Little, Big

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For the album, see LITTLE, big.
Little, Big
Cover of first edition
(Bantam Books, paperback)
Author John Crowley
Country United States
Language English
Genre Fantasy
Publisher Bantam Books
Publication date
August 1981
Media type Print (Hardcover, Paperback)
Pages 538 pp
ISBN 0-553-01266-5
OCLC 7596266
813/.54 19
LC Class PS3553.R597 L5

Little, Big: or, The Fairies' Parliament is a modern fantasy novel by John Crowley, published in 1981. It won the World Fantasy Award in 1982.[1][2][3]

Plot synopsis[edit]

Little, Big is the epic story of the Drinkwater family and their relationship with the mostly obscured world of Fairy. It is set in and around their eccentric country house, called Edgewood, somewhere north of "the City" (implied to be New York). The story is dreamlike, quiet, and meandering, spanning a hundred years of the intertwined family trees of the Drinkwaters and their relations—from the turn of the twentieth century to a sparsely-described dystopian future America ruled by a sinister despot. The magical elements are subtle rather than overt, with only occasional glimpses of the fairies themselves, although their presence is felt throughout.


Turn of the century architect John Drinkwater begins to suspect that within this world there lies another (and beyond that, another and another ad infinitum, each larger than the world that contains it). Towards the centre is the realm of Faerie. Every time a generation or epoch moves deeper within these realms, another follows behind them, entering the realm they have vacated.

Drinkwater gathered his thoughts into an ever evolving series of books entitled “The Architecture of Country Houses”, although few readers grasped the point he was trying to convey.

Somewhere around the start of the 20th century, Drinkwater designed and built a house called Edgewood. It is later revealed that this house is a door through to the outer realm of Faerie. Edgewood is a composite of many different houses and architectural styles, each built over and across the others. It has the effect of disorienting visitors and protecting the family.

The beginning of the story joins a later generation of the Drinkwater family as they prepare for the marriage between their daughter Daily Alice and a stranger, Smoky Barnable. Alice has only briefly met Smoky during a prior trip to the City (a thinly disguised Manhattan). In the past, Alice and her sister Sophie claimed to see fairies when they were younger, although it is unclear whether this actually happened or if it was part of an ongoing game they call the Tale (it later transpires that the Tale is the living history of Faerie and the Drinkwater family’s connection to it).

The family ages and grows and Alice and Smoky have three daughters Tacey, Lily and Lucy and a son, Auberon. Alice’s sister Sophie also gives birth to a daughter, Lilac, who might or might not be Smoky’s illegitimate daughter. Sophie has inherited the gift of foresight from her Great Aunt Cloud, through an ancient and incomplete set of tarot cards. The family regularly consult them in order to find out about the such mundane matters as the weather or how soon a visitor will be arriving at the house.

The story moves forwards to the adolescent Auberon venturing to the City where he stays with his dissolute cousin George, who lives in a ruinous apartment block which he has converted into a farmstead. The City itself is near collapse and rife with crime and poverty. Auberon falls in love with a striking and vivacious Puerto Rican woman called Sylvie.

At this juncture, Russell Eigenblick, a charismatic but secretive politician rises in popularity and becomes the President. He advocates civil war but against what or who, is unclear. He is secretly opposed by a covert group of wealthy businessmen and politicians called the Noisy Bridge Rod and Gun Club. They are working with the mage Ariel Hawksquill, a distant relation of the Drinkwater family. Hawksquill identifies Eigenblick as the re-awakened Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and she divines that he has been called from sleep in order to protect Faerie. Although Eigenblick has not realised it, his enemy is mankind, who have systematically, though unknowingly, driven the fairies deeper and deeper into hiding.

Hawksquill also divines that Edgewood is the portal to Faerie and she travels there to see for herself. Whilst she is there, she steals Sophie’s tarot pack, recognizing that they are in fact, the map describing the route into Faerie. Hawksquill fears that Eigenblick will use them to ill-effect. She return to the City and informs Eigenblick about his true mission. But it is too late, the country has fallen into a state of civil unrest and a low key war is waging across the country.

The fairies, who can see the future but remember little of the past, understand the peril they are in but forget why and they prepare to go deeper into the realms of Faerie, however, this cannot happen unless the extended family of the Drinkwaters take their place in the outer realm.

On Midsummer’s Day, the family assemble at Edgewood (including Auberon and George who return from the City) and walk into the new realm (Daily Alice and Sylvie having gone ahead some weeks earlier to find the way). At the last minute, Smoky – who never really believed in Faerie - chooses not to go but is persuaded otherwise by Sophie. He attempts the journey but dies before he leaves the borders of Edgewood. The remaining family continue and thus the Tale is finally completed.

The book ends with a description of Edgewood slowly decaying and returning to nature.


  • Smoky Barnable - The novel's protagonist, whose marriage to the Drinkwater family is prophesied long before it occurs.
  • Daily Alice Drinkwater - Smoky's wife, Sophie's sister and Auberon's mother. She is likewise assured of her destiny from a young age by Nora Cloud.
  • Auberon Barnable - Smoky's son who eventually leaves for the city.
  • Sylvie - A Stateside Puerto Rican worker at George Mouse's farm, whom Auberon loves but loses in the City. Her and her brother's stories carry extended references to Lewis Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno.
  • Sophie Drinkwater - Alice's sister, whose child is stolen shortly after birth.
  • Violet Bramble - Ancestor of the Drinkwater clan. She is found to be pregnant shortly after her father becomes active in a Theosophical Society.
  • John "Doc" Drinkwater - Alice and Sophie's father.
  • Auberon Drinkwater - Alice's eccentric uncle. His attempts to record the existence of the Fairies is poorly received.
  • Grandfather Trout - A friend of Alice introduced early in the novel, who may have ties with previous generations of the Drinkwater family.
  • George Mouse - Smoky's friend who first introduces Smoky to his cousins, the Drinkwater family.
  • Ariel Hawksquill - A powerful sage who closely follows the rise of Russell Eigenblick. Granddaughter of Violet Bramble's first lover, Oliver Hawksquill.
  • Russell Eigenblick - The despotic ruler of The City late in the history of the family.
  • Aunt Nora Cloud

