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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders

Reviewed: February 10, 2009
By: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: HarperCollins
360 pages, $33.95

Short story collections are, I am told, notoriously hard to sell to publishers. With this second collection, Neil Gaiman joins Stephen King in managing the trick with relative ease. Perhaps he goes one better in that his publishers allow him to include poetry among the prose.

Gaiman has been very busy of late. On film he was recently responsible for Stardust and Beowulf, and the stop-motion animated adaptation of his young adult novel Coraline, is currently making waves in the movie review columns. Apparently this story will also be migrating to Broadway as a stage musical.

To top it all off, his most recent YA novel, The Graveyard Book, was just given the Newberry Award for childrens’ literature, which means that Gaiman’s work will now be added to every school and public library that he hasn’t already invaded. He was interviewed about that on “Q” last week and that audio file can still be accessed on CBC’s website.

Like King, Gaiman has made it his habit to address his constant readsers in lengthy introductions that explain the origins of the stories and how they deviated from what he had in mind in the first place. This book, for instance, had the unwieldy working title of These People Ought to Know Who We Are and Tell That We Were Here, which got changed, thank goodness.

What the introduction tells us is that this writer, who produces everything from comic books to screenplays and novels, is fascinated by the process of creation and continues to tease both his readers and himself.

“Stories, like people and butterflies and songbirds; eggs and human hearts and dreams, are also fragile things. made up of nothing stronger or more lasting than twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks. Or they are words on the air, composed of sounds and ideas - abstract, invisible, gone once they’ve been spoken - and what could be more frail than that.?”

While I enjoyed the entire collection, I will use this space to comment on three stories I particularly liked. Gaiman is influenced by many writers and in the case of “A Study in Emerald” he gave us a perfect blend of the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft, a kind of reverse Sherlock Holmes story which won him a Hugo Award in 2004.

The second story is “The Problem of Susan,” which deals wth his own frustration over C.S. Lewis’s disposal of the elder of the girls in the quartet of children who originally visited Narnia. I don’t happen to agree with Gaiman’s take on this, but it was still an interesting piece.

The final story I’ll mention here is “The Monarch of the Glen” which is a continuation of the adventures of the man called Shadow from Gaiman’s own novel American Gods, as well as being yet another take on the Beowulf legend. He notes that it got written partly because he had finished the script for the Beowulf movie and that that project looked, for a time, as if it wasn’t going to be produced. At 60 pages, it is the longest piece in the book and is more properly labeled a novella.

If you’ve been wondering about Gaiman’s work, since his name has been so prominent lately, this collection will give you a good introduction.

By the way, there are two paperback editions of this book in print, either one half the price of this hardcover, so you might want to spend your money there instead.

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