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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]

Little, Big
Cover of first edition
(Bantam Books, paperback)
AuthorJohn Crowley
CountryUnited States
PublisherBantam Books
Publication date
August 1981
Media typePrint (hardcover, paperback)
Pages538 pp
813/.54 19
LC ClassPS3553.R597 L5



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. Drinkwater gathered his thoughts into an ever-evolving book entitled The Architecture of Country Houses, which went through at least six expanded editions, 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 itself a door leading to the outer realm of Faerie. Edgewood is a composite of many different houses and architectural styles, each built over and across the others, supposedly as a "sampler" for customers looking to employ Drinkwater's firm. 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, Evan "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 is later revealed that the Tale is real: 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 is believed to be Smoky’s illegitimate daughter (but in fact her father is Sophie's cousin George Mouse). Sophie has inherited the gift of foresight from her Great Aunt Nora Cloud, through an ancient and incomplete set of tarot cards. The family regularly consult them in order to find out about such mundane matters as the weather or how soon a visitor will be arriving at the house. Smoky's instructions for his journey to Edgewood to marry Alice were based on one of Nora's card readings.

The story moves forwards to the adolescent Auberon venturing to the City, where he stays with George Mouse. George lives in a gigantic 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 of the United States. 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 realized 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 returns 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 waged 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 comes to the enigmatic "Fairies' Parliament".

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 having gone ahead some weeks earlier to find or create the way). At the last minute, Smoky – who never really believed in Faerie – chooses not to go, instead devoting his energy to repairing the old orrery which powered the home. He succeeds, and is persuaded by Sophie to accompany the family. He attempts the journey but has a heart attack and dies before he leaves the borders of Edgewood. The remaining family takes the fairies' place in the inner realm and thus the Tale is finally completed.

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


  • Smoky Barnable – One of the novel's main protagonists, 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 (the second Auberon) – Smoky's son, and the second primary protagonist, who eventually leaves for the city to attempt, ultimately unsuccessfully, to find a destiny distinct from Edgewood and the interconnected Drinkwater clan.
  • Sylvie – A Stateside Puerto Rican worker at George Mouse's farm, whom Auberon loves but loses in the City, as she is taken by faeries to serve in their realm. Her and her brother's stories carry extended references to Lewis Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno. Sylvie and Auberon are ultimately reunited in Faerie.
  • Sophie Drinkwater – Alice's sister, whose child is stolen by faeries shortly after birth, and replaced by an increasingly unpleasant changeling.
  • Violet Bramble – Ancestor of the Drinkwater clan. As a young unmarried woman in England, she is found to be pregnant by an unknown partner shortly after her father becomes active in the Theosophical Society. At one of their meetings she meets the first John Drinkwater, architect and later author of The Architecture of Country Houses. She later moves to America and marries him. Violet Bramble is the progenitor of the Drinkwater clan, and the first to use the magical tarot cards to see the future.
  • John "Doc" Drinkwater (the second John Drinkwater) – Alice and Sophie's father, author of a series of storybooks for children.
  • August Drinkwater – Violet Bramble's son, who enters into a pact with faeries, giving him power over women, in exchange for his theft of Violet Bramble's cards, which he returns to the faeries. Ultimately his power over women drives him to desperation, and he attempts suicide by drowning, but is transformed into Grandfather Trout. After his transformation, the tarot cards are returned to the Drinkwaters, but subtly altered in many ways. Many of the later extended Drinkwater relatives and residents of the five nearby small towns are illegitimate descendants of August's many trysts.
  • Grandfather Trout – August Drinkwater, cursed to live, until the end of the Tale, trapped in a trout's body in a small pond, in punishment for violating a pact with faeries. Grandfather Trout can speak, and serves as a conduit for the Drinkwaters to communicate with faerie. At the very end of the Tale he is told he will be restored to human form when the love of his life, Amy Meadows, now an elderly lady, comes to his pond and speaks to him.
  • Auberon Drinkwater (the first Auberon) – Alice's eccentric uncle. He cannot directly see or communicate with faeries, but attempts to record them, with variable success, using photographic equipment and with his nieces Alice and Sophie as "mediums" of a sort, reminiscent of the Cottingley Fairies and of photos of children taken by Lewis Carroll. He spends his life in pursuit of concrete evidence of faeries, and in analysis of his findings.
  • 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 president of the United States, late in the history of the family, and also the former Holy Roman Emperor, awakened from 800 years' sleep.
  • Aunt Nora Cloud, widow of Henry Cloud, expert card reader and one of the family's chief oracles.

Literary significanceEdit

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 K. le Guin stated that Little, Big is "a book that all by itself calls for a redefinition of fantasy".[7] In Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, David Pringle described the book 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 said, "It is hard to imagine a more satisfying work, both on an artistic and an emotional level".[8]

A number of readers and critics have described Little, Big as magical realism, perhaps in an attempt to defend it from categorization as the sometimes maligned "genre fiction".[9][10] However, the novel fits the classic description of low fantasy.

2002 Harper paperback edition cover

Awards and nominationsEdit

Release detailsEdit

  • 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 dust jacket).
  • 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.[12]
  • 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 since September 2006[13] by Ron Drummond at Incunabula, a small press in Seattle. The edition was set to include 334 reproductions of the artwork of Peter Milton and an afterword by Harold Bloom.[14] Originally slated for 2007 publication, as of 24 April 2019 the edition has not yet been published.[15] In June 2019 Drummond turned the remaining work on the anniversary edition to his assistant John D. Berry, citing ill health and other life issues.[16]


  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. Archived from the original on 6 August 2011. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
  3. ^ "1982 World Fantasy Award Winners and Nominees". World Fantasy Convention. Archived from the original on 9 May 2008. 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 (eds.). 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. ^ Gioia, Ted. "Little, Big by John Crowley". Retrieved 2017-10-25.
  10. ^ "'Little, Big' Delights With A Little Magic And A Big, Strange Story". Retrieved 2017-10-25.
  11. ^ "1981 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 24 September 2009.
  12. ^ Brown, Charles N.; William G. Contento (2 January 2010). "The Locus Index to Science Fiction (2000)". Locus Publications. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
  13. ^ [1] Archived 2017-11-29 at the Wayback Machine, Ron Drummond, Little Big Anniversary Anniversary Edition Web Page, project summary, September 2010.
  14. ^ [2], Ron Drummond, Little Big Anniversary Edition Web Page, September 21, 2017.
  15. ^ [3] Archived 2018-09-21 at the Wayback Machine, Ron Drummond, Little Big Anniversary Edition project update, Sep. 15, 2018.
  16. ^ Ron Drummond, some vote or say, Little, Big anniversary website, June 12, 2019.

External linksEdit