Illustrator: Tony DiTerlizzi
Series: The Spiderwick Chronicles #1
Also in this series: The Seeing Stone, Lucinda's Secret, The Ironwood Tree, The Wrath of Mulgarath, The Chronicles of Spiderwick: A Grand Tour of the Enchanted World, Navigated by Thimbletack, Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You, The Care and Feeding of Sprites
Published by Simon & Schuster on May 1st 2003
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade, Young Adult
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The Field Guide sets up the story of the Grace children—13-year-old Mallory and 9-year-old twins Jared and Simon—who with their mother move into the dilapidated Spiderwick Estate only to quickly find themselves sucked into a dark and fascinating world of faeries.
Minor spoilers ahead!
This is a really good book as an introduction to the world. As a series it encompasses a lot. As a universe it encompasses even more and leaves plenty unexplored. I am going back through the series only having read the original series (not the spin-off) and the Field Guide, so my thoughts will reflect that, even as I continue through the universe and analyse the other books as well.
So this first book is short. Like I said, it serves as a good introduction. To what, exactly? I think there are two dynamics in play here. One is the family dynamic. Specifically, how the three siblings interact, and on a lesser level, how they interact with their mom (and even lesser: their dad). The other is their place, as humans, in the world of faeries and how it’s going to work. The latter isn’t explained completely in this book, as it will be later, but it’s hinted at towards the end. I can’t exactly say this book is a great introduction to the world of faeries itself, because we only meet one, and we only officially meet him right at the end so we can’t even get a good read on his personality and species-specific character traits. If you start off reading the Guide, or read it along with the actual series, it will all become clear, just as if you read the series first, read the Guide, and then read the series again, as I am doing now. You are able to appreciate a lot more things and draw more connections.
What you don’t get from the Guide is the family dynamic, which is incredibly important, especially in the beginning stages. In limited-world stories like this, where the magical realm is quite limited to a specific area (in the series at least) and does not encompass the entire world, there is most always a stage of disbelief and denial before the character(s) come to accept the magical aspect/creatures.
(As opposed to world-from-scratch stories where fundamental aspects of the entire world are changed in order to build a world/society from the ground up in a way different from reality. I am explaining this badly—perhaps this merits an entirely separate post—but an example of world-from-scratch is the Harry Potter world. That is an example much closer to reality. More common examples would be dystopian novels or high fantasy—think Lord of the Rings—that really have not much at all to do with reality as we see it today.)
Anyway, the family dynamic in this story is something that allows the period of disbelief to continue for longer than it would otherwise. It is important to understand that the family (minus the dad) is only moving into this estate because their mum divorced their dad who stayed in the city and they had nowhere else to go. The estate was in the family. They didn’t really want to go and leave the city (especially Jared) so they aren’t really happy about it but are determined to make the best of it. Jared had the strongest relationship with his dad and is having the hardest time adjusting, and gets into fights at school and gets kicked out of them. There is a lot of distrust, especially because the main character Jared has a history of acting out when angry, so anything magical or weird happening could easily be blamed on him. It does not help that his mom and sister blame him for the longest and his twin brother, Simon, sort of believes him but is definitely too meek to try to sway the others. Anyway, that is what renders the majority of this book quite frustrating. It is hard to get productive things done when you are under lockdown because everyone suspects you of mischief. It is even worse when there is real danger, which I think becomes a problem in later books but not this one. The plot of this book revolves mainly around the realisation of the existence of faeries, their most local faerie (the house brownie), and the importance of the book (the Field Guide). There is no real danger other than the small mischievous things the house brownie, Thimbletack, gets up to. But it’s definitely important that Jared get Mallory, Simon, and ultimately their mom on his side as soon as possible because, as Mallory realises at the end of the book, everything in the Guide is real and may be quite close to them. Everything from the small, harmless sprites to the malicious trolls and goblins, and far worse. Luckily, when presented with hard evidence (which is bountiful in a house that in previous generations embraced the world of faeries), Simon and Mallory were pretty quickly convinced, although Mallory not without lingering resentment towards Jared because of Jared’s difficult nature. In fairness it was quite unlucky that Jared should be the first to discover the Guide in the first place because he is the least likely out of the whole family to be trusted about such things. Although he doesn’t have a penchant for making things up, it was obvious that he hated the new house/situation the most and was having the most difficult time with his parents’ divorce. (This remains a problem throughout the series.) In fact it is surprising that Simon does not jump on board immediately and perhaps take charge when there is the prospect of new animals, such as a squirrel in the walls (which later proves to be Thimbletack). Simon is the resident animal enthusiast, and Jared is the one who doesn’t really have interests. (Mallory has fencing, which definitely comes in handy throughout the series.) But as you may have gathered, there is definitely a darker undertone through the series as a result of the messed-up family dynamic (instead of, you know, actual monsters, which is surprising). It’s rather depressing. But the family dynamic is also what pushes the plot in certain directions, as I’m pretty sure the next books show.
Anyway, for such a small, limited book, you can get a lot about what is going on, at least within the family. It would just be best to have the next books on hand so you can easily and quickly delve into the exciting things, and not be left hanging by the implications at the end of the first book. It is basically saying: “Things are about to get really intense.” And they do.
P. S. I don’t really talk about the illustrations or the writing at all in these reviews, so I’ll sum it up here. I absolutely love the illustrations. If I had some in colour I would frame them on my wall. And the writing is great. It is written exactly in the style of its target audience, which I would say is middle graders. It has personality and keeps things going. It also has fun phrasing on occasion that makes me stop and think or chuckle. There are occasionally callbacks to lines in previous books that you may not always pick up on.
reaction upon finishing
Next book! Let’s go! Let’s get things going!
this book in one word