Mirrors and smoke, writes Neil Gaiman in the introduction to this collection of odd delights, have been used by magicians to obscure what they are really up to for a century and half.
“Angle it right and a mirror becomes a magic casement; it can show you anything you can imagine and maybe a few things you can’t.”
Or maybe it can simply hide the things you don’t want your audience to see - yet.
The smoke, he concludes, blurs the edges of things.
In his longish introduction, complete with a separate short story and notes on all of the other twenty-nine items in the book, Gaiman spends 34 of his 346 pages telling us that writers do much the same thing.
Gaiman is that odd duck, a genre writer that no one seems to know quite where to place. Someone recently described him as being in his forties and still seeming to need a haircut, and yet the author’s photo shows you a guy who seems no more hirsute than the early Beatles.
Gaiman is a comic book writer (Sandman, Marvel 1602, The Eternals) who has made a career out of taking other peoples’ inventions and expanding their importance in surprising directions. But then he’s a novelist (American Gods and Anansi Boys) whose fertile fantasies range all over the map and sit comfortably atop the bestseller lists, giving booksellers conniptions as they try to figure out what shelves to place him on. Then they find out that he also writes children’s picture books (The Wolves in the Walls) and chapter books (Coraline) and they simply give up and assign him his own corner of the store.
Here, he’s a short story writer and a poet. Yes, there are eight poems in this book, not the sort of thing that you would expect to find in a fantasy/horror collection. From the breadth of the work herein, it would seem that Mr. Gaiman writes things simply because it occurs to him that perhaps he could, or because he wonders what it would be like to tell THAT kind of a story in THAT particular way.
And because he’s N*E*I*L G*A*I*M*A*N, one of those writers whose name on the cover of the book is usually larger than the title, he gets to sell nearly everything he puts to paper.
“Writing,” he has entered in his notebook, “is like flying in dreams. When you remember. When you can. When it works. It’s that easy.”
Here we have a collection which contains some variations on fairy tales, some stories that clearly reveal their Lovecraftian heritage, stories that are whimsical, ironic, spooky, occasionally gross and sometimes slightly autobiographical.
We have, in short, an engaging and captivating collection of material, one that I can recommend without hesitation.