Wednesday, October 2, 2013

M is for Magic (A book by Neil Gaiman) - Published in 2007

The book is a compilation of short stories, written by Gaiman: ‘Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams.’ He alludes to Saki, Harlan Ellison, John Collier and Ray Bradbury, all writers whom he adores and is influenced by; the ten stories have range, exploring Gaiman’s depth and style, imagination and passion as a writer.

1. The case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds (from Knave)
The story has characters from nursery rhymes, that beloved and fragile eggshell encased character Humpty-Dumpty, is a vicious extortionist in the tale, unlike the image we have of him from Mother Goose!
And Jill, actually the Queen of Hearts, gets a makeover, the woman of scarlet with myriad dark shades is a criminal par excellence, having gotten rid of HD, Cock Robinson and Dr. Foster – all for the four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie and the one who pecked her nose off - audaciously HD having photographed her sans snoot - reason enough in Nursery-land to bump someone off! A macabre read for a child!

2. Troll Bridge (from Smoke and Mirrors)
When steam engines became a thing of the past and railway tracks were uprooted, a young boy revels in childhood rituals - walking home from school, catching shrimp, colored rocks and whiling away time. And then he’s lost (but doesn’t seem to mind it!) – what makes it even more adventurous is his meeting with a troll - horrifying and threatening to eat him for having trespassed his bridge. But after promising to return when he’s older, the troll lets him by unscathed. When he’s fifteen, he returns, although unknowingly - with a girl, planning to do what teenagers would, unchaperoned, - and then, the troll freezes the girl into a zombie. This time the boy asks the troll to take the girl, he refuses (because she’s innocent) – he’d rather eat his life. Once again, the teenager appeals to the troll’s kindness and escapes.
Many years later, disillusioned, he returns, seeking the troll, who is surprised, even touched that he returned-and this time, he does eat his life, leaving the man, now a troll to haunt the greens under the bridge.

3. Don't ask Jack (from Smoke and Mirrors)
Some toys you buy off the counter, some are bequeathed - in the story, its Jack’s ornate box, never opened because it’s so valuable, and so an aura surrounds it, giving wind to many stories; the most circulated being that Jack was the guardian of Pandora’s box - he kept the evil from getting out.
But sometimes some kids do open the box, quietly, in the attic - and Jack comes out from the box, whispering things they’ll never forget. The children in the house grow up, one dead in the Great War, another in a mad house, the girls now old women, and all this while, Jack waits upstairs patiently for a child to come by - they never do.
Chilling and creepy, the story is great for a night time bed story -don’t look under the bed, and if you have   a box on the dresser, don’t you dare open it - Jack would know, he’s waiting…

4. How to sell the Ponti Bridge (from Imagine #24)
The American conman George Parker sold the Brooklyn Bridge twice a week, and repeatedly, for years, giving rise to the phrase “and if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.”
The Rogues’ Club is an exclusive intergalactic joint - the best in all the seven worlds, formed almost seventy thousand years ago (the bad guys have been around that long!)  in the Lost City of Carnadine. One evening, over conversations about past exploits and fine wine, a patron comments how classless it was when conmen tried to sell popular spots like the Ponti Bridge, to unsuspecting and susceptible tourists. That was low, even for accomplished fraudsters! The narrator comments that if at all the task was to be accomplished - the perpetrator would have no access to membership at this Club!
A suave man called Stoat cuts in politely, and tells all around that in fact - HE had gotten membership to The Rogues’ because he had sold the Ponti Bridge! He shares with them how he’d arrived penniless, and while listening to a tour guide at the bridge (studded with jewels) that Ponti wasn’t for sale, despite what scamsters were telling simple folk like them. That gave Stoat food for thought, and in his unctuous way, he sells the Bridge, bit by bit to jewelers of the city. Not revealing what the details were and what the consequences of his act were, Stoat leaves his audience wondering, and in wonder. The Rogues present feeling not so cad-like and clever anymore.

5. October in the chair (from Conjunctions)
October is chairing a meet of the twelve months, as they sit by a fire, sharing their experiences. Needless to say, October has the best story to tell. He narrates a tale about a little boy called Runt (here –a name, otherwise – a word meaning an undersized animal) , well that was his nickname, the only person who called him by his actual name Donald was his grandma. One day, Runt runs away from home, and befriends the ghost of a boy called ‘Dearly’. They have the best time- climbing trees and talking to each other. When it’s time to leave- Runt doesn’t want to, he’d rather die than go back to being a ‘runt’.
The story ends with Dearly showing Runt the farmhouse in the field of weeds, and as the ten year old stands by himself in the graveyard, he decides to go into the house, maybe hoping that he would be accepted as a ‘resident’ in the after life -yard, with Dearly for a friend. A jittery June asks what happened to him, but mild May entreats with  her not to ask, some things are better left unknown….I wonder, though…

