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…
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.
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.