The Secret Lives of Characters

The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley has one of the best premises I’ve ever encountered.  Princess Sylvie lives inside a book (also called The Great Good Thing).  She and her family and friends act out their story whenever a Reader opens the book.  When the book is closed, they go on about their lives behind the scenes.  Everything begins to change for them when Sylvie breaks the rules to help a special Reader and her family.

I love this concept.  I love reading about what it’s like to be a character in a book.  I love when Sylvie rests her head on a large adjective, or goes swimming in the pool on page 36, or hides in the Acknowledgements page.  I think anyone who has ever felt a connection to a character in a book will enjoy the idea of a magic world between the book covers, where the characters live lives in and around the text we read.

The actual plot…is pretty good.  This is one of those books that leaves me thinking about how I’d take that premise and do something very different…but it is very enjoyable for all that.  I do like where it went–it’s just that with a premise like that, there are so many wonderful places to go!

One thing I’d do differently, and which I think is not just my preferences but an actual lapse in the book, relates to romance.  As it stands, there is none; that’s just not what the book is about.  But we catch glimpses of Sylvie’s story (the book within the book–let’s call it the Story for clarity).  There’s enough to tell us that at the end of the Story (and this really isn’t a spoiler), Sylvie rescues the Keeper of the Cave, who turns into a prince.  The Story being what it is, a kind of fairy tale, the natural order would be for Sylvie to get together with the prince–at least, in the Story.  But we don’t see that at all in the book we’re actually reading.  All the other characters hang out together while the book is closed, like actors who are off-stage, but we don’t see the prince (or even the Keeper of the Cave) at all.  One of Sylvie’s motivators is lack of a close companion, so I can see how a romance wouldn’t fit–but rather like showing a gun that never goes off, why have a prince at all if you’re not having a romance?

I recently found out there are two more books in this series, which I plan to read now, so maybe one of them will head in a romantic direction.  And even if they don’t, it’s still a fun story with interesting characters, and a good message about the power of a story and the importance of preserving it–and, of course, a fascinating premise!

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2 thoughts on “The Secret Lives of Characters

  1. Very interesting premise for a book. Kind of like the toys in “Toy Story” who lead their lives separately from when the child wants to play with them, but act their roles whenever the child picks them up to play.

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