Monday, November 19, 2012

Toothiana: Queen of the Tooth Fairy Armies, by William Joyce

It is William Joyce Week here at The Jade Sphinx, as we celebrate two new books in his Guardians of Childhood series, as well as the release of the film Rise of the Guardians.  We’ll focus on the books today and tomorrow, starting with the prose novel Toothiana: Queen of the Tooth Fairy Armies before looking at the picture book The Sandman: The Story of Sanderson Mansnoozie tomorrow.
How is the third novel in the series?  In short, Toothiana is an unqualified delight – and easily the best of Joyce’s prose novels to date.  The book is written with Joyce’s customary insouciance and panache, an almost infectious sense of high spirits, fun and adventure.  Perhaps the best way to describe Joyce’s literary voice is to imagine, if you will, The Three Musketeers written by Soupy Sales and you get something close to the effect.  My only complaint is that once the book is done – I want more and I want it now. 

The book continues to chronicle the evolution of various figures of folklore dear to children and how they came about.  In short, the whole series is an origin story: once the entire 12 book series is complete, readers will know how such beloved icons as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, Mother Goose and Tooth Fairy came about.  In this installment, Joyce outlines the origins of the Tooth Fairy while moving forward the overarching serial-story of the Guardians and their ongoing battle against Pitch, also known as the Boogeyman. 

The story opens with North (Joyce’s Santa), Bunnymund (the Easter Bunny), Nightlight, the wizard Ombric and the girl Katherine (who, I suspect, will evolve into Mother Goose) celebrating victory over Pitch following the battle at the Earth’s Core.  They travel by rabbit tunnel now to the very top of the world, to visit the Tsar Luna, head of the Luna Lamadary, and his followers who worship the great focus of this fantasy universe, the Man in the Moon.  Once there Katherine looses her last baby tooth, which introduces Toothiana and her dramatic backstory. 

This tale is Joyce at his swashbuckling best.  Toothiana comes complete with invading monkey armies, flying elephants, and enchanted jungles as well as daring rescues and hairbreadth escapes.  It also contains some of Joyce’s most haunting imagery, including the notion that every baby tooth holds within it the memory of a child’s happiness.  Imagine, for instance, an entire flying machine made of children’s teeth, each holding within its pearly whiteness nothing but happy memories…. 

Joyce plants grace notes throughout that make for delightful reading.  One of my favorites is Down below, North’s elves ate plate after plate of jam roly-ply, noodle pudding, and sweet potato schnitzel, topping off the meal with elderberry pie and Bunnymund’s newest chocolates – a delectable blend of Aztec Cacao and purple plum – all the while asking North to describe the meals prepared by the Yetis (accomplished chefs all) at the Lunar Lamadary.  It seemed that being turned to stone and back again was a hungry business.  Or this throwaway: While the children were anticipating their first trip to the Himalayas, Ombric and Bunnymund were in a deep debate about which came first, the chicken or the egg.  Ombric believed it was the chicken.  Bunnymund, not surprisingly, believed it was the egg.  But the Pooka had to admit that he could not answer the question definitively.  Joyce also, as usual, has lots of fun with chapter titles, including the delicious: A Journey Most Confounding, with Flying Monkeys Who Smell Very Bad Indeed. 

Perhaps Joyce’s greatest achievement with this book is his conception of the Tooth Fairy.  His story of her past makes for affecting reading, and Joyce imagines the character into something of an emerald warrior, an almost crystalline vision of beauty concealing an indomitable will.  There are also notes of melancholy throughout, as Joyce flirts with ideas of loss, creeping adulthood and the sense that time irrevocably changes everything, and not always for the better.  These dark notes are never enough to overwhelm the willful giddiness of events and situations, but they are there and give the continuing story its heft and resonance.  Toothiana: Queen of the Tooth Fairy Armies is a triumph.

William Joyce Week continues tomorrow with The Sandman.

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