Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales
About The Book
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.
First let me say that AC Birdsong’s Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales is completely and utterly out of my usual genre. However, I have fond memories of reading or being read Grimm’s Fables as a little girl and so this Book of Tales seemed in that vein, so I took the plunge. Overall, I thought it was an enjoyable read, especially something that “tweens” would take to. While the novel started slow, I seem to remember that Grimm did as well; it builds the anticipation, excitement and a bit of anxiety about what might happen next.
Jacob is a caretaker of magic, keeping it safe until it is needed in the world. He has an overeager apprentice, don’t they all, but Palmer has a darker side. Even though he is but an apprentice he thinks Jacob isn’t teaching him fast enough so he decides to trap Jacob as well as Lucy, the neighbor who was clearly in the wrong place at the wrong time, in a book of fairytales until Jacob teaches him all he knows; and I’m sure quickly at that.
In the book of fairytales the reader meets many strange, magical and intriguing characters, each with their own reason for being there. I was reminded of all the strange things Alice came across in Wonderland. Of course, while trapped in with the fairytales Jacob is magically transformed into a young man. While at first, I was disappointed, I wanted him to stay the teacher and mentor, the all knowing, but then thought perhaps he needed youth to save them both. That is what is wonderful about fables and fairytales is that you are never quite sure why characters are the way they are or why things happen the way they do, but they make you think and that is the magic of the genre.
It is now that the journey begins as Jacob and Lucy to escape the book of fairytales and return to the “real” world and to do so without allowing Palmer to gain any of the knowledge he seeks. To me this was the moral of the book, Palmer was flawed because he sought knowledge for personal gain; he lacked the character to ever follow Jacob as a caretaker of magic and that is an important lesson for a middle school reader and a great reminder for adults.
In the end, I truly enjoyed Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales and would certainly recommend it to kids, perhaps age 12 and up, depending on the individual child’s readiness for such a fantasy/fable-oriented book. It is an uniquely delightful read, at times funny and at other times one encounters an unexpected surprising twist. In the spirit of so many fantasy fables it ultimately evokes a lesson for the reader reminding them about the bond of friendship, the strength of courage, the destructiveness of selfishness and the responsibility each of us has for the consequences of our actions.
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.
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