I was flying through Pamela Dean‘s The Dubious Hills on cruise control, enjoying it immensely, a refreshing fantasy, crisp, with idiosyncratic writing(“[the] meadow was only a triangular flat space where the mountain, in a fit of absentmindedness, went out for a bit instead of down”), but I hadn’t really engaged with the text until my brother asked me if it was loaded with literary references, “thats her trademark”.
Yes, it is, and its lovely. She has already constructed a world where 2 year olds are the magicians — as people grow up they forget how to do magic — and the hilarious images conjure by having to negoiate with a toddler to light the fire, boil the water or ward the door(“Won’t!”). But even more endearing is the nature of the spell, Dean is firmly in the magic words camp, but what magic words! You see a curly head kid, pull herself upright and rattle off Wordsworth to light a lamp (There was a time when meadow, grove and stream, the earth and every common sight to me did seem appareled in celestial light) or ward wolves with a few stanzas from Milton’s L’Allegro (Of Cerberus, and blackest Midnight born…) It turns reading into a delightful treasure hunt.
There is also an Annotated Dean, though Dubious Hills is missing for better or for worse.