Fragile Things Groupread, Part 1

I’m reading Neil Gaiman’s short story collection “Fragile Things” as part of a group read hosted by Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings.  The book is also a part of the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge.

Unlike other group reads that I’ve done, this time we’re not using set discussion questions.  Each week, we’ll be reading four short stories and posting our thoughts about them on Sundays.

And just as a disclaimer… BEWARE.  HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!  YARRR!


Okay, I cheated a bit here.  There’s the main part of the introduction, which I read, but I’m reading the bits about the individual stories as we read each story in the book.  Otherwise, it would just be a blur to me.  I do think that it’s interesting as a reader to know a bit about the author’s thought processes as he wrote the book, as well as his original working title.  I was also pleased with the illustration at the beginning of the book (I have a library copy, but I’m assuming it’s in all of them).  It was a cool way of tying in the original title.

Edit:  After reading Carl’s post, I went back to the introduction, because I completely missed something by making assumptions before actually reading.  I had thought that it would be best to read the introduction to each story as we get to that part of the book, in order that they be fresh in my mind for each story.  Apparently Neil Gaiman doesn’t work like that, and in the midst of the introduction there’s a hidden short-story.  So, without further ado…

The Mapmaker

I am a fan.  This is a parable of sorts about a Chinese emperor who commands his people to create a map on an island in his garden.  The map was to be shaped like China, and involved enormous upkeep to maintain accuracy and protect it from the elements.  Eventually, the emperor gets bored with it and decides to create a new and bigger map, only to be discreetly chastened by his adviser.  After the emperor’s death, the maps are no longer preserved, and all that is left is the lake itself.  It’s an interesting take on the general literary theme that the things of this life are transient, and ties in well with the title of the book itself.

A Study in Emerald

In the intro, Gaiman described this story as a blend of Lovecraft’s Cthulu mythos and Sherlock Holmes.  I find it to be a fitting description.  The narrator is a skittish veteran who was tortured by a strange creature in a cave in Afghanistan.  His roommate plays the part of the Holmes figure, and is a detective.  When Prince Franz Drago of Bohemia is murdered, they are called to investigate.  The twist?  The European monarchy is composed of alienesque monsters who are the “protectors” (read “Overlords”) of humanity.  I found myself sympathizing with the murderers.

The Fairy Reel

Nearly every story or poem in which a mortal journeys to Faerie highlights how life-changing and profound the experience is.  “The Fairy Reel” is a poem about an old man who has journeyed to that world and returned, but who continuously longs for the world that he left there.  This was my favorite part of the collection thus far.

I watch with envious eyes and mind, the
single-souled, who dare not feel
The wind that blows beyond the moon,
who do not hear the Fairy Reel.

October in the Chair

In this story, the months of the year are personified and sit around a campfire drinking cider and telling stories.  When it is October’s turn to tell a story, he began to speak about a young boy known as Runt, who lives in the shadow of his more popular brothers and doesn’t fit in at home or school.  He runs away from school and befriends a ghost known only as Dearly.  Runt must then make the choice whether to return home or become a ghost and stay with his new friend.

I thought this story was rather clever.  I enjoyed the layers that it had… the months sitting around and chatting, while juxtaposed into the middle we hear Runt’s story.   It had a completely different impact than a ghost story would on its own.  Now I’m torn between whether I preferred “October in the Chair” or “The Fairy Reel.”  They were both excellent.

Concluding Thoughts

I hadn’t read any Neil Gaiman before, although I had been told by several people that his writing was good.  I had no idea what to expect from this collection, but thus far I’m impressed.  The stories and poems are nicely paired with a cup of tea in the morning, and are a pleasant blend between eerie and lighthearted.

30 thoughts on “Fragile Things Groupread, Part 1

  1. I’m reading this on my kindle, but when I’m back in the States I’d love to get my hands on a hard copy. Gaiman has a pdf of “A Study in Emerald” on his website and the way the story is laid out adds so much to it. I’m assuming that it’s similarly done in the hard copy (but just plain text in the ebook), and your mention of an illustration at the start of the collection has me wanting, even more, to actually hold this book.

    I’m glad I read the intro at the start, to get to the story hidden in there (and that was the perfect place for it – I’m not sure how it would stand on its own, but as a surprise wedged between descriptions of how & why Gaiman wrote a couple of his stories, it’s perfect) but like you I usually prefer flipping back and forth to read those sorts of things an accompaniments to the stories. Harder to do on an ereader, but I might try, since so much of the writing background Gaiman provides has blurred together for me by now.

