Maguire's writerly style was the strength of this book, and his interweaving of two stories, and the meta-awareness of narrative throughout the book.
My favorite theme is how he dealt with the perennial question of whether a story is true. I often have kids ask me if a story I'm telling is 'true' and I always answer, "All stories are true." Because whatever I am telling IS the story. Yes, I know that's not what they really mean. But the broader human desire to know whether a story is based on 'real events' is more complicated than we allow. And in a way, we learn more about children's relationship to 'reality' in informational text through the questions they ask about fantasy. What difference does it make to a child to know whether a story happened in history or whether it happened in imagination? This is a question of hope and fear: they want to know whether what the story evokes or provokes is likely to happen to them
outside the narrative. The question isn't "is it real" or "is it true" it's really "Could that be me?" And what does the answer to this question do for the imagination?
His early development of the fantastic main character reminded me of William Mayne's [b:Hob and the Goblins|805577|Hob and the Goblins|William Mayne|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1178556401s/805577.jpg|2319960], where I really got to try to enter the mind of someone who didn't think or act like a human. But apparently this wasn't sustainable. While he maintained a few elements to make the fairies non-human, too much of it felt like he had drifted over into a simple mirror-world populated by small humans. That was disappointing. Ultimately, What-the-Dickens and Pepper end up seeming heroic because they act as modern Americans would value them acting. I wanted them to stay weird, in the old sense of the word.