Catherynne Valente, author of the bestselling Fairyland series (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and its sequels), features one of literature’s most famous families—the Brontës—in her new middle grade fantasy. In The Glass Town Game (S&S/McElderry, Sept.), Charlotte and Emily Brontë must enter a world they invented to escape the reality of their lives and, as it turns out, rescue their kidnapped siblings, Anne and Branwell. “It is,” says Valente, “like taking the Brontës to Narnia.”
“I grew up with the Brontës,” recalls the author, “and as the oldest of four, I really overidentified with Charlotte.” When she began reading more about Charlotte, she discovered that, as children, all four Brontë siblings had written a virtual treasure trove of juvenilia—“hundreds of thousands of words”—and had imagined a world for themselves called Glass Town.
It was after their father bought Branwell a set of toy soldiers, and the children began to create stories about the toys battling Napoleon, that the world of Glass Town emerged. The siblings even made themselves characters in their new world. Valente notes that Charlotte wrote about Wellington in much the way a teenage girl today would talk about Justin Bieber, “but with better grammar. Some 12 years after her discovery of the Brontës’ Glass Town, Valente was asked to write a short story for Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy (Tor, 2013) that would be set in the 19th century, “but not be steampunk,” she says. “My mind immediately went to the gothics and the Brontës. I wrote the short story, and knew from the minute I put pen to paper that it would be a novel.” While the Brontë children could control the world they created, they arrive in Valente’s imagined Glass Town to find “a world that’s run in ways they could never have imagined sitting in their playroom.” Napoleon now rides a fire-breathing porcelain rooster instead of a horse, soldiers can die, wars are fought over a potion that raises the dead, and Anne and Branwell are kidnapped.
Valente hopes that her young readers “will get to know Charlotte, Emily, Branwell, and Anne like they’d know any other kid. Then, when they grow up a little bit and dip into Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, they’ll find they have a real attachment to the Brontës.”
Today, 11:30–noon. Valente will sign ARCs of The Glass Town Game in the Autographing Area, at Table 4.