Little, Big

Little, Big

by John Crowley

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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062124043
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/22/2012
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 576
Sales rank: 132,820
File size: 1 MB

About 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.

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.

Reading Group Guide


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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Little, Big 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 51 reviews.
MLucero More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Skari More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A novel that defies genre, this is a perfectly-crafted novel that can be read again and again....
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!!!!
willowcove on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I LOVE this book. I don't want to ruin the ending for anyone....but it's a wonderfully, nice surprise. A very unique storyline.
JNSelko on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was truly a magical read- my oldest daughter fell in love withit also.
MeganAndJustin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A beautifully written book. I found myself stopping several times to re-read passages, thinking to myself, "that may be the best sentence I've ever read."
Gwendydd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a really amazing book. It's an entire fantasy novel about the denial of fantasy: about a family who live their lives with fairies, yet can never quite admit to themselves or to those around them that they do. The boundaries between worlds are incredibly permeable: house/forest, city/country, realism/fantasy. Sometimes as a reader you aren't quite sure what's happening, but neither are most of the characters in the book, and they accept that and move on with their fantastical lives. The writing is simple, yet incredibly evocative, and throughout there is a sense of wistfulness.I can't wait to re-read it - I imagine this is one of those books that will be about something completely different every time I read it.
rivenwanderer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book intrigued me, dazzled me, baffled me, seduced me, and infiltrated my dreams. Only appropriate, really.
CalStas on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Meh. I want to love it, I really do. Not even half way through, but if I had another new book to read right now, it would be difficult to continue with this...
SimoneA on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure how I feel about this book. On the one hand it is a wonderful, modern fairy tale for adults. On the other hand, some parts where a drag to read and I got a bit annoyed that the actual faeries stay so occluded. I think I have to reread this book to have a better opinion about this book, whether it is negative or positive.
dmsteyn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not an easy review to write, this. I¿ve been reading Little, Big for the last month, taking it slowly, as the book really deserves a thorough read. Despite that, I still feel like I should reread the whole book ¿ not because I didn¿t understand it, but because it is just such a rich, textured story. Although nominally a fantasy novel (it won the World Fantasy award in 1980), one would be hard-pressed to find any of the usual, well-worn fantasy tropes in this book. Crowley is such a shrewd writer that he can seem to aim towards typical fantasy narratives, but then swerve away from them, leaving the reader alternately lost, bemused and, finally, delighted. I¿m sure that many readers will, unfortunately, give up on the book because it can be difficult, in the sense that it refuses the broad way of genre fiction, rather taking the odd turn-offs and twisting paths that real magical writing demands.I feel a little daunted in writing this review because I read Roz Kaveney¿s review in the back of the Harper Perennial edition of the book, and I feel that I cannot possibly match it. I would advise anyone interested in Crowley or Little, Big to read this review if possible. Rather than trying to emulate it, I¿m only going to give a personal response to the book.So, let me just say this ¿ it is a brilliant, beautiful thing of art, this book. Some people have accused it of tweeness, perhaps because of the element of Feyness in the book. Admittedly, there are echoes of Lewis Carroll in the book, and it does contain trace elements of magic. But don¿t be fooled ¿ Crowley¿s writing can be deadly serious, and he doesn¿t mince words when it comes to heartache and disillusionment. The Faeries are there in the book, but they remain a fleeting, flitting presence for the most part, and when they do play a significant role, there is always an ambiguous quality to their doings ¿ they are neither benign nor inherently malignant. What they are, is Weird, in the good, old meaning of the word.This book is about a lot of things ¿ family, for one, America, for another. But despite these big themes, the book remains anchored on