Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Fantastic “Fool”

on January 18, 2011
Cover of "Fool on the Hill: A Novel"

Cover of Fool on the Hill: A Novel

Asking a former English teacher about her favorite book is a form of torture. How do I choose just one? So, I had to go back through my shelves. What is the book that I always come back to, year after year? There was always the old standby, Pride and Prejudice. A couple of Stephen King books almost made the cut, namely The Stand and The Dark Tower series. But when it came down to it, there was one book that stood out above the rest.

When I was in college, a good friend recommended that I read Fool on the Hill by Matt Ruff. I’d never heard of the book or the author, but Jason had never steered me wrong before (at least in terms of books!) I borrowed his copy – one of many to do so as he recommended it over the years – and started reading it right away.

I will attempt to summarize the plot here, but please realize that there are at least four separate plots going on at the same time that all culminate in an epic battle in the end. It’s a fantasy story which takes place at Cornell University. A recent grad and newly published author is the artist in residence for a year. With the behind the scenes machinations of a Greek diety, he becomes the main character of his own improbable story. Layered onto this is the story of a dog who believes he can smell Heaven and the cat that accompanies him there to protect him. There’s a group of colorful students who have their own, sometimes tragic story lines. There’s a fraternity based on the stories of Tolkien. And, if all that wasn’t enough, there is a storyline involving 6″ tall fairies named after Shakespearean characters. Did I mention the cameo by the Swedish chef?

A few years after first reading this fantastic book, I found myself chaperoning a college exploration trip for a summer program. One of the colleges that we visited was Cornell. I took the opportunity to take pictures of some of the places mentioned in the book like the Quad, the statues, the McGraw bell tower, and the suspension bridges. I keep the photographs tucked into the front cover of the book so I have my own visual aids whenever I read it. And I read it about once a year.

There is no way to describe this book to do it justice. I’ve gone and read all of Matt Ruff’s other books, and they were good, but no where near as enjoyable as Fool on the Hill. After returning Jason’s copy, I found my own copy in my favorite used bookstore. It was out of print at the time, but it’s possible to find a copy again. I highly recommend you do – there’s no book like it.


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