    1. There’s just something nice about having a physical book. That being said, I’m sure that sometime soon I’ll invest in an e-reader, just for convenience. I’d recommend reading the hardcover (I’m not sure how the paperback is, but I generally like paperbacks best) of this book, if only for the layout of “A Study in Emerald.” I like the way the newspaper adds are bolded and switch font sizes… it gives a greater feel for the setting than actually describing every little detail would.

  2. I am glad you are enjoying your first exposure to Neil’s work. I’ve talked before about how I, as a fan, think Neil should first be experienced and I would certainly pick short stories for those who like them, but would usually lean towards novels.

    Glad you went back and read the intro for the extra story. I like The Mapmaker. It is one of those clever little stories about a very eccentric character that I find fun imagining, especially thinking about his adviser and the mysterious coincidence of when the ruler died. 🙂

    I like the poem. It makes me think of stories where humans are touched by Faerie, but not for the better necessarily and I juxtapose that against Gaiman’s story of faerie, Stardust, which speaks to the good and bad. (one you should read, by the way!)

    I like the months sitting around telling stories. It is a shame that the story wasn’t later in the collection so we could have actually read it in October. Bad planning on my part as host, I should have thought about it before now. Ha!

    The stories combined together work so well. I agree that they would not be as good if they were separate. And I just like it when characters in books sit around telling stories. There is something about that environment that excites me.

    1. Short stories can be an interesting introduction to a new (to me) author. I got hooked on Charles de Lint when I came across one of his books of short stories, and now he’s one of my favorite authors.

      When reading “The October Chair,” I found myself wanting to crash their campfire party. I’ve always loved camping, and one of my favorite parts about it is the point in the evening where everyone’s sitting around the fire, maybe partaking in a few beers, and just talking and telling stories and teasing each other. Gaiman captured that mood incredibly well.

  3. I’m glad you’re liking Neil Gaiman so far! As a first introduction to the author, I think Fragile Things is a good choice. I feel his writing varies slightly from book to book, and now you get to see all the different styles in one nice collection. (: Hooray!
    Hope you enjoy the rest of the group read!

  4. I can’t decide whether I like “A Study in Emerald” or “October in the Chair” better. The first one I love because everytime I re-read it, I seem to find another clever clue/nod to the audience that Neil Gaiman leaves behind for us re-readers! And I love October in the Chair because I would so stalk those months (yep, I was probably the one in the woods that June was talking about….) and also, the little scary story about the Runt made me feel sad, yet kind of scared and hopeful for the kid by the end of the story.


        1. Great! If you send me your email address (mine is poegeek (at) gmail (dot) com) I will put you on the weekly reminder email list. I won’t share your email with anyone. I BCC everything for confidentiality’s sake.

  5. I didn’t talk about “The Mapmaker” on my blog, but I was very intrigued by it and by the fact that mapmaker would rather build larger and larger facsimiles of his kingdom than, say, actually hang out in his kingdom.

    1. I was intrigued by the way that Gaiman decided to throw it into the middle of the introduction as well. I like the whole concept of a story-within-a-story.

  6. Good for you for actually singling out “The Mapmaker” and reviewing it. I loved that part of The Fairy Reel as well. What a treat you have in store with this being your introduction to Gaiman. I recommend, since you liked October in the Chair, reading The Graveyard Book next.

  7. This was also the first Gaiman I ever read. Now, three years later and I’ve read five more novels and more stories! It’s really making this re-read a special and different experience. Enjoy!

  8. I’ve read several of Gaiman’s novels, and with pretty much every novel of his I’ve been a little upset with one aspect of it or another. I’ve thought that each of the ideas were amazing, but the execution didn’t always work out for me. In his novel American Gods, there are several very short interludes within the story that are essentially just short stories set within the world that he created for American Gods. I think Gaiman’s biggest strength as a writer is the ideas that he creates for his stories, but you need more than just a good idea to support a full novel, and I think Gaiman’s biggest weakness as an author is probably his character development (which is what really drives a good novel). I think it would be very interesting to read a collection of his short stories, I’ll probably check this out eventually.

    1. I agree that American Gods could have been trimmed, there were far too many of the interludes. I understand the point that was trying to be made, but I felt it was overdone. Despite that I think it is an amazing novel, but I could see myself skipping interludes the next time I read it.

      I don’t agree about the character development. I think Shadow in American Gods, Bod in The Graveyard Book, the brothers in Anansi Boys and even Richard, to a lesser degree, in Neverwhere are wonderfully realized characters who all grow and develop as their stories play out.

  9. I’m glad you like Gaiman’s writing! I don’t read enough of it considering how much I always enjoy it, so I’m glad that this challenge got me to read some more!

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