arresting and revealing character portrayals. We have the (apparently) main character, Smoky Barnable, who comes to the house at Edgewood near the beginning of the novel, and never becomes quite settled in his new life with Daily Alice Drinkwater and her extended family, a family that is closer to the edge of some surreal otherworld than is quite normal. Or safe. The novel follows Smoky and his family¿s adventures at Edgewood and in the unnamed City (modelled on New York), sometimes reaching back into the past to illuminate the present story.As someone who quite enjoys the speculative genre, I loved the book¿s complex relationship to the idea of fantasy writing. But that doesn¿t mean that one has to like fantasy to like this book. It is beautifully written throughout, and as Kaveney writes:The prose has a supple tough-minded energy, a luxuriance of conceit that renders the book full of lines and passages that have the air of being quotations from some famous book one has not read.There is also an inherent seriousness to Crowley¿s themes that lifts the book miles above the seemingly exhausted world of postmodern fiction. Although the book plays some metatextual games, these never burden it with too much ingenuity ¿ as Kaveney also says, `Crowley is not Joyce, demanding a lifetime¿s study.¿ Thank God for that. In the end, I felt, despite the niggling suspicion that I missed a few things along the way, that I still came away enriched and enchanted. And for that alone, I thank Mr Crowley.
librarianbryan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Much like Freedom this book has had me thinking. Little, Big is neither mind-alteringly transcendent; nor, is it¿s quality perplexing disproportional to its popularity. It is written very well and is very unpopular. This an equation that makes sense to me. The prose shine like Danny in the Overlook Hotel. And I love that, but this was the first book in three years of the 2nd Wednesday Book Club that I could not force myself to finish before our monthly meeting. And that meeting was a great one. Our discussion spilled out into email for days after. For some reason though this text was unsatisfying for me.Out of respect to the text and my fellow book club members, I forged on and finished the book. My original criticisms were assuaged somewhat. The sexualization of the teenage girls was more justifiable as they were more and more clearly associated with nymphs. Nymphs are sexual beings. Though male gaze is prevalent, overall the book is sex positive and I like that. We need more sex positive books. By the end many of female characters are elaborated upon and this was good, but the problem, the real problem was that the book would not end. I finished it but I had to force myself. Crowley establishes a tone and a world, a magickal tone, a magickal world, but once it is established the book goes nowhere. It is obvious though that going nowhere is part of the game, and there won¿t be a conclusion. This too could be great, an ambiguous pleasure/pain ending, but if getting there is torture it is not really worth my while. The ending too is not that ambiguous. The book just slowly deflates.A co-worker told me the he judges a novel by whether or not he will bother to finish it. I said I judge a novel by whether or not it turns my blood into starlight. Little, Big is wall-to-wall starlight. And maybe for me, it was a little too close to home, like someone sleeping in your own bed. Some of my book club members touted the book¿s many esoteric and occult references as linkages to Western literary left hand path, and therefore argued Little, Big deserves a place on said path. Sure, but that doesn¿t mean it was an enjoyable read.I¿m open to the possibility that there is a overarching structure, some formal resolution, but I missed it. As it stands now, the parts do not equate the whole, and the book fails its potential to be a profound gestalt portrait of the joys of domestic life imbued with an intentionality of spirit and the resulting love of the arts. (Magickal?) Or maybe this frakker just needs get his gnomes out of my heart.Book has the best demonic creepy doll scene ever. I wear the horns in waking life.
margaretplays on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of my very favorite books.
samfsmith on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An epic story about a family caught at the interface between two worlds - that of man and fairies. Or are they? The book is ambiguous. For much of the novel the reader and the characters are kept guessing about what is actually going on. Are there fairies? Do they mean harm or good? Is there a war, or not? Even after reading the book, I am still not sure what really happened. Like the world of the fairies, the book is ambigous and ephemeral.
armchairreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A dense, rewarding read. Full of fascinating references to myth, history, Shakespeare, architecture,and more. A book to read and savor. The plot tends to meander at times, but the detours are always interesting. The pace is slooow, but again, the writing is so rich, that isn't as frustrating as it could be. It also reminded me very often of my favorite book of all--Mark Helprin's "Winter's Tale", which is a much better book than this one!
