“But somehow Kate didn’t feel scared. Instead she felt as happy as she ever had in her life.
Like something in her was being released, too. Like her brakes were finally coming unstuck. This was it. This was the something she’d been waiting for.”
(The Silver Arrow)
The Silver Arrow by New York Times best-selling author Lev Grossman (Bloomsbury Children’s Books) is a well-told fantasy for children with an important and moving conservation message threaded through the narrative.
Kate is given the Silver Arrow, a full-size old steam train, for her eleventh birthday after impulsively asking her enigmatic Uncle Herbert for a present. Her busy, distracted parents are not impressed and tell Kate and her younger brother Tom to stop playing on it. Train tracks unexpectedly run into the nearby woods and, before they can disembark, Kate and Tom are propelled into a magical adventure.
Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords, Lev.
Your Magicians trilogy for adults is critically acclaimed, a bestseller and a successful TV series. Why have you now written a book for children?
I spend a lot of time with children! I have three of them, and I tell them a lot of stories, so it’s a voice I feel very comfortable with. Of course most of the stories I tell them are completely lame or silly, but this one took on a life of its own. It stayed with us.
And I love the way children read. They immerse themselves so completely in books that they forget about the world around them. It’s every author’s dream to write something that would be read that way.
Does your writing style or other features in the Magicians reappear in The Silver Arrow? If so, could you please give an example?
The Silver Arrow is in a different voice from the Magicians, but they do overlap now and again. In both books I’m always looking for the odd, slightly unexpected detail that will make something that’s magical or fantastical feel like it’s real. The Magicians has a lot of those, and so does The Silver Arrow — an example might be the moment when the train is parked in a magical railyard in the middle of the night, and everything’s wonderful and dreamlike — but then Kate climbs down to walk around and the gravel is really uncomfortable on her bare feet. Sometimes it’s those little imperfections that make the dream feel real.
What is the most magical element in your story?
It might be the Wise Island, which is a little tropical island where you can go to rest while you’re on a long journey, and if you dig for treasure there, you’ll always find something. It only works once, and what you find is different for everyone, but everybody gets something. Personally I would very much like to go to the Wise Island.
Your protagonist, 11-year-old Kate, is ready to grow and change. How does she develop and mature?
At the start of the book Kate feels like she’s ready and eager to be part of a bigger, more grown-up world. And she gets her wish – but that world turns out to be darker and more complicated than what she’d imagined. It’s a hard thing to face. And once you’ve seen that world, you can never go back.
Why have you chosen Grace Hopper as Kate’s role model?
I don’t know! I just always admired her. She was super smart and super tough, and everybody discouraged her, and in the end she kept going and changed the world forever. I think more people should know who she is.
The passengers on the train are animals. Why have you chosen to feature any of the following animals: porcupine, mamba snake, heron, fishing cat, polar bear?
I’ll tell you about the fishing cat, because I learned about them in Australia — I’d never heard of them before I saw one at the zoo in Sydney. They dive and swim for their food! It made me think how they must be real oddballs in the cat world, considering how most cats feel about water. I feel like other cats must look at them a little funny.
The natural world is integral to your story. What hope for the future do you show in your book?
We can’t go back to how things were, but I believe we can find a new balance. It won’t be perfect, but we have to. So I don’t encourage wallowing. Feeling guilty or ashamed doesn’t help us or the animals.
What are you writing now or next?
Like most writers I always have a few different projects going on. I’m writing a long novel about King Arthur, which I hope I’ll finish by the end of the year. It’s very late! I also just wrote my first movie, which is finishing up filming now, called The Map of Tiny Perfect Things. And I’m working on a couple of TV shows. But what I really want to do is to write more Silver Arrow books.
You have interviewed J.K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman. What was something that surprised you about either of them?
J.K. Rowling can’t drive! Or she couldn’t when I met her, fifteen years ago. Probably she’s learned since then. Also she was wearing very, very awesome chrome heels.
But really what surprised me about both of them was how nice they were. People who are that successful don’t have to be nice, but they were.
What have you read recently that you would like to recommend?
The War that Saved My Life by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley. It’s about a girl who lives through World War II in Britain, and how awful it is, and also how strangely wonderful. My mother is from London, and she’s old enough that she lived through the war too, though I think for her it was mostly awful.
(Yes I highly rate The War that Saved My Life also.)
Where are you based and what is your connection with Australia?
I’m based in Brooklyn, New York, but my wife is from Sydney—she grew up in Paddington—and most of her family is still there. We try to go back once a year. For her it’s going home, but for me it’s a whole new adventure every time.
Lev, thank you for your great responses.
Your fantasy adventure The Silver Arrow is a powerful fable with a gripping, original plot. It is sure to be relished by young readers and their families and will no doubt also awaken and develop awareness of how we can help care for our world.