It turns out that a place full of magical creatures is actually an awesome sight to behold. At least, that's what the tone of Fablehaven conveys once Kendra and Seth are able to see the magic all around them. Take, for instance, their first glimpse of fairies:
Roaming the pathways of the garden in a daze, Kendra saw that the fairy women appeared to represent all nationalities. Some looked Asian, some Indian, some African, some European. Several were less comparable to mortal women, with blue skin or emerald green hair. A few had antennae. Their wings came in all varieties, mostly patterned after butterflies, but much more elegant shaped and radiantly colored. All the fairies gleamed brilliantly, outshining the flowers of the garden like the sun outshines the moon. (5.99)
Wow. This is just… wow. Can you imagine beholding such an incredible sight? The way it's described invites us to share in Kendra's amazement and wonder.
Hang on, let's go through our young adult literature checklist: young protagonists? Check (Seth's eleven and Kendra's almost fourteen). Scary/exciting stuff but not totally grim/depressing? Check. Our young protagonists help save the day? Check (and phew).
But this isn't just happening in the good ol' real world. Nope—this book takes place on a preserve for magical creatures, which means just enough out-of-the-ordinary content to tip us into the fantasy genre. Check out this description of fairies playing with bubbles, for instance:
The fairies flocked near Grandpa, eager for the next bubbles. He kept them coming, and the fairies continued to display their creativity. They filled the bubbles with shimmering mist. They linked them in chains. They transformed them into balls of fire. The surface of one reflected like a mirror. Another took on the shape of a pyramid. Another crackled with electricity. (7.144)
Yep, we're definitely dealing with magic here, and with enough classical fantasy critters (we're looking at you fairies, witches, and so on) to qualify Fablehaven as a work of fantasy.
Fablehaven is the name of the book, and Fablehaven is the name of the magical preserve where most of the action happens. Coincidence? We think not.
Let's start by breaking down the word: the fable part tells us that there'll be creatures from long-ago stories involved. And the haven part tells us that the place is a refuge, a safe spot for critters that the world is no longer able to handle. Put the two together, and you get the interesting notion that the beings originating in myth and magic need a new place to call home.
Why not name the book Kendra and Seth's Excellent Adventures? Or Kendra in Wonderland? Because the place itself is pretty important. We spend a lot of time tagging along with Kendra and Seth as they decode the mysteries leading them to figure out that, yes, this place is filled with magical creatures—plus the place is important to their futures.
Kendra and Seth stand to inherit Fablehaven from their grandparents, which would be a totally life-changing thing for these kids. Kendra uses this fact to help convince Grandma to let her and Seth come on the dangerous expedition to rescue Grandpa from Muriel, saying:
"If we're supposed to possibly inherit this place someday, you won't always be able to protect us from danger […] Wouldn't it be a good experience for us to watch you and Hugo handle the situation?" (15.154)
It's kind of ironic that Fablehaven exists to keep magical animals safe from the outside world… yet it's not always safe for the humans who are there to keep the magical animals safe. The title of the book helps reinforce that dual sense of safety versus danger, keeping us wondering what'll happen to Kendra and Seth as they're plopped down right in the middle of it.
At the very-very end of Fablehaven, Kendra and Seth's parents return from their cruise looking like over-stuffed turkeys, and they all go home together.
Let's hit the pause button and go in a little deeper. Kendra and Seth's parents still know nothing about the fact that the Sorenson grandparents are running a preserve for supernatural critters, nor do they know that their kids nearly died helping save the place (and in Seth's case, almost making a mess of things too big to clean up). They also don't know that Kendra has been touched by fairy-magic, to the point where she's able to see magical creatures without first drinking milk from the house-sized cow Viola.
When Kendra reflects on her time at Fablehaven, she thinks:
Many of her experiences here had been dreadful. She and her family had nearly been killed. And she had lost a new friend when Lena was returned to the pond… At the same time… So many aspects of Fablehaven were wonderful. Life would seem so dry after the extraordinary events of the past couple of weeks. (19.96-97)
So Kendra has survived the good, the bad, and the ugly elements of Fablehaven, and now she's sort of looking forward to what's next. Obviously she'll be coming back to Fablehaven… but when? And what'll happen to her in the meantime?
The book is called Fablehaven, and it's set in a hidden preserve for magical creatures… that's also called Fablehaven. Sounds pretty simple, right? Actually, dear Watson, there are many levels to the setting, ranging from tame and mundane to freakily supernatural. We'll break 'em down for ya.
