The Silver Arrow


Lev Grossman


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

March 18, 2021

he Silver Arrow is a children's book by Lev Grossman, the author of the excellent The Magicians Trilogy. It is the story about an eleven year old girl named Kate and her nine year old brother, Tom. It is Kate's eleventh birthday, and she dreams of adventure. Kate writes a letter to her mysterious Uncle Herbert (whom she has never met), and he comes through in a big way - Uncle Herbert shows up with a train named The Silver Arrow. This is not a toy train, but a genuine full-sized steam locomotive. The huge machine sits on a section of rails that Uncle Herbert has installed in the backyard. Kate's parents are appalled, but Kate and Tom are entranced.

Naturally, The Silver Arrow is a magic train. The tracks suddenly stretched off into the forest, the engine fires up, and before anyone is quite prepared to start an adventure, Kate and Tom find themselves chugging along through different terrain and countries - is it snowing out there? Odd, it was summer when Kate and Tom started. At a giant switching yard, the children meet up again with the magical Uncle Herbert. He asks them what kind of cars they wish to pull with their train. Kate and Tom, think - a couple of dining cars? Sleeper cars? Then they ask for more fanciful cars - a library car, a candy car, and a mystery car. Soon enough, The Silver Arrow pulls away with a full complement of cars.

The Silver Arrow stops at the first station, where a collection of animals stand waiting. Each beast has a ticket in its mouth. Even more astonishing, when Kate puts on her conductor outfit and punches the tickets, it turns out the animals can talk! The train and the animals begin riding the rails, and adventure ensues.

One of the nice scenes is a chapter where The Silver Arrow is chugging through a mysterious forest. The coal box is almost empty, and the children have been repeatedly warned to never let the fire go out. Kate decides to stop the train and gather firewood. What follows is a magical scene where Kate is seemingly transformed into a tree - she experiences the seasons, the joy of sunlight on her branches, the burrowing quest of her roots through deep soil searching for nutrients and water. All of this is experienced in a blink of an eye, then she is back in human form again, with a huge stack of firewood waiting next to the locomotive. The implication that I got was that the trees expected something in return, but the trees are not mentioned again. But it is a magical part of the story.

!!! *** Spoiler Alert *** !!!

Don't read the following paragraphs if you wish to read the book, just skip the rest of this report and procure a copy for yourself.

The rocket engines in the mystery car bothered me. If the children hadn't impulsively asked for a "mystery car" then how would they ever have been able to get The Silver Arrow to climb up the tracks into the sky? Are all the other conductors on all of the other trains stymied? And what happened to the cars behind the mystery car when the rockets are fired up? Wouldn't the caboose be incinerated, yet still attached to the back of the train?

I was also bothered by The Silver Arrow crashing through the tracks laid across thin ice. The reader has already witnessed train tracks built into the very sky, or beneath the sea. Certainly the magic tracks can be built any where - so why does the magic fail for the tracks over the ice? I expect that the train tracks could be built over open water, just like they were when the polar bear was picked up.