A Story A Day: A Fairy, An Italian, and A Maaaaagic Bridge, OOOHHhhhh MMYYyyy

In this episode: less summary, more commentary, and Maaaaaagic with Susanna Clarke’s “Tom Brightwind, or How the Fairy Bridge Was Built At Thoresby”.

I don’t know how many readers of Susanna Clarke there are that might stumble on my blog, but if good taste was commonplace then at least one or two would find it directly.  Clarke takes the best elements of British literature, especially that crunchy leaf-dry humor, fries it up with a little Poe, and then adds her own touch of magical realism in a realm that just isn’t quite real.  The resulting mixture is always undeniable entertaining and engaging literature complete with filler footnotes, laughable caricatures, and just enough philosophy to make you think.

“Tom Brightwind…”  begins with that touch of Poe; Clarke even goes so far as to mention Blackwood’s Review as its first publisher, a magazine Poe satirized in his stories “A Loss of Breath” and, more conspicuously, “How To Write a Blackwood Article”.  This trope of establishing a real-world magazine to build credibility is used in many of Poe’s stories, and I’d be willing to bet Clarke is a fan, or at least well acquainted with the works of, with the crazy New Englander.  However, taking it a step further into the almost-reality she’s created in “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” (a book I HIGHLY recommend), Clarke cites the second publisher as Silenus’s Review, a magazine originating in “Faerie Minor”.  How perfect.  For those of you familiar with Poe, this is standard.  For those of you not familiar, check out his short stories “The Balloon Hoax” and “A Descent Into the Maelstrom” for a taste, and if you like those move on to his only novel, “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”.

This pseudo-real introduction ending in a mention of the Fairy Realm is the perfect segue into what this story is all about: the relationship of faeries to men (one of the claimed main goals of the whole story collection, “The Ladies of Grace Adieu”).  We are presented with two perfect examples of Human and Fairy to examine.  Tom Brightwind is a Fairy noble, complete with a self-obsession and innumerable family members that neither the reader or Tom himself can account for.  David Montefiore is an Italian doctor who lives in England that gets dragged into Tom’s adventures and tries to keep him from causing too much chaos in the human realm.  Now, there’s too much of this world already made for me to try and explain it here, but again, I would highly recommend checking out “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” to anyone who likes to read good books, and it’ll all be made clear there.  In short, there’s a fairy realm and a human realm, and while they rarely cross, the places that they do are bound to be full of interesting and anomalous happenings that most people never seem to notice.  Strange and interesting, yes?

I’ve decided to not try and spoil too many things, but if I’ve caught your interest, check out some of the stories I’ve mentioned above, or the one this article is about.  “Tom Brightwind, or How the Fairy Bridge Was Built at Thoresby” can be found in Susanna Clarke’s “The Ladies of Grace Adieu”.  It’s got a family of beautiful and rich fairy’s, kidnapping, intrigue, strange men in funny wardrobes, and a surprise twist where somewhere disappears on a bridge!  How can you not be interested?!  Well, if you’re not, then that’s OK.  Just be ready for tomorrow’s story: … well, the jury’s still out, but I can give you a hint.  Is it easier to shoot a barrel full of monkeys than a house full of them?




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