Nestled in "the forested hills of Connecticut" (1.2), the Sorenson grandparents' farmhouse is pretty darn out of the way. It seems like they want to discourage visitors too, based on the signs Kendra observes: "Private Property and No trespassing gave way to Beware of .12 Gauge and Trespassers Will Be Persecuted" (1.53). The final sign on the gate takes the cake, though: "Certain Death Awaits" (1.57). That's cheery, right? Every kid wants to be greeted by such a warm welcome on their way to their grandparents' house.
The house itself is really nice. Kendra observes:
The house was big, but not enormous, with lots of gables and even a turret […] Constructed out of dark wood and stone, the house looked old but in good repair. The grounds were more impressive. A bright flower garden bloomed in front of the house. Manicured hedges and a fish pond added character to the yard. Behind the house loomed an immense brown barn, at least five stories tall, topped by a weather vane. (1.61)
So we get the sense that this is a pretty sweet little farmhouse, tucked away in rolling hills, and kinda hard to get to—and if anyone does happen upon it, the Sorensons to go out of their way to discourage visitors from popping in. More on that in a bit, though.
The kids get to spend their time there staying in the attic room, which is not as scary as it sounds:
Braced for cobwebs and torture devices, Kendra was relieved to find that the attic was a cheerful playroom. Spacious, clean, and bright, the long room had a pair of beds, shelves crowded with children's books, freestanding wardrobes, tidy dressers, a unicorn rocking horse, multiple toy chests, and a hen in a cage. (1.101)
This sounds like the perfect place to be a kid in summer, right? Even though Grandpa Sorenson claims to not know how to act around kids, he sure gives his grandkids a comfy place to bunk.
Which is good, since apparently the woods are full of ticks this time of year, so the kids are confined to the grounds around the house. That's not all bad, since there's a nice pool they can swim in (plus their sweet attic room). Soon though, things get a little strange. Kendra notices a "swarm of small winged creatures" crowding a mirror (2.69) which is kinda bizarre behavior for hummingbirds, butterflies, and dragonflies to engage in together. And Seth explores the woods and discovers a weird old woman living in a shack on the property. What's going on here?
We'll recap for ya: the farmhouse is comfy but not overly swank, the grounds are well-kept (yay for a swimming pool), and the kids feel more or less at home. But what's the deal with our feathered friends and the mirror, the old woman in the shack, and the "no trespassers" signs that border on the bizarre?
It all makes sense once we learn that the farmhouse is part of a larger chunk of land that's actually a preserve for magical creatures. The vain butterflies and birds are actually fairies; the old woman is actually a witch; and the Certain Death Awaits sign could very well be true if you take a wrong turn and bother the wrong monster.
Hang with us while we explain that the physical place of Fablehaven comes with its own set of rules and regulations governing how people should act. It's a lot like how being in an airport requires certain kinds of behavior in order to not have the TSA all up in your business. These rules relate to the physical boundaries of the setting, too.
Grandpa explains to the kids that Fablehaven is governed by a treaty that binds all the magical creatures there. He also tells them that the "specific details are complex" (5.150). The basic gist, though, is don't bother us and we won't bother you. In general, the magic critters "will not initiate trouble unless you break the rules" (5.152)—so, you know, don't break the rules.
What's an example of breaking the rules? Going where you're not supposed to. For example, according to Grandpa:
"The island at the center of the pond is a shrine to the Fairy Queen. No mortal is permitted to tread there. I know of a groundskeeper who broke that rule. The moment he set foot on the sacred island, he transformed into a cloud of dandelion fluff, clothes and all. He scattered on the breeze and was never seen again." (5.134)
Whoa, dude. We get it: going places that are off-bounds is a big no-no in Fablehaven. (The pond, by the way, is totally gorgeous and a must-see if you can manage to stay away from the water, since the naiads living there would find it hilarious to drown you.)
But this whole boundary thing goes both ways. Grandpa continues:
"There are geographic boundaries where certain creatures are allowed and certain creatures, including mortals, are not permitted. The boundaries function as a way to contain the darker creatures without causing an uproar." (5.156)
So the supernatural critters are bound by these rules just as much as humans are—it's just not a giant magic zoo full of off-limits places for humans.
Why are we putting so much emphasis on these rules and boundaries? Well, you gotta understand them in order to get why Midsummer Eve is such a big deal. And if you've read the book and don't know what we're talking about, go back and reread it (or just continue to explore our awesome Shmoop run-down of the book).
When everything goes down at Midsummer Eve, Kendra and Seth are left on their own. They decide to explore the preserve in order to look for Grandpa and Lena, on the assumption that they were kidnapped. What could possibly go wrong with this plan?
