Catherynne M. Valente on ‘Looking Glass Girls’


Friends, in between each bloggiesta task this weekend, I had the pleasure of reading The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland And Led The Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente. I loved the brief moments of whimsy it gave me between moments of hard work. To me, Valente’s books about the intrepid young September have staying power, and in a way, remind me of Alice In Wonderland. I asked Catherynne a little bit about timeless heroines and she graciously took the time to write up a post for me. I do hope you all take the time to read it because it’s utterly fantastic and well written.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland Catherynne M Valente Book Cover

Catherynne M. Valente on ‘Looking Glass Girls’

I loved Alice as a child. But I was very specific about my love: not Alice from Alice in Wonderland, Alice from Alice Through the Looking Glass. I secretly thought they were two different girls—Wonderland Alice chased a rabbit, but she didn’t know what would happen. She didn’t choose it. It wasn’t on purpose. Looking Glass Alice spent a long time thinking about the possibility of another world on the other side of that mirror, and then she chose to leave her own house and step into that world. She wanted to be a Queen. She moved through Wonderland not because she was desperate to get home, but because she had a goal. I loved Looking Glass girls. I still do.

But you’re right when you say that Alice has something of an agency problem. Things happen to her, she doesn’t always interact so much as let Wonderlanders run roughshod over her, she experiences, rather than struggles or battles the way we expect modern heroines to do. She is wonderful, but so dreamy and proper, becoming all the more proper as her environment grows more bizarre. Alice is very much of her time. She is a Victorian child, a female one, with the weight of a whole empire’s worth of cultural expectations on her.

I could never claim to have equalled Carroll—Alice will outlive us all. But in the Fairyland novels I have often tried to counteract the things I found troubling in the classics I loved when I was young: that Wendy must be everyone’s mother instead of killing crocodiles with the boys, that Dorothy prefers the Dust Bowl and the Depression over Oz, that an adult Lucy and her siblings are forced to become children again, during the Blitz, during WWII. That the best adventures, the highest virtues, seemed to be reserved for boys. When I set out to write Fairyland and September, I wanted in some sense to mash up those stories, make them something different, make them something that would have made me feel brave and good when I was small.

September is a heroine—though she would never call herself that—because she wants to be a heroine. She wants to have adventures and be daring and see marvelous things like dragons and witches. She wants magic and wonder, and she’ll go after it. She doesn’t know everything, not even close, but she tries to piece everything together anyway, find solutions. She does not assume anyone will come to save her. She will have to do the saving, if saving is to be done. And some of this comes from having a loving, strong, and smart mother, a mother who builds airplanes and plays chess and taught her daughter to rely on her own abilities—especially since September’s mother isn’t often at home anymore, with the war on. That was a deliberate choice—the vast swath of dead mothers in Disney films and fairy tales always seemed so sad and upsetting to me, like mothers had to be erased before the story could begin. I wanted September to have quality parents.

In The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, September sees the consequences of her deeds in the first book, and immediately sets out to make things right. She ventures into Fairyland-Below to fetch her shadow—all the wild and wicked and unpredictable parts of herself in one trickstery girl. She has to decide what it means to be good and what it means to be bad. She has to see herself clearly, as through a looking glass. Most heroines have to do that eventually. Alice, Dorothy, Clara, Persephone, Inanna.

I don’t know if September is a timeless heroine. She is also very much of our time, an intrepid girl who takes care of herself and hates injustices and believes she can do what needs to be done without waiting for anyone else to come along and rescue her. I suppose only time will tell. I know that I have always tried to make her a real girl, one who fights bravely and finds solutions and likes odd things like engines and books of fairy tales—and who also gets frustrated, impatient, says the wrong thing, gets lost and doesn’t know if she is strong enough for everything that happens to her. I have always tried to make her someone readers could see themselves in, someone who happens to Fairyland as much as Fairyland happens to her.

I would like to think she and Alice would get along, if ever they met in some distant forest, with a White Rabbit on one end and a Wyverary on the other.

Thank you so much, Catherynne. Dear readers, you can check out my review posting a little later today, but until then, why not enter for a copy of both Fairyland books. These are US only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Maybe you want to get signed copies? Well, you can check out Catherynne’s tour schedule here. Can’t get enough of Fairyland? Why not take a glimpse at this short story:  The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland — For a Little While by Cat Valente: In which a young girl named Mallow leaves the country for the city, meets a number of Winds, Cats, and handsome folk, sees something dreadful, and engages, much against her will, in Politicks of the most muddled kind. 

Follow Catherynne on Twitter.

Also, be sure to check out Cat’s website.

