The Great Good Thingby Roderick Townley
Sylvie has been a twelve-year-old princess for more than eighty years, ever since the book she lives in was first printed. She's the heroine, and her story is exciting -- but that's the trouble. Her story is always exciting in the same way. Sylvie longs to get away and/center>/i>… See more details below
Sylvie has been a twelve-year-old princess for more than eighty years, ever since the book she lives in was first printed. She's the heroine, and her story is exciting -- but that's the trouble. Her story is always exciting in the same way. Sylvie longs to get away and explore the world outside the confines of her book.
When she breaks the cardinal rule of all storybook characters and looks up at the Reader, Sylvie begins a journey that not even she could have anticipated. And what she accomplishes goes beyond any great good thing she could have imagined...
- Gale Group
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.70(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.70(d)
- Age Range:
- 10 - 14 Years
Read an Excerpt
Part One: Sylvie Looks Up; Chapter One
Sylvie had an amazing life, but she didn't get to live it very often. What good were potions and disguises if no one came along to scare you or save you or kiss you behind the waterfall? Week after week nothing changed. Years went by. The sparkles on Sylvie's dress began to fade, and a fine dust coated the leaves, turning the green woods gray.
Once in a while, it looked as though something might happen. The ground trembled slightly, then nothing more. People got used to these disturbances. King Walther scarcely noticed. He sat about playing cards with the goatherd. Even the wolves stopped lurking and just lay in the heat, panting like house dogs. It got so that one day Sylvie sat down on a stone at the edge of the lake and wept.
"Come on," she whispered fiercely. "Come on! Something happen!"
At that moment, a fan of light began opening in a corner of the sky, sending flashes of color across the water. Sylvie wiped her eyes as the woods brightened. A breeze flew through the treetops, knocking against branches as it went.
"Rawwwwk! Reader! Reader!" cried an orange bird, bursting into the air.
"Booook open!" groaned a bullfrog. "Ooopen! Boook open!"
Sylvie sprang to her feet, excitement and fear catching in her throat. How far had she wandered? A distant trumpet sounded, and the forest echoed with clumping hooves, flapping wings, shouting knights, fluttering dowagers, all racing to get to their places.
Sylvie had the farthest to go all the way to page 3 but she knew the shortcuts between descriptions and arrived, hot-cheeked, just as a shadow moved over the land and the face of anenormous child peered down on her.
She didn't care for the look on that face it was a boy with a pouty lip but she could spare him no more than a glance. Her dialogue began right away.
"Father," she said, "I cannot marry Prince Riggeloff."
Her father was breathing hard. He'd had to run in heavy robes from page 13. "Not marry Riggeloff?" cried the king. Sweat stood on his pasty brow. "For heaven's sake, child, he is handsome, rich..."
"Kind, brave," continued Princess Sylvie. "Yes, I am aware of his qualities."
"He has everything."
"So have I," the girl replied, dodging around an illustration.
"You don't have a husband."
"Nor want one. I don't want anything," she said, her green eyes flashing, "except "
But Sylvie, who had arrived at the top of page 4, never got to say what it was she wanted. A gob of strawberry jam hurtled from the sky and landed with a splot, just two words in front of her, spattering her blue shoes. She looked up. The boy was biting into a peanut butter sandwich. He wasn't even listening!
"Dumb story," he humphed and, without bothering to wipe away the jam, he slammed the book shut and tossed it....Well, Sylvie could only imagine that he tossed it, for she found herself and King Walther and all the courtiers spinning around, then bumping to a stop at a backward angle. They waited in darkness, but the boy did not reappear.
"Watch out!" came the high, scratchy voice of Pingree the Jester. "Get off of me, you lunk!"
"Sorry," sounded the basso voice of the king's chief councillor.
"If only you had as much wit as you have width!"
The backup lights buzzed and flickered and came on. The sky, a storybook blue, appeared through the castle window, and the ladies-in-waiting picked themselves off the floor and righted their chairs.
