had not been, until he met Daily Alice Drinkwater in the library of the Mouse townhouse, a life particularly charged with happiness; but it happened to be a life suited just right for the courtship he then set out on. He was the only child of his father's second marriage, and was...

Little, Big. Copyright © by John Crowley. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

Introduction

Little, Big tells the epic story of Smoky Barnable -- an anonymous young man who meets and falls in love with Alice Daily Drinkwater, and goes to live with her in Edgewood, a place not found on any map. In an impossible mansion full of her relatives, who all seem to have ties to another world not far away, Smoky fathers a family and tries to learn what tale he has found himself in -- and how it is to end.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Who is Smoky Barnable and what brings him from the City to Edgewood? What kind of personal transformation does his relationship with Daily Alice Drinkwater bring about? How does their love for each other change over the course of Little, Big?

  2. Who built the house, and what is its significance to the characters in Little, Big?

  3. In Edgewood, animals talk, people disappear into thin air, and a set of magical cards reveals the progress of the Tale. How did you interpret these fantastical elements?

  4. How would you characterize the relationship between Daily Alice and her sister Sophie? Who introduces them to the world of fairies, and what role does each sister play in the final stages of the Tale?

  5. Dr. Bramble describes the fairy world to John Drinkwater as "another world entirely ... enclosed within this one ... the further in you go, the bigger it gets." How does the fairy world intersect with the real world in Little, Big?

  6. In Little, Big, old and young contribute equally to the progress of the tale. Discuss some of the contributions of the older characters (Nora Cloud, Violet Bramble Drinkwater, Grandfather Trout, Mrs. Underhill) and the younger characters (Tacey, Lily, Lucy, and Auberon Barnable).

  7. What happens to Auberon Barnable when he goes to the City to seek his fortune? Where does he live, who does he meet, and how is he changed by what he encounters? The story of Auberon in the City is called The Wild Wood. In what ways is the City like a wild wood?

  8. How do Ariel Hawksquill, the Noisy Bridge Rod and Gun Club, and Russell Eigenblick threaten the security of the world at Edgewood? What kind of political event do they hope to bring about, and how is that ambition ultimately frustrated?

  9. Who is Lilac Barnable? Discuss her uncertain paternity, her multiple disappearances, and the role she plays in this family's saga. What were your impressions of her character?

  10. What happens to the family at the end of Little, Big? How and why is Smoky's fate different from the others'? What becomes of Edgewood? What were your thoughts at the end of the novel?

About the Author

John Crowley was born in 1942 on an Army Air Corps base and grew up in Vermont and Indiana. A recipient of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, Mr. Crowley's works include Ægypt, Love & Sleep, Dæmonomania, The Deep, Beasts, Engine Summer, Novelties & Souvenirs, and, most recently, The Translator. He teaches fiction and film writing at Yale and lives in western Massachusetts with his wife and twin daughters.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 26 )
Rating Distribution

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(16)

4 Star

(3)

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(3)

2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 24, 2009

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    I Also Recommend:

    Its parts are greater than its whole.

    This book was one of the biggest disappointments I've ever had in reading a book, largely because of how high my expectations were going in. All the elements present in the story are things I love, and the first three to five chapters are some of the best prose fiction writing I've ever read. Crowley's plot involves a house that is many houses, a family plagued by a tacit agreement with fairies that are rarely seen but whose presence is always felt, a dystopian American near-future (featuring a farm, established out of pure necessity, in the middle of New York City), and a secret plan dating centuries into the past involving an obscure, Arthur-like sleeper. The opening chapters are so romantic, so fresh, so beautifully written that I bought the book without reading any more. I soon regretted this; and not for the usual reasons given for not liking this book: the plot is too slow, the book too long, etc. On the contrary: I love long books in which a reader can immerse himself. But past the second section of the book, the plot seems to unwind, getting stuck in places which don't ultimately have much to do with the Tale considered as a whole, nor do they really add much to the characters. In fact, a few sections, "Old Law Farm", "The Wild Wood," and "The Art of Memory" really could have been combined into one (perhaps two) sections without any significant detriment to the book; quite to its betterment, actually. Every line suggested that Important Events were happening, that Something Big was coming: but increasingly the only thing delivered was more promise. In view of this, the book's ending was far too ambiguous, too abstract, and so was not satisfying at all. Further, its tone was quite different from what one usually finds in these sorts of books, and not in a good way. Far from the bright romances of Lewis or MacDonald, or the aged formality of Tolkien, or even the smartly innovative modern fantasies of Neil Gaiman, this book was flavored by an odd New Agey antiquarianism that was quite puzzling. I love literary fiction, fantasies, and especially books which feature fairies depicted accurately to traditional folklore (as they were here). But John Crowley's novel, for whatever reason, foundered in the middle, and failed to deliver a story I could say that I liked more than just a little. I'd recommend other, earlier fantasies instead that had not only the high promise, well-woven characters, and dexterity of prose which Crowley exhibits, but also a gorgeous story as well.

