Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales
by A.C. Birdsong
About Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales
On a small farm just outside of a tiny town lives Jacob, the last in a long line of Caretakers of Magic. His mission in life as the world’s only magician (in fact the only person who knows magic is possible) is to preserve magical skill in preparation for the day when magic is needed in the world. Other than what is required to train an apprentice, Caretakers aren’t to be practitioners, a tenet Jacob adheres to religiously.
Jacob has been teaching an apprentice, Palmer, for eight years. As a student, Palmer is a dismal failure, but this does not stop him from experimenting. Feeling that the pace of his instruction is unnecessarily slow, Palmer takes the little magic he knows, twists it, and uses it to trap Jacob and a young neighbor Lucy inside an old book of fairy tales (The Tall, Thick Book of Tales). Palmer refuses to release them unless Jacob imparts all magical knowledge to him in an instantaneous way.
From the moment of Jacob’s entrapment, Birdsong creates three interwoven storylines: Palmer’s dealings with the townspeople, who are searching for Lucy and quickly suspect Palmer for her disappearance; Jacob’s journey to escape, which takes him through scenes written into the book by Palmer, designed to harass Jacob and to speed his compliance along; and Lucy’s interaction with the book’s original characters, all magical themselves, trapped within the margins by Palmer’s spell, and are united in their desire to expel the intruders. Added to this mix are an enchanted bookworm and the fairy tales’ narrator, who have objectives of their own.
Readers will enjoy Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales. Birdsong skillfully mixes the real and the imaginary worlds with a lean and fast-paced style. A well-crafted and fun novel with colorful characters and great dialogue written for any fan of adult fiction and suitable for young adults and older adolescents as well.
Character Interview with The Worm:
Q: Tell us about yourself.
A: [Shrugs] Not much to tell, really. I was born as a mindless paper boring machine in a used book shop. Worked my way half through the store before I became enchanted into sentience when my host book, The Tall, Thick Book of Tales, was enchanted. That’s when I gained wizardly powers. Later the spell enchanting the magic book collapsed, and because I was present in that volume during the collapse, I merged with the basilisk, and that’s how you see me here. Still a wizard, but alas one with severe halitosis. So, pretty much a normal life, as magically fictional ones go.
Q: What do you mean in the book when you say "Tasty, but not as sweet as they claimed revenge would be?"
A: Well, we should put it into context. I had just met Jacob, who I thought was my benefactor (though it turned out it was not he), and was hosting him at my small retreat on the copyright page, when a bird flew by. I scooped the bird in mid-flight and ate it. It was rather tasteless in both senses of the word. But my comment referred to how sweet revenge is, since birds usually eat the worms, not vice versa.
Q: I see. What did you think about Jacob?
A: Yes, Jacob. On the whole, very well mannered, though he can be a bit abrupt at times. I thought the way he handled his naughty protégé was rather deft. Sadly, the way he handled his nice paramour was not. Still, a true wizard, whether he wants to believe it or not.
Q: What about Palmer? What did you think of him?
A: Ah, my benefactor. True genius corrupted by blind ego and impatience. I wish we could have conversed. A magnificent sense of humor, but absolutely no sense of repercussion -- a characteristic, I feel, he would have developed had he allowed Jacob to drum his lessons into him as originally planned.
Q: Drum. Cute.
A: [nods expectantly, antenna waving]
Q: Let’s move on. What’s all this about soul tasting? Isn’t that a bit ghoulish?
A: Why, there’s nothing ghoulish about it at all. I am very passionate about the souls of books, having tasted so many. As I revealed to Jacob during our first meeting, all books have a soul or they could not influence anyone. And they all tasted differently to me, let me tell you.
Q: What do they taste like?
A: As I say, all different. Too many to catalog. But, for example, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels tasted faintly of horse dung and human urine. Not unpleasant at all for a worm. On the other hand, Gertrude Jekyll’s Annuals and Biennials tasted strongly of slug bait. Can you imagine? The horror![shudders]
Q: Do you miss anything about being just a humble bookworm?
A: Only the perfect happiness of true ignorance. When you are driven by instinct alone, you don’t worry about anything. You just do or die. A bookworm eats its way through life, and dies shortly after it finishes its last meal.
Q: Who is your favorite original character from The Tall, Thick Book of Tales, your adoptive home?
A: [shakes massive head] The story characters. Well, I should say the basilisk, because I suspect by its merging with me it prevented my annihilation at the end. I should also say the queen Gwen, because she did the same for me at an earlier moment during the story by negotiating a truce between myself and them. But truly, that cantankerous barren old wizard, Merlin, has a certain endearing quality. So much like a eunuch in a harem, surrounded by a book full of magical creatures, possessing a great deal of magical knowledge himself, but unable to perform the simplest spell, because in his stories, he uses none.
Q: A wizard with no power?
A: [nods] He couldn’t cast a fishing line.
Q: [sighs] What about anyone within the novel Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales who lives in the outside world - basically Palmer’s storyline?
A: I have no favorites or knowledge of any, as I have few pre-enchantment memories which don’t relate to books. But near the end of the story, when the original characters attempted vermicide, I viewed the face of a terrified human giant. A huge, red-faced, square jawed, bulbous nosed individual, whose cold eyes were wide with fear. His mouth was a cavern, his massive jaw open wide, silver-filled molars sparkling in the half-light.
Q: You mean the sheriff?
A: As you say. I’d be entertained with his story, I’m sure.
Q: We all were. But besides the sheriff, who in the real world of the book would you like to meet most?
A: The bookshop owner of my pre-enchantment days, so I could shake his hand. His system of filing was exceedingly arbitrary, which made life a true journey. I’d find myself exiting SAE Screw Thread Tables and entering an Archie comic. He apparently was so lazy he’d just throw books on any old shelf. My early life could have been very different had he been more meticulous in his librarianship.
Q: Finally, If you could worm your way through any book ever written, which would you choose?
A: Why, Jacob’s The Book of Truth, of course. Now that I’m a fully magical creature, I believe my life span is considerably longer. That single volume contains all the magic books ever written. Palmer and Merlin are trapped there as well. And because no one can utter a falsehood inside, it will be a lovely, very long feast indeed.
A.C. Birdsong wrote the first draft of Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales during an unseasonably cold winter in Athens, Greece. “I spent all my time either writing the story or searching for a reasonably warm and cheap place to write it. Often this left me huddled near tepid steam heaters in dingy hotel rooms, and drinking endless cups of weak Nes to fight the cold. Eventually the weather turned, which was not only fortunate for me, but for Jacob and Palmer as well, because they probably would still be fighting it out inside that book otherwise.”
A.C. lives in Seattle, where people voluntarily allow themselves to be trapped in books on a regular basis. This is his first novel.