So What’s It All About?
In November 2004, I was sitting in my editor’s office, the very same editor who is publishing this book for you. His name is Marc, and he lives in New York City. He told me that every morning as he walks through the city on the way to the publishing house where he works, he sees flicks of light and color that come and go. I asked Marc if he’d seen an eye doctor, and he said, yes, he’d been to many eye experts, all of whom told him that his eyes were perfectly fine.
So the next morning, I walked with Marc from his apartment to his office. I saw the same flicks of light and color.
But I also saw something more.
I saw tiny creatures flitting through the morning air, dancing on the breeze, alighting on the caps of the men who scurried toward their businesses and napping on the noses of fancy women who walked their long-haired Lapodazzickle dogs.
On a park bench, five tiny characters—and we’re talking about characters who each stand perhaps one inch tall and weigh less than a hot dog—played lutes (which are sort of like guitars), fiddles (a country-western name for violins, in my opinion), and harps the size of your thumbnail. A man carrying two heavy suitcases sat on the park bench next to them. Well, naturally, I was horrified, thinking that the man was going to crush the five tiny musicians accidentally. As I gasped and bolted towards the bench to save them, the creatures danced into the air over the man’s head. They settled on his bald spot and continued playing their music. I couldn’t hear the songs, for they were probably as faint in sound as the band was small in size.
Marc was tugging at my sleeve. “Come on,” he said, “I have to get to work. What’s holding you up?” He didn’t see the fairies.
For I knew that’s what they were: fairies.
“These flicks of light, Marc, do you see them anywhere else?” I asked.
No, he told me, he only saw them while walking to work every morning.
A troop of fifty or more fairies scampered from a window onto a bunch of flowerpots. Several were dressed in Victorian garb, which means they were wearing ball gowns and velvet jackets from the late 1800s. Well, actually, the Victorian era was from about 1837 to 1901, when Queen Victoria ruled England. But that’s beside the point … .
These Victorian fairies, along with countless others—some dressed in medieval outfits like torn leggings and tunics, others in astronaut’s helmets and spacesuits (very curious, I thought), and still others in what looked like leaves and bark and nothing more—started digging through the earth in the flowerpots. As they extracted marbles, bits of paper, stones, keys, lint, wads of chewed gum, and half-eaten marshmallows, they jumped with joy and stuffed their new treasures into tiny sacks.
Marc stood with me on the sun-dappled sidewalk. He gazed at the flicks of light. I marveled at the fairies.
“Lois, what’s it all about?” he said.
I turned from the tiny treasure seekers and blinked at my editor. “It’s about magic. It’s about a world we know nothing about, Marc. But it’s there, all around us.”
And so, my dear reader, what is it all about? Check out The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black.1 Tony and Holly know all about fairies, and if you’ve read their books, then you know all about fairies, too.
This book, the very one you hold in your hands, is all about The Spiderwick Chronicles: the characters, the creatures, the places. It has hip, cool, fun facts about the Spiderwick world that you won’t find collected anywhere else. It has games, anecdotes (also known as “little stories that allow the author to ramble incoherently for ten minutes”), and little-known references about goblins, griffins, fairies, dwarves, dragons, elves, ogres, unicorns, trolls, and other magical fantasy creatures. I hope it’s as much fun for you to read as it was for me to write.
So let’s begin …
What is it all about, this world of The Spiderwick Chronicles?
The first book is The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Field Guide (Book One of Five), and it was published in 2003 by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers in New York City. In this first book Jared Grace, his identical twin Simon, and their sister Mallory, go to live in their elderly Aunt Lucinda’s dilapidated (which means “ramshackle”—which doesn’t have anything to do with rams but rather means “broken down and in great need of repair”) carriage house. From the description in the book, this house looks really creepy. If I had to live in a house like that, I would have nightmares.
Jared and Simon are in fourth grade. Their sister is a little older and likes to fence with swords. This is a very unusual hobby for a fourth grader, and it comes in handy later in the Spiderwick books. Now, I have an older brother, and while he never spent Saturdays swordfighting in our backyard, he did have a plastic blow-up punching bag in our basement. He was extremely skinny, so he looked pretty silly punching a plastic blow-up bear, and I don’t think the effort of punching the plastic bear built up his muscles at all. As for me, my hobbies were chasing frogs, riding my bike, and walking on the tops of fences. I would have been afraid to swordfight when I was Mallory’s age.