For more chances to win, why not check out the rest of Cat’s blog tour? There are some AMAZING blogs on that tour.

You can check out the book trailer which is VERY well done:

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April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.
About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. I loved Through the Looking Glass. When i first read it in college I was blown away. My favorite heroine would have to be Hermoine from Harry Potter. Even though she isn’t the big hero of the series, everyone knows that Harry would be shit out of luck without her.

  2. I ADORED “The Girl Who Circumnavigated…” so much. September was one of the biggest reasons why. She’s now one of my all-time favorite characters, not even just heroines.

  3. *Loved* The Girl Who Circumnavigated.. Have to go with Hermione as my ultimate favorite heroine – I am a Potter kid. This looks and sounds so good!

  4. I am really loving Middle Grade lately. I read Wonder by RJ Palacio and was blown away! I intended to read The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland. . . but I just never got my hands on it! Maybe I will win it!

  5. What a beautifully written post about September and Alice! I have all sorts of thought now about heroines, and seeing yourself in characters, and I’m that much more excited to read Revels. Thank you for sharing!

  6. I adored “The Girl Who Circumnavigated–” (listened to Catherynne’s own narration on audiobook – it was wonderful). My favorite fictional heroine is Anne of Green Gables – I loved that her imagination, creativity, and curiosity all helped her not only to navigate childhood but gave her strength as an adult. I do confess to being equally fond of Mary Lennox (from The Secret Garden) and Alice, though!

  7. AHH I LOVE THIS POST and the idea of looking glass girls! I’m seriously loving all the posts on the tour and become entranced by Valente’s words every time. I think one of my favourite heroines would be Ella from Ella Enchanted. Strong, determined, with her heart in the right place. 😀

  8. I love this guest post so much. But, to be fair, I love everything Cat Valente writes, it’s kind of ridiculous. This post even made me see through my hatred of Alice and maybe like her a little better. I think the best heroines are the ones who would never call themselves that, but still go off to do the saving. It’s hard to pick a favorite, today looking over at my bookshelf I’m going to have to go with Sorcha from Daughter of the Forest who endures all kind of crap because she only wants her brothers back.

  9. Oh, wow – I was so excited to see this posted today. I am such a rabid fan of Catherynne Valente and I’m so depressed that she’s not coming near DC on her blog tour. 🙁 I’m seriously considering driving all the way to Pennsylvania to see her. I just love these books – I think they’re destined to become classic children’s literature. I’ll be looking out for the rest of the tour!

  10. This post is making me want to read Through the Looking Glass. I have read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and am familiar with a lot of the other examples that are mentioned here. It is interesting how much these female heroines are forced into conventional roles, definitely something that I never realized. I really enjoyed reading this post and September does sound like a good heroine. I have not read the Fairyland books yet, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to pick them up now for my sister to read (and for myself).

  11. I haven’t read The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland yet, but I have it sitting on my nightstand, patiently waiting for the right mood to strike me and pick it up . . . I’ve heard nothing but good things about it!

    My favorite heroines would be Rose Hathaway from VA, Eve Dallas from the In Death series . . . pretty much all the strong, kick-a** heroines in fiction that I’ve encountered so far.

    And Emily from the Emily the Strange novels is pretty awesome 🙂

  12. My favorite is Hermione from Harry Potter. Thanks for the chance to win!

  13. I’m a big fan of Alice, and I must say I do love Alice’s adventurousness in the first book. She reminds me of Ginny Weasley, who is one of my favorite heroines. I think my favorite heroine of all time is Buffy Summers, but my favorite book heroine is probably Tamora Pierce’s Keladry.

  14. My favorite literary heroine would have to be Phedre from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series. I wanted to name my daughter after her, but my husband wouldn’t go for it.

  15. I love her distinction between the two Alice’s–that Looking Glass’s Alice made a choice. It’s such an important distinction.

    Favorite heroine? Wow, that’s a tough call. I think that answer would be different every day. I think today, however, my answer is Lyra from The Golden Compass. I love how much fire she has, and while she’s not always the smartest girl, she’s always got the most heart.

  16. alicia marie says

    Thanks for the great post! I think my favorite heroine would have be Tally from the Uglies series : )

  17. Jasmine Rose says

    I love Annabeth from the Percy Jackson series. She’s got the brains, but she’s also pretty awesome with a sword and she’s not afraid to kick Percy’s but, either ;]

  18. Favorite Heroine….current would be Katniss from Hunger Games or Hermoine from Harry Potter.

  19. I have to second someone’s opinion above–I adore Hermione from Harry Potter. It’s pretty obvious that without her Voldemort would’ve won in the final book. She did EVERYTHING.