Lit Guide: Lanny by Max Porter


Lanny is the tale of an otherworldly child whose parents have a hard time keeping tabs on him, despite moving to a small English village. Lanny likes visiting his secret bower within the adjoining woods and can never be mistaken for a regular child in the way he moves and speaks. Lanny’s father is a total contrast to his son, a stoic financial trader who shares the village’s bafflement at his erratic son. Lanny’s mother Jolie, constantly frustrated that everyone calls her Julie, is an actress working on a crime novel and loves her son yet is always kept distant by the village. If Lanny is anything, he is a cure to the quiet frustration and vitriol of village life. Most of these villagers are petty and vitriolic enough to belong in a Roald Dahl piece. 

While Porter’s first book tackled a family moving on from losing a mother, “Larry” deals with losing a child. Both texts feature magical creatures; with “Dead Papa Toothwort,” a leafy shape-shifting fey in this tale. Toothwort feeds on the gossip of the villagers’ chats and his dialogue seems to homage to e.e. Cummings with phrases like “clear forgot milk” and “lice again” while appearing like shavings and trimmings across the pages. 

Toothwort’s linguistic snippets become more sinister after Larry vanishes in the second half, serving as a background to conversations between the three leads. These being Lanny’s parents, Robert and Jolie, and Mad Pete, a reclusive artist who finds camaraderie in Lanny over art. Mad Pete is made a scapegoat and implied pedophile while Jolie is treated as a negligent mother too engrossed in her story to ever notice her son. As search parties amass and the tabloids slander, the villagers make chilling remarks like how lucrative a missing child is for industry. When the book reaches its final pages, both the characters and the audience are presented with two endings-one for the cynical and one for the hopeful. 

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