But let’s return to rams for a moment. When the three kids arrive with their mother at Aunt Lucinda’s ramshackle house, they immediately learn a few things: first, that the door knocker is in the shape of a ram’s head (and now we can dispense with rams for the rest of this book); second, that despite the fact that it’s as large as twelve shacks, the house indeed looks like a pile of shacks; and third and perhaps most important, that the house is weird and mysterious.
Does your apartment or house have a knocker on the front door? My house does not have a door-knocker. If it had a ram’s head knocker, I’d certainly wonder why, and in fact, I’m still wondering why Aunt Lucinda’s house has a ram’s head door-knocker.
In the ram’s head house, something seems to be living in the kitchen walls. Whatever this thing is, it’s tiny, it collects bits of debris, and it also causes a lot of trouble.
If you live in the city, perhaps mice live in your kitchen walls. If you live in the country, you might have a squirrel in there, but it’s unlikely. Though my neighbor tells me that he regularly rounds up gigantic, fifty-pound raccoons in his yard, so if I ever hear a racket in my kitchen walls, it might be due to a pack of fat raccoons.
While Jared, Simon, and Mallory try to figure out what’s in the walls, not thinking for a second that they might have raccoons, Jared must cope with the fact that he’s been getting in trouble and failing in school ever since his father left the family. Jared’s mother, used to her son getting in trouble by now, immediately blames him whenever something goes wrong. This is very depressing for Jared. Sure, he’s miserable because his father left them and now they’re poor and his mother works all the time and, well, he just misses having his whole family together; but still, he doesn’t want to get in trouble all the time and flunk out of school. So Jared is sad and confused.
I expect that most kids would be sad and confused if they were in Jared’s shoes. It’s tough when you’re in a family with only one parent and there’s not enough money to pay the bills. It’s no fun to leave your friends and move far away to a place that reminds you of a haunted house. And it’s not as if people are understanding, so if your grades start to slip, people just look at you as if you’re always going to be a failure. It’s hard to get them to change their opinion about you. So it makes sense that Jared is sad and confused, doesn’t it?
At night, Mallory hears the creatures in her bedroom walls. With the loudest noises coming from the kitchen, the three kids sneak downstairs in the middle of the night to investigate. They find a dumbwaiter, an old device used to send things from the kitchen to other floors in the house. Jared climbs in, armed with a bit of candle, and he ends up in a secret library room, where all the books are about weird things like fairies.
When I was Jared’s age, I would have climbed into a dumbwaiter in the kitchen wall, too. I doubt that I would have done it with a bit of candle, though. I might have used a flashlight, but then, I had one of those and I didn’t own any candles. Nor did I know where my mother kept matches. Plus, she would have killed me if I played with matches and candles!
When Mallory wakes up the next morning, her hair is tied to the bedposts, and it takes their mother forever to unknot her. Of course, Jared is blamed, despite the fact that he had absolutely nothing to do with it. Depressed, Jared returns to the secret library room, where he finds a note waiting for him. The note tells him to look for a man’s torso, and Jared figures out that the riddle means that he should look in a nearby “treasure” chest. The chest belonged to someone named Arthur Spiderwick.
Right away, we (the readers) know that Jared is actually smart. His teachers may throw him out of school, but here he figures out a difficult riddle to find a treasure chest.
In the chest, Jared finds The Field Guide about fairies.
I should note that, although I’m a grown-up woman, I love Tony DiTerlizzi’s illustrations throughout the five Spiderwick books. For example, look at the drawing of Jared on page 35 of Book One. How can you help but like Jared after seeing this picture of him? And how about the drawing of Mallory with her hair tied to the bed on page 42? That’s just too funny!
Well, while Jared is learning about fairies in the secret library room, Mallory is fencing with Simon in the yard. Specifically, Mallory has Simon up against the ruins of a carriage house, and his thrusts and parries are becoming weaker and weaker. A long time ago, I was playing catch with my older brother, and I tossed the ball to him. It hit his mouth (by accident, I swear!) and broke a tooth. My father was furious and spanked me much too hard, and my mother held the “tooth incident” against me for years. In fact, she finally stopped bringing it up maybe five years ago, and I’m pretty old by now. This “tooth incident” followed me around forever. Had I forced him against a fence using a sword, I would have been thrown out of the family and sent to an orphanage or foster home. Mallory’s lucky that her mother never pays attention to what she’s doing with those swords.
Anyway, when Simon is under attack he uses a parry, which deflects (meaning “pushes away”) Mallory’s sword. He doesn’t seem to have the skills to make a riposte, which is a quick return thrust.