If a map exists of Fablehaven, the kids don't have access to it, so they're stuck wandering around on their own. They really get out into the wilderness, especially once they leave the path:
They walked in a straight line away from the path […] Before long they crossed a dry, rocky streambed. Not far beyond, they wandered into a little meadow. The brush and wildflowers in the meadow grew nearly waist high. (11.143)
Clearly they don't put a big emphasis on mowing the lawn in the far reaches of the preserve.
The kids encounter satyrs, an ogress, and later, a troll—and once they're reunited with Grandma, they get to visit the Forgotten Chapel too. We'll pass on that one, thanks, since it doesn't look too appealing:
It was a boxy structure with a row of large windows fanged with broken glass and a single cupola that probably contained a bell. The roof sagged. The wooden walls were grey and splintered. There was no guessing what the original color might have been. A short flight of warped steps led up to an empty doorway, where double doors had once granted access. It looked like a perfect lair for bats and zombies. (16.12)
Thanks but no thanks—that's sure one creepy, ominous-looking place. It doesn't outlast the showdown with Bahumat and Muriel, either—the fairies take the roof off the place, and then fold the basement into the ground. Check it out:
The walls of the basement crumbled. The surrounding area folded in and swallowed it up. The field heaved like a stormy sea. As the undulations subsided, the basement had been replaced by a low hill […] Wildflowers and fruit trees began sprouting throughout the clearing and on the hill, coming to full bloom in a matter of seconds. (18.109-110)
The bad scary ominous place has been replaced by a rather more cheerful and natural looking place—say what you will about fairies, but they sure know how to leave a place better than they found it. The wilds of Fablehaven contain a lot of different landscapes, and by the end of the book, some of them have been changed for better or for worse (though in this case, we'll go with better).
One more note on the setting of Fablehaven: it doesn't exist. At least not on a map. When Grandma's pulling mystical weapons out of the attic, she shows the kids a map of the world: "Large dots and X's were located on diverse portions of the map, aside from the labeling of major cities" (15.114)— Kendra is the first to notice that Fablehaven isn't on the map. According to Grandma, it's one of five unmarked preserves in the world.
Let's get this straight: Fablehaven is super-special and hence its location is a secret. Or… it should be. Clearly Muriel's collaborators in the Society of the Evening Star know where it is, though, and that, amigos, does not bode well for the future of Fablehaven.
Want to visit a place where magic creatures live in secret? Sure, sign us up. This idea is not terribly hard to grasp, and the fact that the main characters are kids (eleven and almost-fourteen years old) makes the story easy to relate to and understand. Not everything is cheerful and hunky-dory in Fablehaven—in fact there are some downright gross and desperate parts of the story—but it's pretty easy to follow the plot as it progresses.
In Fablehaven we get some descriptive writing that both accurately tries to convey what's going on, and also tries to spice things up with a bit of character. Worry not—we'll give you some examples of both.
When Grandpa brings a misshapen Seth to Muriel to transform, she dramatically acts surprised to see him:
Muriel looked up, a slow grin revealing decayed teeth […] She rubbed her eyes theatrically and squinted at him. (8.139)
Clearly this is exaggerated for humorous effect, right? But it also accurately portrays what's happening.
For another example of where description meets color, check out the big showdown at the Forgotten Chapel:
Four winged creatures were rising to meet the fairies. The huge gargoyles were at least ten feet tall, with razor claws and horns like rams. (18.59)
Here we get a factual statement (the size of the gargoyles, in real-world and easy to follow terms) as well as a simile (they had horns like rams). This helps us imagine the action and stay involved.
Simmer down, Shmoopsters—we're talking about platonic kisses here, not the lovey-dovey kind. What do kisses have to do with magical creatures? A bunch if you're specifically talking about fairies, apparently.
We first see kissy behavior when Kendra's fairy army rushes in to do battle with Muriel's imps and other monsters. What happens is pretty trippy:
Many of the fairies cast their weapons aside and soared straight at the imps, catching them in vicious embraces and kissing them on the mouth. In radiant bursts of sparks, every imp that was kissed transformed into a human-sized fairy! (18.61)
Whoa—that's something, right? It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase the power of love—or more like the power of a kiss, as the case may be. The fairies definitely don't seem to be approaching the imps with love what with their "vicious" embraces and all.
Our next example of kisses-as-transformative comes when the fairy Seth transforms into an imp gets turned back into a fairy. She sees Seth, who's become a grotesquely old man while captured, and decides to take pity on him:
She leaned forward and kissed Seth on the forehead. His wrinkles smoothed and his hair filled in until he promptly looked like himself again. (18.79)
This is probably the only time in the history of the world that an eleven-year-old boy hasn't complained about being kissed because ew girls—but it's also probably safe to say that most eleven-year-old boys would do whatever necessary to not look like old men.