6. (For Ray Bradbury) Chivalry  (from Smoke and Mirrors)
Genteel and aged Mrs. Whitaker purchases the Holy Grail from Oxfam, along with two Mills & Boons titles (which she’ll never read). The silver chalice would look wonderful on the , it mantelpiece.
And look wonderful – it does! Mrs. Greenberg, though, casts a jaundiced eye over it, proclaiming her son her son Myron had won a chalice like that for swimming- and unlike this one, his had his name engraved on it!
Social ritual over, the bell rings once more and Mrs. Whitaker opens the door to find a ‘knight in shining armor’, literally, at her doorstep. He introduces himself as Galaad, and that he is on a Right High and Noble Quest to find the Holy Grail- which is currently in her possession. The old lady asks him to leave when he requests that she give him the blessed chalice, refusing his offer for gold in exchange for it.
He returns again on Monday, and she asks him to help her out in the garden, he offers her the sword Balmung, she refuses, he leaves. On Tuesday, she gets him to help her with the boxes; he bears more gifts: the Philosopher’s stone, the  Egg of the Phoenix and lastly an apple carved out of a single ruby, the last would help her once more be youthful and live eternally.
She tut-tuts and tells the Knight to ‘put the apple away…you shouldn’t offer things like that to old ladies. It isn’t proper.’ Finally, she feels that the Stone and the  Egg were a fair exchange for the Grail, and sends Galaad away. On her next trip to Oxfam, she almost buys an old funny looking lamp- but decides not to, since there isn’t space on the mantelpiece for it.
Galaad still chivalrous after thousands of years, never once taking advantage of the Old Lady, who for her meager life, takes great pride in who she is and what her life has to offer. The best read  in the Book, so far!

7. The price  (from Smoke and Mirrors)
Perhaps the best read on Halloween’s, The Price tells of a Black Cat that is adopted by  the Author’s family, it is well cared for and loved. However, much to the bewilderment of the couple, Black Cat is always found wounded and bleeding each morning. With its best interest at heart, the narrator thinks it might help  if the cat were locked in the basement, far from harm’s way; strange things, bad things start to happen to the family, and the lady of the house, intuitively asks the husband to let the cat out of the
basement - she had commented on its arrival that it was a ‘person.’ Curious and concerned to find out who or what is harming the pet, the narrator stays awake all night- and discovers that the Devil, in guise of a woman, nearly mutilates the Black Cat, who puts up a fight and sends the Devil packing.
Realizing then that the cat is actually protecting his family, the narrator makes a decision to keep it, although guilty for The Price he expects it to pay….creepy.

8. How to talk to girls at parties (from Fragile Things)
The title is most suggestive and narrates the travails of Enn, whose only experience with the fairer sex is mums discussing politics and poetry, and the three girls he’s kissed. Understandably envious of Vic, his pal who has a way with women, Enn follows him around like a woebegone pup waiting for a treat. When it’s his turn to finally meet someone, Gaiman sets up an encounter with ‘alien women’ who want to fertilize him with a memetic virus transmitted verbally , in the form of a poem-such that the entire human race will be transformed. This alien-girl called Triolet sings him a poem, believing that if he hears it, it will change him. The story may have meant to thrill, but actually grosses you out and one can understand when Vic throws up after an encounter with a girl, who was also an extraterrestrial creature. Best avoided.

9. Sunbird (from Noisy Outlaws)
Augustus TwoFeathers McCoy, Professor Mandalay, Virginia Boote, Jackie Newhouse and Zebediah Crawcrustle are looking for something new to sink their teeth into - literally. The five are members of an epicurean club and have tried everything - from the exotic to the bizarre - and are raring, hungry for more. Mammoths, sloths, fruit bat, panda - have all traveled through their entrails.
And then they lament the fact that Man is no longer on the menu - served after electrocution (this is  getting more gut churning and sick) , thankfully they aren’t after man-meat, but instead decide to travel to Cairo to hunt the elusive Sunbird (Phoenix).
The Sunbird is set to come to Earth when the planet is closest to the Sun, and as the beauteous creature floats down, it is soon served on a platter to the five - who devour it with gusto. No sooner had they finished eating,  their innards feel like they are being set ablaze, and as they burn to white ash, a new generation of birds is born, a man who rises from the ashes like a Phoenix and a young girl…bizarre, avoidable.

10. The witch's headstone (from Dark Alchemy: Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy)
Nobody ‘Bod’ Owens, the human creature among the dead, decides to crossover to unconsecrated ground - to where the Witch’s Headstone was supposed to be; she seems a likeable creature, helpful and kind.
Going to great lengths to steal a snakestone, then selling it to a corrupt trader Abanazer, Bod tries his level best to ensure that Lizzie gets her headstone - she healed his broken leg, after all!
When Abanazer  and his goon try and rough him up, Lizzie comes to his rescue, saving him from the kidnappers. Although his guardian Silas is upset that he’s been absconding without anyone knowing, the man-ghost-vampire like creature understands why Bod did what he did.
The story is an excerpt from the Graveyard Book, elaborated for effect for a short, separate story.

M is for Magic (A book by Neil Gaiman) - Published in 2007

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