The Girl Who Drank The Moon, by Kelly Barnhill


My reading log entry for this book has notes scribbled in the upper left corner: “read this again, read more Barnhill.”

Sometimes I have the pleasure of finding something that feels like it has wafted in through my window, a strangely whole remnant of a dream. It tantalizes, and though it obviously operates on a logic I only comprehend on that precipice between slumber and wakefulness, it holds together. Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank The Moon is one of those books.

This is not to say that The Girl Who Drank The Moon is confusing or inaccessible. Rather the opposite. It is seductive, and it pulled me in as one might fall into reverie: never losing consciousness, but slowly melding from one reality into another without any clear boundaries between the two.

I admire this book.

I love the dreaminess of its fantasy, I love the elegance of its language and the way it presents its stories within stories. I marvel at how well Barnhill has tied conflicting accounts together, like strands of rope twisted against each other until they bind and form a stronger whole. Perhaps most of all, I love the ways in which this story eludes the expectations of a fairy tale while still being a fairy tale through and through.

I did feel that—at the very end—this story lost a little of the breath-taking elegance it had carried so effortlessly throughout. But that cannot detract from the story as a whole for me. It remains too good, and I know for a fact that any semblance of effortlessness is a beautiful lie made of hard work and considerable skill.

That’s why I’ve set this one aside to read again. That’s why I want to read more of Barnhill’s work. That skill, that sense of story, is something I admire and covet. I want to let it soak into my skin, let it become part of me as well.

I strongly recommend this book, especially if you’re looking for middle grade fantasy or fairy tales. I think you could probably delight younger children by reading it aloud. I know that it delighted me.


The Wind Rises: Touching and Troubling

Last night I went with my friends to see The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki‘s most recent film.  As an artistic creation, as a story, it is both touching and impressive.  Yet I found the story and the film’s romanticism, in the context of modern Japanese politics, to be unsettling.  It is a tale about an actual historical figure, but to the best of my knowledge is heavily fictionalized.  In other circumstances, with a different subject, I might feel less conflicted about the end result.  But while I love this film as a piece of art I’m still not sure how to feel about it in a wider context.  Let me explain.

As I would expect from a Studio Ghibli production, the movie is gorgeous.  More than that, there’s a dreamlike quality to the film that is both endearing and entirely expected.  This is heightened by the audio design, which uses a whole chorus of voices melded with more standard sound effects to produce the sounds of engines, wind, trains, and even earthquakes.  In many ways this softens the sound profile of the film, and leaves even moments of supposed reality still faintly surreal.

Appropriately enough, this movie tells the story of a dreamer, a boy obsessed with flight who is limited by his poor eyesight and finds solace instead in designing the machines that will fly.  He pursues his dream of flight with a singular devotion that puts others to shame, and as much as anything else this film tells the story of the joys of flight and the tumultuous path of following one’s obsessions.

But the person this film is about is more than an inspired dreamer; he’s also one of the leading architects of the Japanese Empire’s air force.  In many ways, he is the seemingly oblivious representation of Japan’s military expansion into the rest of Asia, along with all the suffering that that implies.  The film barely touches on this, preferring to focus instead on the majesty of flight and the joy of pursuing the perfect craft.

I am, of course, over-simplifying.  This is a movie about a man, myopic in his focus on the few things that truly matter to him.  It is less about history and more about one person’s (fictionalized) love and dreams.  We are treated to bittersweet romance, the joy of obsessions followed and realized, and the pain of knowing that all of the beautiful things that one creates will only see suffering and will likely never see times of peace.  Though there are moments of brightness, this is not a happy movie.  And despite its fictional nature and close connection with unreality, it’s a very real and human film.

So why am I unsettled?

Continue reading