BOOK REVIEW: “King Lesserlight’s Crown: A Children’s Story for Grownups, Too” by Charlie W. Starr (2010)
My first impression in describing a book like this is to say it’s “Delightful.” Then I realize that’s one of those words that only old ladies and men in the cast of Amadeus use. That’d make most readers just zip by without bothering to read the review, so that’s out. My second impression was to call it “Charming.” Same exact problem. I’ll have to settle for telling you it’s “Good,” I guess, though that doesn’t really capture the qualities that make it good.
King Lesserlight’s Crown is an allegorical fable. It tells the story of a man who used to be happy, but then suddenly isn’t anymore. To his confusion he’s got everything he needs to be happy: A loving wife, a loving kid. They were enough for him, and now, even though he knows why, they’re just not, and he doesn’t know why. He’s got everything he needs in the material posessions department, as well, though he doesn’t seem to have been particularly interested in that stuff. In any event, it isn’t poverty or an unsecure future that’s caused him to change.
In our world, we’d say “He’s having a midlife crisis.” In the deliberately wonky world of the book, however, we’re told that a monster called a “Gloom,” stole his heart. The rest of the book concerns his attempts to track it down and get it back.
Part Pilgrims Progress, part Ecclesastes, and part Hope and Crosby Road Movie, it’s absurd here and there, amusing throughout, and genuinely funny in a few places. The tone is never somber, nor is it giddy and playing for cheap laughs. There is a point to the story that he author is working towards, after all, and the path he uses to get there is good….ah, screw it: It’s charming. The path he uses to get there is charming.
In terms of writing style, it’s sort of a hybrid between the later Narnia books and the mid-series Oz books, though without the worldbuilding of either. The author isn’t so much interested in the exterior landscape of his mythical world as he is in the interior landscape of Lesserlight’s soul. It’s brisk and fun, and, as I said above, occasionally really funny, though the humor is undercut by a feeling of emptiness that those of us around fiftyish will immediately recognize.
It’s a novella of not quite a hundred pages, and without the occasionally storybook-style illustrations (By Troy Cleland), it’d probably come in about ten pages shorter still. Despite its brevity, however, I really enjoyed it and plowed through quickly. I think what sold me on it was not just the writing, nor the story, but the pervasive feeling that the author was trying to help. That’s a rare thing, isn’t it?
Whether it does or not is up to the reader, of course, but in the end I found it delightful.