Laurenbdavis on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A magical doorway of a book, whose interior, like the house where much of the novel is set, is larger than its exterior, by which I mean, its rewards and wonders are vast. Approach this book with trust and curiosity -- allow yourself to be seduced by the language, the whimsy and the intelligence. Wander through the chapters as you would a house full of fascinating oddities and intriguing people. A book over which to linger. You will certainly want to keep a copy in your library, since I can think of few other books that so clearly invite a second, or third, reading.
Jambyfool on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sui generis. A masterpiece. Indescribably beautiful. What more can one say?
BlankReg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of those great books that you can read again and again and always find something new or some new twist-- like a symphony. I especially love the fact that it defies genres-- or even the label "genre fiction" itself. Masterful and my favorite book of all time-- and destined, I'm sure,to stay at least one of my favorites.
irongoddess on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A flawed but brilliant fantastical novel, underappreciated but disproportionately influential on generations of novelists.
adzebill on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Contemporary American magic realism. An amazing novel, tarred with the ¿fantasy¿ brush, that you¿ll immediately want to reread.
TheFlamingoReads on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Confesstion time - I picked up this book simply because of the cover. The fantasy genre is not something I read on a regular basis - as a matter of fact, this may the first and only fantasy book I have or will ever read. Having said that, this sublime book is so beautifully written that I often wonder why I don't read more books like this. Then I realized that no other book could possibly capture the essence of what living amongst the fairies in the enchanted woods and the daily lives of those that can see them. Each character is artfully and carefully drawn and the whole story just pulls you in. I recommend this book to anyone who isn't sure they will enjoy something from this genre. I know they will be as pleasantly surprised and captivated as I was.
lawbird on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Little, Big is my favorite book and deserves to be counted as one of the greatest novels ever written. I recognize that Little, Big isn't everyone's cup of ... "twee," was it? And I know the resolution of the novel seem complex and obscure to many readers. I confess that it took me multiple readings to fully absorb what was occurring in the final 200 pages. But to my mind, the book is a masterpiece of both form and substance.Crowley's words paint pictures so vivid they stun you with their clarity and beauty. From the simple:"The screen door was old and large, its wood pierced and turned a bit to summery effect, and the screen potbellied below from years of children's thoughtless egress . . ."To the sublime: "While the moon smoothly shifted the shadows from one side of Edgewood to the other, Daily Alice dreamed that she stood in a flower-starred field where on a hill there grew an oak tree and a thorn in deep embrace, their branches intertwined like fingers. Far down the hall, Sophie dreamed that there was a tiny door in her elbow, open a crack, through which the wind blew, blowing on her heart. Dr. Drinkwater dreamed he sat before his typewriter and wrote this: 'There is an aged, aged insect who lives in a hole in the ground. One June he puts on his summer straw, and takes his pipe and his staff and his lamp in half his hands, and follows the worm and the root to the stair that leads up to the door into blue summer.' This seemed immensely significant to him, but when he awoke he wouldn't be able to remember a word of it, try as he might. Mother beside him dreamed her husband wasn't in his study at all, but with her in the kitchen, where she drew tin cookie-sheets endlessly out of the oven; the baked things on them were brown and round, and when he asked her what they were, she said 'Years.'"As to the story itself, Little, Big should be taken as two novels which, like Aunt Cloud's deck of cards, have been shuffled together into one great whole. On one level, the book is a fantasy novel about magical worlds known only to the Drinkwaters (or at least most of them) and their kin. On an equally important level, it is one of the most beautiful love stories ever told. The novel is suffused with joy and pain, all in the service of devotion and love. I could write pages and pages about the characters and how magical and heroic they would seem to me, even if the book itself were stripped of its fantasy elements. Which is not to say that those elements are anything but astonishingly beautiful.I know that not every book can appeal to every reader. But I think that Little, Big is one of those books that is so special, it will reward almost anyone who gives it a fair chance.