The king was rubbing his hip. "Are you all right, child?"
"I suppose so," said Sylvie.
"One of these days we'll get a real Reader."
She gave him a doubtful look.
"We used to have them, lots of them," he said.
"Father, we never had lots of Readers."
"Well, we had good ones. They paid attention."
Sylvie mumbled something.
"What was that, dear?"
"Don't say that. This is a book. We have to say everything."
"I said, maybe they found something better to do than read our silly story."
Queen Emmeline had been gazing critically in a mirror, poking at her ruined hairdo. "Sylvie," she said in her warning voice.
"Never mind," said the king. "She knows it isn't true. The sun shines. Readers read."
Sylvie had heard all that before. It didn't make her feel any better.
"We have a big responsibility," the king went on.
"If it weren't for us "
"I know!" The princess smoothed the folds of her skirt and started toward the edge of the page. "I think I'll take a nap, if nobody minds."
Queen Emmeline glided up to her husband and laid her hand on his arm as Sylvie disappeared in the direction of page 6.
She found a comfy spot on the left-hand margin beside the seventh paragraph and rested her head on "grandiloquent," the largest adjective in sight. As her head sank into the stuffing, the earlier thought returned: What if Readers really did have other lives, lives that had nothing to do with her world? The idea went against everything she'd been taught.
The sun shines. Readers read. She nestled down and yawned. Soon her breathing softened as she drifted into a dream about Chapter Four, in which she sets out on her quest to regain the stolen treasure. As always, the dream went pretty much the way the story was written. Following the thieves' trail, she rode her donkey into the forest. In a clearing she came across a great tortoise ten feet across which local peasant boys had somehow overturned and left to die. Dark birds stared down from the trees. Sylvie tried to help, but the tortoise was too heavy. She used a long pole as a lever and tied a length of rope to her donkey. With her pushing and the donkey tugging, the tortoise finally thumped over onto its feet. It looked at her several long seconds with its great reptilian eyes, then disappeared in the undergrowth.
Sylvie traveled on. In the afternoon heat, she heard a high clicking sound and the beating of wings. Ahead, in a thornbush, a large snowy owl struggled. The more desperately it beat its wings, the deeper the thorns pierced its body. Bright red lines worked their way down the white feathers. Then Sylvie realized (as she always realized at this point in the story) that the bird's eyes were white, too. It was blind!
"Shh," Sylvie said in a soft voice. "Hush, little one."
The owl grew calmer, and Sylvie was able to stroke its back. She held the quivering bird and gently pulled away the thorns. With a cry the owl exploded into the air, circled her once, and flew north.
At last, her petticoats hopelessly dusty, Sylvie arrived at the cliffs overlooking the Mere of Remind. The waters of the Mere were usually calm, but now something was churning up waves close to the shore. An enormous fish of some kind, she thought, trapped by the receding tide. She hurried down to the water.
"There, there, fish," she said, extending her hand over the thrashing waves. "If you will calm down, I will help you." She reached below the surface and felt the scaly back of a great sea creature.
She waded in, stroking the fish all the while. It blended so perfectly with the water, it seemed invisible. "Come," she said. She bumped into the dorsal fin and gently pulled on it, guiding the fish to a place where it could wriggle over a sandbar and escape.
"Now!" she cried. The creature heaved itself up, and Sylvie pushed with all her strength while sand flew everywhere. In that moment, catching the last sunlight, the fish's sand-covered body was briefly visible. "Why, you're as big as a drawing room!" Sylvie gasped. Then it slammed back in the water and was gone.
She watched the flashing waves grow brighter and brighter, till she had to shield her eyes. The distant cliffs were turning transparent. What was happening? Then came the sound of screaming birds, and a low grumbling.
"Booook open! Oooopen!"
Sylvie woke from her dream in a panic. The page was flooded with light. She started running, already late. A face was peering down into the royal chamber, where the king was chewing on the end of his mustache and looking around anxiously.
