by Bill West
stories and a poem from the pen of a master of fantasy writing. Neil
Gaiman's collection of imaginative tales for younger readers, ages 10
up, is beautifully illustrated by Teddy Kristiansen.
The Witch's Headstone
is the only new story in the collection and appears here as a taster
for the soon to be published collection The Graveyard Book.
The majority of the other stories are pretty good. How to talk to Girls at Parties
was nominated for a Hugo award, and is brilliantly imaginative. All of
the other stories have been taken from earlier collections; the opening
story, The Case of Four
and Twenty Blackbirds (1984) appeared in Angels and Visitations.
In fact, the owners of copies of Angels
and Visitations, Smoke
and Mirrors and
Fragile Things already have copies of most of these
stories. But as this slim volume is aimed at young readers from age 10
upwards then they probably wont have seen these stories before, but
older collectors should be warned that most likely they have!
states in his introduction that he is emulating Ray Bradbury who picked
stories from his published works he thought younger readers might like.
One of Bradbury's books, aimed at the 14 to 18 age group was called S Is for Space.
This is where Gaiman got the idea for this collection. Perhaps it
explains the rather retro, 1960's feel to the book's cover. The cover
illustration, a cat staring up at the stars, is an intriguing choice
which echoes the powerful and moving story in this collection, The Price, “there
was nothing to be seen. Only the Black Cat on the steps, staring into
Price is not a story written for children. It has an adult main
character and the hero, the cat, suffers terrible harm defending
humanity from a demon. There is no happy ending.
introductory tale, The
Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds, is full of
inventiveness and wit but lacks an engaging plot. A romp through the
world of nursery stories as a private dick investigates the murder of
Humpty Dumpty. Troll
Bridge is an old favorite but not obviously a story aimed
at 10 year olds. The troll is a creature of nightmare, “He had huge
strong teeth, and rending claws, and strong, hairy hands.” See what I
mean? “He was naked, and his penis hung from the bush of gonk hair
between his legs,” Excuse me? “I'm going to eat your life Jack.” Great
fun. Jack proves himself to be pretty amoral, offering his sister, and
later his girlfriend, suggesting to the Troll “eat her
Gaiman's prose lends itself to being read out loud teachers might
reconsider reading these stories in front of classes of 10-year-old
children. I don't have a problem with children reading these stories,
but I would have been far happier if this collection had not been
targeted at any age range at all.
other favorite stories were Chivalry,
How to Talk to Girls at Parties and The Witch's Headstone.
is brilliantly Pythonesque, whilst How
to Talk to Girls at Parties is Gaiman at his inventive
best, taking the awkwardness of teenagers at a party and twisting it
into a tale of exotic aliens.
was initially disappointed with October
in the Chair. This develops into a brilliant story, but a
reluctant reader, might happily skip the first seven pages to arrive at
the meat of this stunning tale, “There was a boy, October said, who was
miserable at home, although they did not beat him.” Perhaps the setting
for this story, the personifications of each month meeting to tell
their stories in a wood, might work well in a graphic novel but as a
short story I found the structure cumbersome and flawed. This may be
unfair as by his own admission Gaiman was a prose writer before he ever
worked on graphic novels, and there are many who would disagree with me
and love this story. Had I been his editor I would have suggested he
trim it or, heaven forbid, write the other eleven stories with equal
stories are brilliant, inventive but are perhaps a bit too
rock-and-roll to be considered “safe” for the proposed age range. On
the whole they deal with adult themes and have adult characters. I am a
fan of Gaiman's graphic novels, his work with Terry Pratchett on Good Omens, and he
has been hugely successful with his longer work for children, Coraline, which won
both Hugo and Nebula awards for the Best Novella 2003 and the Bram
Stoker Award for Best Work for Young Readers. M Is for Magic is a
well produced publication which may well become a treasured
introduction for younger readers to Gaiman's often brilliant stories. I
only wish that Gaiman, or his editor's had abandoned the idea of age
banding these stories. However, the overall quality of the stories
speak for themselves.
studied English Literature at Hull University. He has been writing
flash fiction since 2004 and has had a number of pieces published both
on-line and in print. He lives in Shropshire, UK.
Publisher: Harper Trophy
bio: Award-winning author Neil
Gaiman is famous for his Sandman series of graphic novels.
Also a successful children's author; Coraline made the New York Times
best-selling children's book list. He has picture books to his credit,
The Wolves in the Wall and The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish.
Buy this book (used or
Publisher's Website: Harper Trophy
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Neil Gaiman "Fragile Things", "Angels and Visitations", "Smoke and Mirrors"
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The Book Swede