Finally, when all the demon-binding is complete, the human-sized fairies kiss Kendra to revert themselves back to fairy-size:
As each kiss was bestowed, the fairy reverted to her former size amid dazzling sparks and darted away. (18.116)
So there is something truly magical about kisses, something that enacts a transformation—and when it comes to kissing Kendra in order to revert back to their usual selves, the steady stream of kisses transforms Kendra for good. Check it out:
The rapid succession of kisses brought overpowering sensations. Again Kendra smelled the earthy aromas of the Fairy Queen—rich soil and young blossoms. She tasted honey and fruit and berries, all sweet beyond comparison. She heard the music of rainfall, the cry of the wind, and the roar of the sea. She felt as if the warmth of the sun were embracing her, flowing through her. (18.116)
Here we see there's something truly magical about fairy kisses, something connected to nature—and Kendra is connecting to all of this too. We're not sure exactly what's going on here, but Kendra becomes attuned to the magic around her in a way that no other human is afterward—she no longer needs to drink the milk to see the creatures—so kisses definitely stand apart as something special. And by receiving so many, Kendra emerges as pretty special too.
We've all seen that famous painting by J.W. Waterhouse of the water nymphs, right? This one? Water nymphs (a.k.a. naiads) sure are pretty… but do they have your best interests at heart? Not according to Grandpa—he says the pond is a dangerous place because of the naiads. He says:
"The pond can be a hazardous place. Return there now, and you would find friendly naiads beckoning you near the water in order to pull you under and drown you." (5.132)
Yikes, right? It seems the naiads are tricksters of the most dangerous sort. But that's not the only reason why the pond is to be avoided: in its center rests a shrine to the Fairy Queen, a.k.a. "the most powerful figure in all fairydom" (5.136)—and if a mortal sets foot on her island, she might punish the trespasser… but then again, she also might not.
See, for all that the pond symbolizes danger and the very real possibility of death, it also symbolizes hope. When Kendra is the only member of her family who hasn't been captured, she suddenly has a thought:
The Fairy Queen had a shrine on the island in the middle of the pond. Wasn't she supposed to be the most powerful person in all the fairy world? Maybe Kendra could try asking her for help. (17.10)
The amazing thing is, Kendra's gamble works: the Fairy Queen helps her out, and Kendra is able to save her family and Fablehaven all in one go. All thanks to the pond. Or rather, the fact that the naiads and the Fairy Queen decided to let Kendra get as far as the shrine on the island. The pond is a tricky place, symbolizing danger and hope all wrapped up in one.
Milk, it does a body good… especially if you want to see magical creatures. Wait—your mom never told you that? Tsk tsk. Though in fairness, we're pretty sure milk only does this if you live in Fablehaven.
Of course, like most things in Fablehaven, the milk has both dangerous and benevolent aspects. When Kendra starts snooping around the milk, Dale tells her that it's "a bacterial stew" (5.54) and that anyone who drinks it could get "shingles. Scabies. Scurvy" (5.52). Sounds icky, right? It definitely makes us feel a little lactose intolerant all of a sudden.
Kendra's suspicious enough about Dale's laundry list of diseases the milk can give someone to follow through, though, so she gets Seth to drink the milk as an experiment before trying some herself. And instead of breaking out in rashes, it totally opens their eyes to magical creatures, which is pretty neat. The kids later learn from Grandma that the milk produced by their milch cow, Viola, is extra special. She says:
"[…] her milk functions as an ambrosia central to their survival." (15.27)
In this case, "their" refers to the fairies. And of course, in order to see all of the magical creatures, the humans have to drink a glass daily, which helps them tend to Fablehaven. The thing about Fablehaven, though, is that the safest way to hang out there as a human is to not be aware of how much magic is flitting about around you. Magical creatures can't hurt you if you don't engage with them—and once you see them, your chances of engagement increase dramatically which, in turn, opens you to harm.
So we see that milk, like practically everything else in Fablehaven, is double-edged: it both opens humans eyes to magic while also increasing their chances of getting hurt by magic, and it nourishes fairies and can be important to their spells.
Does this remind you of something from another story? We can't help but think of Eve in the Bible. The milk—like the apple she bites—opens people's eyes to the world around them, but this knowledge comes at a steep price (for Eve it's expulsion from Eden; for the humans in our book it's physical harm or death). Does that seem like a stretch to you, or can you find other similarities?
Mirror, mirror, in the book, where's your symbolism if we look?