"Father-I-cannot-marry-Prince-Riggeloff!" Sylvie gasped as she raced out onto the page.
"Not marry Riggeloff?" King Walther beamed, relieved to see her back in place. Then he caught himself and harrumphed. "For heaven's sake, child, he is handsome, rich..."
Sylvie had to lean against the wall to catch her breath. Her hand rested on a suit of armor. "Kind, brave, yes, I..." The armor started to scrape along the wall. "Yes, I..." she made a grab for it and missed "know!" she cried as the armor, with a stupendous crash, landed on the stone floor. "No! No!"
One of the ladies-in-waiting fainted dead away.
Somewhere someone started giggling.
"He has he has," started the king. He cast a worried glance at the large woman lying on the floor.
The giggling grew louder.
"Everything, yes I know," Sylvie said. "So do I."
"And so do I!" her father exclaimed.
"Of course you do!" cried Sylvie. "You're the king!"
"Where am I?" The lady-in-waiting, a round woman in a bulging ball gown, was struggling onto her elbow.
Pingree the Jester hid his face in his pointed hat.
"And you're the princess!" shouted the king to Sylvie. He put his hand to his brow. "What am I saying?"
The laughter grew louder. Sylvie glanced up, just for a second, and saw a huge face in the sky. A girl, she realized, one she hadn't seen before.
"Ah-ha-ha-ha!" the girl boomed out, gripping the sides of the book till the castle shook.
The laughter died away. The new Reader had turned the page and found 4 and 5 stuck together. Sylvie forgot the number one rule of all storybook characters: Never look at the Reader. It was a rule she had broken before, but this time she just stared up at the Reader, a plain-looking girl a bit younger than herself, with short brown curls and a mouth too wide for her face. She was prying the pages apart.
"That Ricky!" the girl cried. Then she closed the book and left the courtiers in darkness.
"Oh!" King Walther sighed in despair.
"Disaster!" the jester groaned, flicking dust from his jingling cap.
"She may come back," said the queen.
Sylvie and her father helped pull the lady-in-waiting to her feet as the backup lights sputtered and blinked on. No one spoke, or even looked at each other. Two disappointments in one day, after years of sitting on an undusted shelf. It was too much!
Copyright © 2001 by Roderick Townley
One of the younger thieves stepped over to Sylvie. "Are you all right, Your Highness?"
She looked up in surprise. "Oh hello, Thomas."
He pulled a linen handkerchief from his sleeve.
"What's that for?"
"You seem to be crying, Your Highness."
"I am not crying!"
"Of course not."
"And save the 'Your Highness' for my mother."
Thomas bowed his head. "I'm sorry to have offended you."
Now Sylvie really did lose patience. "Thomas, you're a thief! A thief! That's the way you were conceived. Stop acting like a courtier!" Nonetheless, she did dab at the corner of her eye with the handkerchief. "Sorry," she said in a quieter voice. "It's not your fault."
"It probably is. A thief is usually at fault."
"Not this time. I messed up that scene all by myself."
"Yes, Your Highness."
Sylvie gave him a sharp look. "Thomas," she said, shaking her head, "why don't you go off and steal something?"
The servants were setting the armor against the wall when they noticed the breastplate growing brighter, then blindingly bright.
"Hey!" Pingree cried, jumping up on a chair. "They're doing it again!"
"Everyone to your places!" King Walther shouted as the roof lifted away and the girl's face reappeared above them. Her tongue was lodged in the corner of her mouth as she reached down with an enormous rag. Everyone dove for cover, the jester closing himself inside parentheses, Queen Emmeline wedging herself into a dependent clause, and Sylvie racing to the Acknowledgments page, where she disappeared among a dozen names, including the author's pets and several friends without whose help this book could not have been written.
The Reader wiped carefully at the strawberry jam. She squinted, licked a corner of the rag, and rubbed at the place again. It was not a pleasant sight.
That's the last time I walk through that sentence! thought Sylvie.