My guess is that Mallory uses a foil, one of the three main types of swords used by fencers. The other two types are the épée and the saber. A foil has a flexible blade and weighs about one pound. The épée is about the same length as the foil—thirty-five inches—but the épée weighs about twenty-seven ounces, meaning it’s almost twice as heavy as the foil. The épée is actually the modern version of the dueling swords used long ago. Remember when men in movies and books would duel each other with swords over a woman, some land, or just their honor? They were using old-fashioned épée swords. The épée has a much stiffer blade than the foil and is probably more dangerous and less likely to be used by a young girl.
And then there’s the saber. Mallory definitely is not using a saber with her brother, Simon. Sabers were used by cavalries, or armies, long ago. The blade isn’t at all blunt; rather, it cuts. This is a very nasty weapon.
With Aunt Lucinda living in an institution and their mother often gone either to work or the grocery store (her life sounds a lot like mine), Jared, Simon, and Mallory explore the house, read The Field Guide, and look for the creatures who dwell in the walls. Jared thinks the creatures might be brownies, pixies, or boggarts (see chapter 5 for the lowdown about brownies, pixies, boggarts, and all sorts of other magical creatures).
Now what do you think The Field Guide suggests you do if you want to find a brownie or boggart in your house? Do you play harp music? Do you excel at basketball because maybe, just maybe, boggarts are All-Star Hoopsters? Do you bake ten trays of brownies and leave them all on the counters so the brownie feels right at home? Do you tap dance at midnight? Personally, I’d try the ten trays of brownies and the tap dancing, but that’s not what The Field Guide says to do.
The Field Guide suggests that a person sprinkle flour or sugar all over the floor to capture the footprints of the brownie or boggart living in the house. That’s pretty clever, I think. And if you’re wondering what a boggart is, according to the Field Guide, it’s a brownie gone bad.
Rather than tap dance, Jared does as the book instructs: he scatters flour on the kitchen floor. He also puts out a saucer of milk, hoping to attract his brownie/boggart. Maybe he thinks boggarts are like cats and can’t resist saucers of milk. Or maybe he thinks boggarts like Froot Loops cereal, and the milk will attract them to the kitchen to find the cereal in the pantry. Or maybe he’s just doing what The Field Guide tells him to do, which could be the case, given that I made up all that stuff about boggarts being like cats or liking Froot Loops cereal. At any rate, as you might guess, his mother catches him and sends him back to bed.
Of course, by the next morning, the brownie/ boggart has destroyed the kitchen, and poor Jared gets in trouble yet again. But the footprints are there, so clearly there’s some magical little guy running around the house.
My kitchen usually looks a mess when I get up in the morning. It’s never occurred to me that a boggart might be causing me all this trouble. I’ve always assumed it was my son Dan, who eats huge amounts of pizza every night. Is it possible that someone else is in the house with us, someone with a huge appetite for pizza and a huge habit of littering the counters with pizza crusts and sauce?
We don’t have a dumbwaiter here, so there’s no way for me to ride up and down holding a candle stub and seeking a secret room in the house. But there is an old chimney. I wonder if I can crawl around in there, looking for the entrance to a secret room of fairy wonders.
Let me think further about all this … .
We do live in an ancient Victorian house, though ours is small compared to the one in which Jared lives with his brother, sister, and mother. But our walls are thick, so they may indeed contain hidden rooms.
The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that Dan and I have a boggart living in the house with us. It all makes perfect sense. After all, Dan is tall and thin, yet the kitchen is destroyed every morning with food debris, so it’s logical to conclude that a boggart is eating all the food and leaving crusts and sauce everywhere.
At any rate, Jared finally takes Simon to the secret room, where the two boys encounter the boggart for the first time. His name is Thimbletack, and he’s tiny. He talks in riddles.
As The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Seeing Stone (Book Two of Five opens, Jared gets in trouble at school for drawing pictures of brownies and boggarts in class instead of paying attention. Angry, he rips a kid’s notebook in half and then falls into a funk, remembering his parents’ divorce and how happy life was when they were all a family.
Are your parents divorced? If not, you’re lucky, and I hope that your family is really happy. But if they are, don’t let it get you down so much that you rip up kids’ notebooks. Our family is broken, too, and after it happened, Dan infested his school with fruit flies—by accident, but still … .
We’ve never really gotten used to the fact that Dan’s father is gone, but we’ve muddled along and been pretty happy, anyway. It helps to play Crazy Zombie, to play lots of games of Zombie Fast-Food Restaurant, and to play with zombie action figures. I’m seeing a theme here. It has something to do with zombies. I actually know how real-life zombies are created, because I wrote about that subject in another book,2 but I won’t bore you with the horrifying details here.
