Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Great Good Thing

Townley, Roderick. The Great Good Thing
May 1st 2001 by Atheneum Books
Personal copy, purchased 2003  

The Princess Sylvie is the main character in a book titled The Great Good Thing. It's been years since the characters have had a Reader, and when the book is finally opened, they all rush to their places and act out the story, which centers around Sylvie not wanting to marry Prince Riggloff but to instead have adventures and do a "great good thing". The biggest rule of being in a book is to never look at the Reader, much less let the Reader see you. When the book is opened and shut quickly, and the story is in disarray and several funny things happen. The Reader, whose name is Claire, laughs, and tries to find the pages that were so amusing, but of course they are not there. Eventually, Sylvie manages to wander out of the book and into Claire's dreams. Claire is dreaming about her grandmother, who is ill, and the two girls learn a little about each other's worlds. Claire's brother, Ricky, is upset, but is also angry at the perceived favoritism of the grandmother, and burns the book in retribution. With the help of a girl with dark blue eyes, who has appeared in many of Claire's dreams, most of the cast escapes, and ends up living in Claire's mind. They are frequently called upon to appear in Claire's dreams, but as she gets older, this happens less frequently, and they eventually decide to move further into her mind to recreate their kingdom. They find other characters from Claire's life, including Norbert Fangl, who was her beloved geometry teacher. Once, when Sylvie is called off to bein one of Claire's dreams, the court jester stages a coup. When the girl with the blue eyes tells Claire that they are all in danger of perishing, the group once again relocates, this time to the mind of Lily, Claire's daughter, who heard the story as a child. Eventually, with Sylvie's help, she writes the story of The Great Good Thing again, with some slight changes, such as incorporating Norbert Fangl, so he won't be forgotten. Strengths: This is just one of those books that has ended up being enormously influential in my life. The names of the characters struck me the first time I read it: My daughter is Claire, we almost named my other daughter Emmeline (the queen), my father is Walter (King Walther), and there's even a strange Norbert connection. Because of this, my daughters named our dog Sylvie in 2006 because she was "a great good thing". I read this book out loud to Sylvie as she lay dying; I have never cried so much in my entire life. I had forgotten that Claire reads The Great Good Thing to her own grandmother as she is declining. The ideas of memory, dreams, and the stories that survive us are very powerful. There are more exciting scenes than I remember, and there is a nice twist with the girl with the dark blue eyes. Maybe not the best book ever written, but definitely one of my favorites. Weaknesses: Be prepared with tissues. What I really think: I might need to get another copy for each of the girls to have.

The first line of the book: "Sylvie lived an amazing life."


  1. This was a wonderful tribute -- to the story and to your experiences with it. All the best!

  2. I've never read this, but will find it and remedy that. Made me cry just reading this....I'm so sorry for your loss.

  3. This was one of my favorites to read. So creative and bittersweet. I loved learning about your Sylvie and about the personal connection you and your family had to the book.