If you read closely, you'll see mirrors in a few key situations in Fablehaven. First there's the mirror that Kendra brings down to the pool, and which draws a suspicious amount of attention from supposedly ordinary insects:
After less than a minute, a hummingbird glided over to the mirror and hovered above it. Soon it was joined by a few butterflies. A bumblebee alighted on the face. Before long another swarm of small winged creatures crowded the mirror. (2.69)
We're no entomologists, but we're gonna go out on a limb and say that's atypical behavior for all these small winged critters. Later on it makes sense, since we learn that they're actually fairies (the kids just couldn't see them for what they were at the time) and fairies are very vain.
Next up, we see a mirror when Seth manages to catch a fairy and imprison her in a jar. He leaves the mirror in with her, thinking that it'll be nice since fairies like to look at themselves. Wrong. When the fairy transforms into an imp, breaks the mirror, and then escapes, Seth is puzzled. It takes Grandpa's explanation to clear up what this means:
"I am told Seth even left a mirror with the fairy, so she could behold herself after she fell. The fairies considered that act particularly cruel." (8.100)
Normally we wouldn't think about leaving a mirror somewhere easily accessible as a mean thing to do, but it has a special significance for fairies and imps. And as much as fairies love admiring themselves, they loathe witnessing their ugly transformations into imps.
So what do these mirrors symbolize? In both cases, the kids are ignorant about some aspect of fairy existence: in the first case that they exist at all, and in the second case that fairies can become imps if left imprisoned indoors overnight. Mirrors are thus associated with things-not-yet-known, of which there are plenty for Kendra and Seth in this book. It's an interesting twist, since mirrors often are symbols for truth—but in the mixed up world of Fablehaven, they instead indicate not knowing what's up.
Someone we don't know and who plays no part in the book narrates the story for us, but we still spend a lot of Fablehaven inside Kendra's head since our narrator can peek inside it whenever they want. And Kendra's head isn't a bad place to be—after all, she's pretty sensible and compassionate. We see these qualities in her reaction to Seth being chased by fairies after accidentally turning one of them into an imp:
Her initial thought was to make a joke about the fairies wanting revenge for him trying to catch them, until she realized it was probably true. (8.47)
Good catch, Kendra. We also see things from Seth's perspective, but way less often than from Kendra's perspective—and that, friends, probably isn't a bad thing, since Seth is always getting into trouble. Needless to say, if the narrator spent as much time with Seth as they do with Kendra, we'd be talking about a very different story.
Kendra and Seth learn that their grandparents are caretakers of a preserve for magic critters called Fablehaven. This is pretty cool… but also dangerous. Following the rules will keep them safe from magic harm, but what kid actually follows the rules all the time? As we learn about all this stuff, we're seeing the stage set for what comes next in the story.
Seth angers the fairies and is transformed into a mutant walrus. Luckily it's fixable, but asking the witch Muriel to get rid of his tusks and such comes with a price: she's one step closer to freedom.
With the magic creatures agitated over these events, Midsummer Eve becomes even more dangerous for the humans—and if the fairies don't help protect the house, who knows what might get in and harm the people inside, like Kendra and Seth, and Grandpa? (By the way, where's Grandma? We still don't know.)
Here we're seeing a bunch of dominos lined up and ready to fall… you know, if by dominoes we mean stuff that angers magic creatures and could easily hurt you or at least ruin your day.
Disaster strikes at Midsummer Eve: Grandpa is kidnapped and the kids are left alone. Well, not entirely alone: turns out their pet chicken is their grandmother under a curse. In asking Muriel to undo the curse, they free the witch—and she promptly disappears to do mischief.
And Muriel's mischief is no small matter: She is trying to free Bahumat, a demon that'll destroy most of Fablehaven and turn it into a refuge for darkness and chaos. Muriel captures Grandma and Seth, leaving Kendra to desperately beg for help from the Fairy Queen, even though doing so could get her killed. If that ain't a crisis, Shmoopsters, then we don't know what is.
Kendra's gamble works, and a fairy army assembles to imprison Bahumat again, this time with Muriel thrown in as well. The fairies disenchant everyone that Muriel transformed, and Kendra too is left changed: she can see magic creatures without having to drink magic milk daily like most humans do.
Things are almost-kinda-sorta back to normal, as we see the plot threads of Muriel's dark magic and the chaos of Midsummer Eve wrapped up, and the conflict between Seth and the fairies wrapped up.
Grandpa tells Kendra that he's proud of her bravery, and he's seriously considering making her the next caretaker of Fablehaven. Kendra and Seth's parents come back to pick them up and take them home, and knowing that no one would believe them if they tell their story, Kendra and Seth bond over their Fablehaven adventures. Their time at the magic refuge is done… for now.