Simon ends up disappearing in The Seeing Stone, and Jared must use a funny eyepiece to see all the creatures in the fairy world as he tries to find his twin brother. The eyepiece enables Jared to see a pack of five goblins in the yard. As the goblins attack Jared, Mallory uses her rapier (a fancy word for sword) to beat back the goblins and save her brother.
Continuing the search for Simon, Jared and Mallory end up in the woods, where they fight their way through jewelweed and vines.
Jewelweed are actually beautiful flowers that look like impatiens, which are commonly grown in summer gardens. Some forms of jewelweed, however, can be as tall as five feet and look like bushes. The spotted jewelweed, for example, grows in dense clusters with many five-foot-tall bushes packed tightly together. It would be hard to make it through a forest filled with vines and jewelweed, but this is what Jared and Mallory do.
Eventually, they reach an oak tree with sprites on the branches. The sprites are tiny fairies. But then something frightening happens: a giant ogre rises from a stream where Mallory has fallen!
After running away from the ogre, Jared and Mallory reach a goblin camp, where the goblins are gnawing on bones, and they see animals of all kinds in cages lined with what appears to be poison ivy. Inside one of the cages is Simon.
The goblins have also captured a griffin, which is a gigantic magical bird. Along with rescuing Simon, Jared, and Mallory end up rescuing the griffin. Because Hogsqueal, a goblin in a cage, gives them a magic rag that enables them to see fairies without using the eyepiece, the kids save Hogsqueal, too.
After another adventure, this time with a ten-foot-tall troll, everyone—Jared, Mallory, Simon, Hogsqueal, and the griffin—heads home.
As The Spiderwick Chronicles: Lucinda’s Secret (Book Three of Five) opens, we learn that Hogsqueal is a hobgoblin rather than an ordinary goblin, though we’re not sure how the two differ. For my attempt to explain the difference, see chapter 5.
So what does the griffin eat while he’s staying in the dilapidated carriage house? Chickpeas and watermelon? Ice cream and cantaloupe? Fried chicken with mashed potatoes? Linguini vongole with clam sauce? Hamburger ground up with corn flakes? Bingo. I knew we’d hit upon the right answer eventually, and it happens to be hamburger ground up with corn flakes. A lot of it.
What would you do if you had Thimbletack wrecking your house and getting you in trouble with your mom? Jared eventually comes up with a solution—a pretty remarkable and kind solution, I think—but it takes awhile to figure out what to do. To get advice, the kids go to the institution where their Aunt Lucinda lives. With her are more sprites, who offer Simon magical fairy fruits, which apparently are very dangerous.
With Thimbletack in control of The Field Guide, Jared, Mallory, and Simon return to the secret library room in their house to seek clues. They find a map marked with words such as trolls, dwarves, and sprites. They begin to wonder where Arthur Spiderwick went, and if he went there against his will.
Off they go, hoping to find Arthur Spiderwick. Along the way they encounter a phooka, another shape-shifter, which means he can turn into a monkey, a snake, a bird, or a blob anytime he wants.
Now, if you could shape-shift into any form, what form would you choose? Remember, you could be anything you want. An airplane, a teacher, an elephant, or a tiger—anything. It might be fun to shape-shift into a dog or cat, just for a short while. Then you could run around outside like your pet (if you have one) and see what life is like for a bird-chasing, chow-eating, furry beast. I suppose that you’d still be able to talk and think in your human language (for example, English rather than Barking). Only your shape would change. Your mind would remain the same, and you’d still be able to read books, watch television, talk on the phone, and so forth.
After meeting the shape-shifting phooka, Jared, Simon, and Mallory meet three elves, who demand that the kids give The Field Guide to them. They say that humans destroy the forests and kill all the creatures who live in forests. Few fairies and other magical creatures are left, and those who remain must be protected from people. With The Field Guide, people can find the fairies and kill more of them.
What’s interesting to me is that humans will destroy the forests whether they have The Field Guide or not. In reality, there’s no Field Guide, and companies and governments destroy forests all the time. If I were a fairy, I really wouldn’t want people to know how to find me. I’d be terrified that greedy people would find me, capture me for the zoo, cage me, torture me, kill me—something terrible—and I would want to hide, too. Imagine if a big corporation got hold of a fairy with her fairy fruits. Greed would instantly overcome any human desire to be kind to the fairy. So I can easily understand why the elves demand that the kids turn over The Field Guide.
