I just finished Carol Kendall’s The Gammage Cup which I’ve seen on lots of fantasy lists.  This was my second attempt to read it: I finished it and I’m glad of it.

The difficulty I had with it is that it begins as pure whimsy like Winnie the Pooh or Paddington Bear and then veers into a satire.  I have difficulty with satire because I feel that often becomes mean-spirited.  But Kendall has written the satirical parts with a generous spirit.

The story is of a small folk called the Minnipins who have settled in a fertile and beautiful mountain valley.  The only person in recorded history who has left the valley is Fooley who traveled in a balloon to the outside world.  The Minnipins have built their culture around the items that Fooley returned with (think Galaxy Quest).

Five misfits in the village of Slipper-on-the-Water have become aware that there is trouble lurking beyond their peaceful valley.

Of course no one sensible believes them.   For instance, among the five,  one has painted her door scarlet instead of the usual green.  They have other dangerous foibles:  one composes poetry; one digs holes looking for buried treasure;  and one wears an orange sashes in public!  The inexorable ostracism that these five undergo is a bit painful to read because they are so pitiable.

To me, this was an important passage:

“What I mean is,” she went on, “well, I don’t think it’s doors or cloaks or…or orange sashes. It’s us. What I mean is, it’s no matter what color we paint our doors or what kind of clothes we wear,

we’re…well, we’re these colors inside us. Instead of being green inside, you see, like other folk. So I don’t think maybe it would do any good if we just changed our outside color. We would still be…be orange or scarlet inside, and well, we would do orange and scarlet things all the time”

I think everyone feels a little orange-sashy from time to time, and this situation should resonant. The magic was suitable to the story and the world-building was delightful. Perhaps I would have enjoyed Gammage Cup as a child but I know that I appreciate it as an adult.

Apparently, she wrote several sequels. I think I’ll add her name to my TBR list.

Another take:  John C. Wright


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