The Reader blew on the page, then began looking for where she'd left off. That took a while. It always takes Readers time when the characters aren't where they belong. Sylvie raced breathlessly through the undergrowth of description, emerging on page 3 just in time to blurt: "But I don't want anything, except "
The king, confident of his lines now, made a show of anger: "Except what, for heaven's sake? Speak!"
"Tell us, darling," said Queen Emmeline, gliding across the page in a shushing of silks. Her hair, Sylvie noticed, was perfect.
Sylvie blushed, but stood her ground. "I'm sorry. I can't marry anyone."
"What do you mean?" The queen's voice had an edge.
"I have everything, but I have done nothing. Before I marry, I must do one Great Good Thing."
"What sort of thing?" The queen's eyes narrowed.
"Don't you think marrying Prince Riggeloff is doing a great thing?" said the king.
"No," said Princess Sylvie. "Even if I trusted him, which I don't, marrying is what I do after I do the Great Good Thing."
"But this is absurd!" the queen exclaimed hotly. "You're twelve years old! It's time to think of marriage, not adventure!"
The princess could feel the cool shadow of the Reader overhead and hear her breathing. Story-book characters live for the sound of Readers breathing, especially as it softens and settles like the breath of dreamers. It gives the characters courage to go on through the most difficult plot twists. This Reader's breathing continued to accompany Sylvie right to the end of the book.
It quieted in Chapter Three, when Prince Riggeloff, embittered by the princess's refusal and desperate for a rich bride, sent his band of retainers and hired ruffians to rob the castle. The breath caught in the Reader's throat when the horrid man in the Cave of Diamonds demanded that Sylvie kiss the open wound on his forehead. The breath came and went, sighing, halting with fear, as she rescued the blind owl from the thornbush, and later as a great fish saved her from drowning by swallowing her, its body transparent as glass. Finally there was the short intake of breath, followed by a sigh, as Riggeloff met his horrible end, and the ancient Keeper of the Cave turned into a young prince.
Then the most extraordinary thing happened. The Reader murmured the final words to herself, gave a little hum, and turned to the front again. She flipped past the Acknowledgments and Contents and started over! Such a thing had not happened since the very earliest days, when a certain young person, a girl with dark blue eyes, used to peer down into the kingdom almost constantly. That was many years ago, a strangely exciting time. The girl would read the words over and over in a sort of whisper, surprised and pleased as if they were her own. You didn't find Readers like that nowadays.
The main characters were bone tired after their first full-length performance in years, but Sylvie rallied them by throwing herself back into her role. The others responded and soon were giving their best performance ever.
"Father," she said, and paused. There was dignity in the way she carried herself, her chin lifted, her voice soft but clear. "I cannot marry Prince Riggeloff."
King Walther seemed stunned. "Not marry Riggeloff?" He walked to the window, considering her words, then turned to face her. "For heaven's sake, child! He is handsome, rich..."
She lowered her head. "Kind, brave," she said, "yes, I am aware of his qualities."
"He has everything!"
The girl flashed him a look. "So have I!"
"You don't have a husband!"
"What?" came a voice from above. "What's going on?"
Sylvie glanced around at the ladies-in-waiting, imagining that one of them had forgotten when to come in. They were always forgetting their entrances.
"Where's the suit of armor?" cried the same echoey voice. Suddenly, everything was thrown on its side as the Reader began riffling through the pages.
"Where's the funny part?" They heard the voice somewhere above them as the cascading pages tossed them about. The Reader started opening and reading at random, trying to find the part that had made her laugh, but she could make no sense of what she read because the characters barely had time to arrive before she flipped to another page.
"Whatcha looking for, Claire?" came a boy's voice out of heaven.
The Reader stopped turning pages and held the book open against her. "I was trying to find something."
"You like that book? Princesses and all that stuff?"
Sylvie poked her head from a thicket of description.
"Why don't you read something real, like volcanoes? Do you know anything about volcanoes?"
"I know lots of things."
"I know how to read a book without slopping food on it."