    9 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2009

    This book is like an old friend you want to revisit.

    I lost my copy of this book over 20 years ago when my purse was snatched at a bus stop. I wasn't finished reading it and meant to replace it but wasn't able to. After a while I forgot the name of the book and the author. All I could remember was the family name "Drinkwater". After some searching I was able to find the book and ordered a copy. It was wonderful and I have already read it twice. While the plot is complicated and there are many charachters Mr. Crowley accompanies you through the story as if you are being welcomed by the Drinkwaters themselves. I am certain I will revisit it many times in my life and I highly recommend it. It is a delicious read that is hard to put down. John Crowley is a poet and creates world that is not altogether make believe but altogether delightful.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 20, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Unexpected treasure.

    This was either a birthday or a Christmas gift from my husband, I can't quite remember which, late last year or early this. I never would have heard about it otherwise, but I'm so glad he found it and thought of me when he saw this book. This book moves with fluidity like a dream, incorporating tarot, fae, and multiple generations in a wonderful experience of magical realism. I'd recommend it to most people who consider themselves more than the occasional light reader.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2005

    top 5 books of the 20th century

    A novel that defies genre, this is a perfectly-crafted novel that can be read again and again....

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2004

    Perspective

    John Crowley is quite likely the greatest living modern writer. His stories pull you through a world that is underneath the underneath. You linger through the life of a man who falls in deep love with a woman of sincere mystery. Yet, all the while life is normal. Or is it? John Crowley provokes not only the mind but the soul in a great rhythm of prose. As you linger in his world of what is real and unreal you lose track of which is which and soon it doesn¿t matter because though it is merely a novel¿you too will believe in the world he has conjured from beyond this realm. For life is must more than what is easily apparent.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2007

    Dreadful

    I enjoy fantasy and sci-fi, but I did not enjoy this book. After reading 200+ pages of this 500+ page, I stopped. The book was going no where. I could easily summarize to you in 5 sentences or less what has happened in the 200 pages I read. This book has no plot, and while Crowley writes very well and paints vivid pictures, the book is ultimately dull, dull, dull.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2007

    Absolutely the most beautiful novel that I've ever read!!!!

    Every praise that I could give John Crowley's Little, Big wouldn't be near enough. I urge everyone to rush out and buy this masterful book!!! You will not regret it, I promise!!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2004

    Magical

    If you want to fall in love with a group of characters this is a great book. The story takes you on a journey, where you loose track of exactly when or where the book is set. Although the story does evolve into something unexpected; overall it is a lovely read.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2014

    I loved this book!

    This book is a delightful little acid trip. It blurs the lines between the real world and fantasy so well that one finds themselves looking for a bit of magic after they've put it down.

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  • Posted February 29, 2012

    Beautiful--For a While

    The writing is quirky and charming. It's fun to immerse yourself in Crowley's prose. I dropped a couple of other books that I was reading to bask in this one for a few hundred pages, but after a while I went back to the other books for something a bit more nutritious.

    If you liked "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell", give this one a try. It evokes a wonderful world where nothing really happens.

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  • Posted August 13, 2011

    a favorite!

    It took a bit to get into but, once I did, it was magic.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 24, 2009

    AMAZING!

    I don't understand how the two previous readers could not like this book. I loved this book and it completely pulled me in to the world of the Drinkwaters from page one to the very end. It's magical, couldn't put it down!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2013

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    Posted January 8, 2012

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    Posted December 2, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2009

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 Customer Reviews

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