When I was little we used to listen to books on tape on long car rides. I can’t even count the number of times I insisted we listen to The Farthest-Away Mountain. When I reread it this weekend I could still hear the narrator’s voice in my head.
There are a few moments that my adult self finds cringe-worthy, particularly the first description of Dakin – the heroine – as petite, blonde, and blue eyed – read oozing femininity. And of course one of her three life goals is to marry a prince. This is partially redeemed by a gender reversal at the end that I won’t reveal and ruin the ending. The other two goals are significantly more noble: meet a gargoyle and go to the farthest-away mountain.
Legend has it the farthest-away mountain is cursed because no matter how long a person walks towards it they can never get any closer.
One morning, very early, Dakin woke up sharply to find herself sitting up in bed.
“Somebody called me!” she thought. “I heard a voice in my sleep!”
She jumped up and ran to the open window in her long nightgown. Outside, the sun was just appearing beyond the farthest-away mountain, breathing orange fire onto the strange, patchwork snow and streaking the pale sky with morning cloud colors. It was still cold, and Dakin shivered as she called softly into the empty world:
“Did somebody want me?”
No one answered, and Dakin thought she must have dreamed it. But just as she was turning to jump back into bed again, she saw something that nearly made her fall out the window.
The mountain nodded.
Of course, Dakin packs a bag with some essentials and runs nimbly off on an adventure. Dakin promptly meets some interesting characters including a cowardly frog, some gargoyles who were once trolls, a very dangerous ogre and his pterodactyl-like minion, a colour witch, and an enigmatic and evil “master of the mountain.” All of the mountain’s inhabitants are terrified of the master and it’s up to Dakin to save them and the mountain itself. As Dakin makes her way up the mountain she encounters more and more danger and gets closer and closer to the master themself.
I can’t help but pause here to note the potential Lewis Carroll references. Maybe it’s just my proclivity for finding similarities to Alice in Wonderland in everything I read but let me take a few sentences to make my case, humour me. One of Dakin’s first magical encounters is with a frog who calls to her from a cabin. To get into the cabin Dakin has to slide down the chimney. Now, of course one of Alice’s first magical experiences is falling down the rabbit hole – coincidence? I think not. And I can’t forget to mention that soon after the cabin scene Dakin cries a torrential rain of tears, suspiciously reminiscent of Alice’s pool of tears. Add that up with the barrage of talking animals and the ominous Graw, a winged creature who could be likened to the jaberwocky OR the enormous crow from Through the Looking-Glass, and I feel I’ve made a fairly sound argument.
On rereading, I was surprised to find the prose fairly bland and unextraordinary. The adventure plot is exciting and the final reveals are fairly unexpected but the climax falls short of the build up and everything wraps up very quickly and tidily. This is a fun book but nothing more.
I have vague memories of Banks’ Indian in the Cupboard being much better but I’ll have to reread that one as well so don’t take my word for it.