I am just tickled to death to tell you, my dear readers, about this story. What makes me even more excited to tell you about it is that I, as far as my Googling skills have allowed me to determine, have read a book that few people within my little bloggy “neighborhood” have read. And it’s a GOOD one!
The story? The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton. Ladies and gentlemen, stop right now and click over to your library’s webpage, search for the title, and place it on hold. Then come back and let me tell you about it.
Done? Okay, good.
Here goes. The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic is the absolutely delightful story of a girl named Persimmony Smudge who lives on what all of its inhabitants believe to be the Island at the Center of Everything. Persimmony longs for adventure (imagine drawing the word longs out as long as you possibly can, with one arm placed longingly over your forehead, and you get the idea), but there is none to be had in her decidedly mundane life with her mother and her sister, Prunella. They keep house and make baskets all day long, and that’s about it. Persimmony’s father is missing and maybe even dead, but that’s all Persimmony knows. She can’t remember him, but she’s pretty sure that life would’ve been more adventurous with him around.
Well, adventure is what Persimmony gets in spades when she goes out in search of the old potter, Timothy, who can make her family another Giving Pot after she breaks theirs in a fit of temper. (The Giving Pot is quite the useful vessel, since it can give its owner exactly what he or she needs, but it is one of many magical elements that is somewhat peripheral to the main story.) Persimmony gets caught out in the forest in a thunderstorm, and in this forest live poison-tongued jumping tortoises. Fleeing from just one such tortoise, Persimmony falls into a hollow tree trunk, where she spends the night. Thus concealed, she overhears a conversation between a couple of Leafeaters–a conversation that might, in fact, be a plot to overthrow the king (or something important like that). Could this be the adventure for which Persimmony longs?
The plot of this story is somewhat complicated, with multiple characters, so I won’t even try to reduce it to a summary. However, let me say this: it’s the most fun I’ve had reading a book in a very long time. Candlenut (the town where Persimmony lives) is peopled by several kinds of fantastical creatures, both below and above ground. There are the aforementioned Leafeaters, creatures who are noble but serious at all times. They have a ceremony for every occasion, and they detest the Sunspitters, humans who live above ground. The Rumblebumps could be cousins of C.S. Lewis’ Duffelpuds. Worvil, Persimmony’s reluctant comrade-in-adventure, reminds me just a little of one of my favorite characters from the Narnian Chronicles–Puddleglum. Worvil has an imagination as big as Persimmony’s, but his often runs to disaster, not adventure. Even the selfish twelve-year-old king, Lionel the Lofty, is interesting, with a talent for mixing up words and phrases with hilarious results.
In this story, Trafton’s words fairly skip off the page at times, and she is a master at word-play. In fact, the very title of the book is a play-on-words of gigantic proportions. Here’s a little snippet to whet your appetite:
Guafnoggle [a Rumblebump] answered through his sobs, overwhelmed with grief and completely choked up with punctuation. “Wouldn’t, you? Be dead. . . if! you were; torn (in) half?” he said. “Everything is so: fragile.” (312)
I probably shouldn’t use that quote as my only example, especially since I know that weird punctuation is often off-putting to English nerds like me (and since this is the only such example in the book), but isn’t that funny? I think I’ve been “choked with punctuation” a time or two myself.
This book really isn’t all fun and games, though. There are messages to be had from it, among which is the idea that there’s more to this life than we might think. No, we’re not the Island at the Center of Everything. I think one could draw some Christian parallels here, too, if one were so inclined. The ideas might seem a little heavy-handed at times, but just when I would think that the message had gotten a little ponderous, a fresh whimsical breeze would blow through the story, and I could feel the burden of the meaning lift. Over all, though, this story is about hope, as the end of the epilogue indicates:
Every breath means another day, and every day is only a breath.
I could have told them, if they’d asked, that–
But never mind. The Lyre-That-Never-Lies has prophesied that, despite all appearances to the contrary, we will live happily ever after. And I believe it. (339)
If you like stories in the tradition of The Princess Bride, full of word play and cleverly funny antics, I think you’ll love this story. The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic would also make a great read-aloud selection. I think it might best be enjoyed by ages eight to twelve, although I do think my girls would enjoy it, even now. I think I’ll wait, though, so as to maximize the chance that they’ll understand the humor. As far as I can tell, this book was published in December of 2010, so I’m anticipating seeing it as a Cybils 2011 nominee. Highly, highly Recommended.
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