Literary significance[edit]

Harold Bloom included this work in his book The Western Canon, calling it "A neglected masterpiece. The closest achievement we have to the Alice stories of Lewis Carroll."[4] Bloom also recorded, based on their correspondence, that poet James Merrill "loved the book."[5]

Thomas M. Disch described Little, Big as "the best fantasy novel ever. Period." [6] Ursula le Guin stated that Little, Big as "a book that all by itself calls for a redefinition of fantasy".[7] In Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, David Pringle has described Little, Big as "a work of architectonic sublimity" and "the author plays with masterly skill on the emotional nerves of awe, rapture, mystery and enchantment".[7] Paul Di Filippo has said of Little, Big "It is hard to imagine a more satisfying work, both on an artistic and an emotional level".[8]

2002 Harper paperback edition cover

Awards and nominations[edit]

Release details[edit]

  • 1981, USA, Bantam Books, ISBN 0-553-01266-5, Pub date Sep 1981, trade paperback (black). Simultaneously published in Canada.
  • 1982, UK, Victor Gollancz, ISBN 0-575-03065-8, Pub date May 1982, hardcover (white dustjacket)
  • 1982, UK, Victor Gollancz, ISBN 0-575-03123-9, Pub date May 1982, trade paperback (white)
  • 1983, UK, Methuen, ISBN 0-413-51350-5, Pub date 1983, mass market paperback.
  • 1983, USA, Bantam Books, ISBN 0-553-23337-8, Pub date Oct 1983, mass market paperback. Yvonne Gilbert (front cover illustrator)
  • 1986, UK, Methuen, ISBN 0-413-51350-5, Pub date Nov 1986, mass market paperback.
  • 1987, USA, Bantam Books, ISBN 0-553-26586-5, Pub date Apr 1987, mass market paperback.
  • 1990, USA, Bantam Books, ISBN 0-553-26586-5, Pub date Nov 1990, mass market paperback. Tom Canty (front cover illustrator)
  • 1994, USA, Bantam, ISBN 0-553-37397-8, Pub date Sep 1994, hardcover. Gary A. Lippincott (illustrator)
  • 1997, USA, Easton Press Masterpieces of Fantasy, hardcover.
  • 1997, USA, Bantam /Science Fiction Book Club, ISBN 1-56865-429-4, Pub date Aug 1997, hardcover. Gary A. Lippincott (illustrator)
  • 2000, UK, Orion Books, ISBN 1-85798-711-X, Pub date May 2000, trade paperback, volume 5 of the Fantasy Masterworks series[10]
  • 2002, USA, Harper Perennial, ISBN 0-06-093793-9, Pub date Mar 2002, trade paperback.
  • 2006, USA, Harper Perennial Modern Classics, ISBN 0-06-112005-7, Pub date Oct 2006, trade paperback.
  • 2011, USA, Blackstone Audio, ISBN 978-1-4417-3392-4 (CD) and ISBN 978-1-4417-3395-5 (MP3-CD), Pub date 15 Dec 2011, audiobook. Read by the author, reading from the "Author's Preferred Text" created for the Incunabula edition.

A museum-quality new edition, designed in accordance with the author's idea of how the book should be presented and with a newly edited, corrected, restored, and revised text, has been in production for a decade at Incunabula, a small press in Seattle. The edition will include reproductions of the artwork of Peter Milton and an afterword by Harold Bloom.[11] Originally slated for Spring 2007, the edition had not yet been published as of February 2017.


  1. ^ a b c d e "1982 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 24 September 2009. 
  2. ^ "1982 World Fantasy Awards". The Locus Index to SF Awards. Retrieved 9 July 2011. 
  3. ^ "1982 World Fantasy Award Winners and Nominees". World Fantasy Convention. Retrieved 9 July 2011. 
  4. ^ "Their Favorite Obscure Books", Susan Orlean, The Village Voice, December 2, 2008
  5. ^ Bloom, Harold (2003). "Preface to Snake's-Hands". In Turner, Alice K.; Andre-Driussi, Michael. Snake's-Hands: The Fiction of John Crowley. [Canton, OH]: Cosmos Books. p. 10. ISBN 1-58715-509-5. 
  6. ^ Thomas M. Disch, "13 Great Works of Fantasy from the Last 13 Years", in Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine, July–August 1983 . TZ Publications, Inc. (p. 61)
  7. ^ a b David Pringle, Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, An English-Language Selection, 1946-1987, David Pringle. London, Grafton Books, 1988 ISBN 0-246-13214-0 (p. 211-13)
  8. ^ Paul Di Filippo, "Crowley, John (William)" in St. James Guide To Fantasy Writers, ed. David Pringle, London, St. James Press, 1996, ISBN 1-55862-205-5, (pp. 133-5).
  9. ^ "1981 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 24 September 2009. 
  10. ^ Brown, Charles N.; William G. Contento (2 January 2010). "The Locus Index to Science Fiction (2000)". Locus Publications. Retrieved 9 July 2011. 
  11. ^ [1], Ron Drummond, Little Big Anniversary Edition Web Page, January 4, 2017.

External links[edit]