"Anyway, what's so real about those treasure maps of yours?" said the girl.
"There really is treasure. I read about it in a magazine. They sent out this expedition."
The girl laughed. "I don't think they'd use your maps. You make them up and burn them around the edges to make them look old."
"So they aren't any realer than my book."
"You should try it, just around the edges. It looks neat."
"Are you crazy? What's this thing you've got with matches?"
"If Mom ever found out..."
"I just like to make things look old. Like parchment. Your book would look really neat."
"You want to burn the edges of my book?"
"It isn't your book, anyway."
"It is so. Grandma gave it to me before she went into the hospital the first time."
"You got any witnesses?"
"She gave it to me, Ricky. She called me into her room and gave it to me."
"Let me see."
"Keep your sticky fingers away!"
The voices were cut off as the book snapped shut. Darkness closed over castle and forest. Slowly, Sylvie stood. "Are you there, Father?" she called softly. The backup lights had not yet come on.
"Over here," came his distant voice. "Page 23, I think."
"Is Mother all right?"
"I wish Readers would be more careful. Her dress is ruined."
"Her dress is messed, the Reader's a pest, and that's no jest." In the darkness, Pingree's voice sounded like a scratch on black slate.
There was the usual buzzing sound for the backup lights, but only some of them came on. The king called for the mechanic.
"I'll be glad to fix it, sir."
"No, Thomas," said the king. "You're a thief, remember?"
"Thieves aren't helpful."
"Where would we be if we all started playing parts that weren't written for us?"
"I'm sure I don't know, sir."
"Sylvie, is it beginning to get lighter in here?"
"You're right, Father!"
"We're not ready!"
The book flew open, pages flittering, and stopped at the half-page illustration on page 35, the one with Sylvie riding inside the invisible fish to the bottom of the Mere of Remind. Sylvie raced over and slipped into the picture. It was one of her favorite scenes, and she wasn't surprised the Reader had returned to it. What did surprise her was the huge tear that fell onto the page like a great, warm jellyfish. She looked up. The Reader's nose was red, and her underlip quivered. Then she moved away and Sylvie could see only the ceiling of a room and a lighting fixture. Either read the book or close the book! she thought.
For several minutes the ceiling light stared down at them like an unforgiving sun. Finally there was movement in the room, and the girl returned. At least her brown curls appeared along the eastern horizon. What was she doing?
The book remained open. Just open. Sylvie waited a long time, listening to distant breathing. The fish twitched its tail expectantly.
"Excuse me," Sylvie said, climbing out of the fish's mouth onto a rock. She still couldn't see, so she clambered up the cliff near the top of the page. The woods lay to the east, as always, but beyond it there seemed to be more woods, a different woods. The sound of breathing grew soft and regular, and Sylvie realized the girl had fallen asleep.
"Sylvie, what are you doing?" It was her mother's voice from the page after next.
"Just looking around. Did you ever notice that forest over there?"
"You get right back in that fish, young lady! Do you realize the book is open?"
"Just a minute."
She was sure the other forest hadn't been
there before. "I'll be right back." She hurried along the cliff and down a sloping path into the woods. An orange bird screamed at her: "Reader! Rawwwk!"
"Oh, hush!" Sylvie said irritably.
Up ahead, the cool woods she loved changed into a different place altogether. The oaks and beech trees of her father's kingdom gave way to ragged palms and plants with rubbery leaves. Sylvie knew she shouldn't go farther. If it was against the rules just to look at the Reader once in a while, she could imagine what her parents would say about leaving the kingdom!
Yet right before her lay a world strangely different from the orderly land she lived in. Only a narrow strip of white, like a margin, marked the borderline, and a tropical breeze blew across it from the other side, carrying the heavy smells of flowers. Her obedience to her parents made her hesitate. They were probably wondering where she was right now. Still, when had any character had the chance to explore a Reader's dream? It was irresistible!
She took a deep breath. "Here goes," she whispered, and stepped across.
Copyright © 2001 by Roderick Townley
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