Eventually, we shift into The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Ironwood Tree (Book Four of Five), where many strange things happen and the whole story is tied up into one neat ending. I assume that you have read the entire Spiderwick series of books (if you haven’t read them yet, you should rush out right now and get them). But just in case you haven’t read the last book yet (and if not, well, why haven’t you read it yet?), I don’t want to give away the ending or any of the surprises.
Jared does get into trouble again, and his mother calls his estranged father, who left them for a new life somewhere else, and tells the father that Jared is “really out of hand” and she “can’t take care of him”—and that maybe it’s time for Jared to live elsewhere.
Clearly, this isn’t something any kid wants to overhear, and it only makes Jared more determined to prove his innocence in this whole evil-fairy business and make his mother see the truth: that he is a good kid, that he isn’t causing all the trouble at all. It’s not Jared’s fault, after all, that fairies are shape-shifting into people who look exactly like Simon and him.
By the time we finish reading the last book, everything has calmed down.
And now, you’re going to hate me for telling you this, but …
We end each chapter of this book with a Fast Fact Quiz. All the quizzes are secret standardized tests developed by the National Teachers Union to determine your IQ. If you flunk the quizzes in this book, the union will demote you to nursery school, where you’ll be forced to play Foxy Woxy in Chicken Little plays for the rest of your life. So be really careful and use a number two pencil. Mark your answers clearly and then double-check them.
Okay, I bet you’re scared half out of your wits by the thought of these hard quizzes. Calm down, be cool. I swear: these quizzes are a piece of cake! Here’s an example:
Fast Fact Quiz!
Which character uses a light saber to cut brownies in the kitchen?
• Answer 1: Mallory, who has the Force and prefers to duel extra dark chocolate brownies with walnuts.
• Answer 2: Simon, who parries the brownies into crumbs before eating them.
• Answer 3: Jared, who follows the instructions in The Field Guide to cut and eat brownies.
• Answer 4: None of the above—but Mallory could have been a Jedi in some past life.
Easy, huh? Oh, whoops, wait a minute. That’s not one of the quiz questions. It could be, and the real answer is #4, but such a quiz question would flunk you straight back to nursery school for sure. We wouldn’t do that to you, but we might ask your opinion about some of the characters. For example:
Fast Fact Quiz
Who do you think is the most similar to Jared?
• Answer 1: A brownie or boggart named Thimbletack, who is actually not such a bad guy; he’s just misunderstood, just like Jared is misunderstood.
• Answer 2: A vixen, pixie, cupcake man, or dragon.
• Answer 3: An ogre with the breath of an elderly ox.
• Answer 4: A raccoon.
The correct answer is #1. See? You just learned something about the boggart. Sure, his name is revealed in The Seeing Stone, so that’s nothing new. But did you ever notice how similar Thimbletack is to poor Jared? Both of them get in trouble all the time, yet both are just lonely and kind of depressed. They don’t really mean any harm. So you just learned something new by taking a very tricky test, and it makes sense for us to report your amazing accomplishment to the National Teachers Union. You can’t lose with this book!
In fact, if you don’t know the answers to the Fast Fact Quizzes, we even give you a cheat sheet—see Appendix B.
Of course, you can’t trust me about the answers. For example, I told you that Thimbletack is just a misunderstood brownie who isn’t really a mean and nasty boggart at all. But that’s not entirely true. I believe in the deepest recesses of my heart—as opposed to the shallowest recesses of my liver—that Thimbletack is naughty. Otherwise, why would he tie Mallory’s hair to the bedposts? It was so bad that her mother had to chop off all her hair to free her. I may be a misunderstood wretch myself, but that doesn’t mean I tie my boss’s hair to his computer monitor (not that he has that much hair) and force his mother to come from halfway across the world (where he grew up) to untie him. I would get fired. As an adult, I wouldn’t be called naughty. Instead, I’d be called something much worse, like insane. And I wouldn’t like that. So even as a misunderstood wretch, I don’t tie people’s hair to fences, cars, refrigerators, bedposts, or computer monitors. I think Thimbletack is a Bad Boy.
But I do like him. He’s funny.
Here’s your real Fast Fact Quiz, the one with the answer in Appendix B.
Fast Fact Quiz!
• Answer 1: a goblin who sends Jared, Simon, and Mallory into the clutches of the griffin.
• Answer 2: a goblin who falls in love with a griffin, only to learn that the griffin is really a troll.
• Answer 3: the editor of this book.
• Answer 4: a goblin who becomes a master cat chef on early morning television shows.
THE FAN’S GUIDE TO THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES. Copyright © 2007 by Lois H. Gresh. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.