Review: Little Big

Little, Big, John Crowley

Published 1981 by Harper Collins

562 pages


I was not actually going to write a whole post on this book, but I was trying to find a way to sum it up and I just decided it could not be done succinctly.

I was gifted this book at my 8th grade graduation by one of my dad’s business partners who I adore. However, 14 year-old Holly just could not get into this book, though it remained on my bookshelf all these years.

Little, Big won the World Fantasy Award in 1982, so I knew there was an element of fantasy coming, though it took a while to figure out the setting of the book. We are introduced early on to Smoky Barnable, who works in The City, and he is on his way to marry Daily Alice Drinkwater. He is given specific instructions for the wedding, so the first chapter finds him: “walking not riding to Edgewood, with a wedding-suit in his pack old not new, and food made not bought; and [looking around] himself for a place to spend the night, that he must beg or find but not pay for.”

At that point, I thought the whole book might be an epic quest to get to his bride, but Smoky does indeed succeed in his journey and he and Daily Alice are married. From there, we get glimpses into the past with Alice’s ancestors and into the future with stories of Smoky and Alice’s children, and all the while, the family remains and Edgewood and retains a special connection that the Drinkwater family has to the realm of magic.

You guys, this book is wacky. There is a fish named Grandfather Trout, and, eventually, the reincarnation of a Holy Roman Emperor. There’s a stork and a changeling and a folding bedroom and naps lasting for years. I still don’t really understand what happened – but I will say I have no regrets about reading this book, and I may even pick it up again in another 18 years or so.

Smoky also does not understand everything that happens in the Tale, but he does get some of my favorite lines:

“No,” Smoky said. “No, but there are things in the world that aren’t made up but which aren’t exactly true either, not true like the sky is up and the ground is down, and two and two make four, things like that.”


He had after all never been more than a minor character in that destiny, he had always expected to be left in some sense behind: but that fate had been for so long in abeyance, causing him no grief, that (without ever quite forgetting it) he had chosen to ignore it; had even sometimes allowed himself to believe that he had made it go away, by his goodness and acquiescence and fidelity, go away. But he had not. Here is was: and, as gently as she could consonant with there being no mistake about it, Alice was telling him so.

“Okay, okay,” he said. “Okay.” That was a code-word between them, meaning I don’t understand but I have come to the limit of my strength to try to understand, and I trust you to this point anyway, and let’s talk about something else.


  1. Usually I’d be turned off by a book that sounds this whacky, but it seems as though you enjoyed it and I really enjoyed the quotes you share. It sounds as though it wasn’t always clear what was happening, but that matave that’s ok.

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