Gaiman’s collection of stories an uneven but captivating lot

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Neil Gaiman has become such a prolific writer that he has saved us all a lot of trouble by reviewing his latest book himself.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/02/2015 (2844 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Neil Gaiman has become such a prolific writer that he has saved us all a lot of trouble by reviewing his latest book himself.

He’s a pretty harsh critic, though, writing in the introduction to Trigger Warning that this latest offering is a “failure” for which he requests our indulgence and forgiveness.

Perhaps he was fishing for an argument or compliment when he penned that line. Many of the 2.15 million followers of @neilhimself (the author’s hyperactive Twitter feed) have already begun overloading the English writer with praise for this, his third collection.

Gaiman insists that respectable collections of short stories should have consistency. “They should not, hodgepodge and willy-nilly, assemble stories that were obviously not intended to sit between the same covers. They should, in short, not contain horror and ghost stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry, all in the same place.” And yet it’s still a pleasure to read.

The stand-out story for many fans will be Black Dog, the one piece that was written specially for Trigger Warnings. It revives the character Baldur (Shadow) Moon, an ex-convict readers will remember from Gaiman’s 2002 novel American Gods.

This time out, Gaiman thrusts Shadow into a small English town, where we can suspend disbelief in “semi-imaginary” fairy beasts and let Gaiman tell a ghost story the way only he can.

Not all of the 25 items between these covers come off so well. Nothing O’Clock (a Gaiman-esque title if there ever were one) is as ludicrously inane as any Doctor Who episode, and the fact that the author of Anansi Boys, Coraline and The Ocean at the End of the Lane wrote the thing doesn’t raise it to the level of great literature. The craft of Gaiman’s storytelling still grips us, though, in spite of the “timey-wimey” silliness — but just.

Likewise, A Calendar of Tales comes off not so much as fully formed short story, but as more of a writing exercise. Gaiman posed 12 questions via Twitter — one for each month, such as “Why is January dangerous?” — then pieced together a forgettable tale based on the best replies he received.

There are other stories that redeem the book, making the missteps forgivable. The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains first appeared in the 2010 sci-fi fantasy anthology Stories, edited by Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio, and has been published separately with illustrations by Eddie Campbell, who has joined Gaiman onstage to draw the story while it’s read aloud.

While that kind of performance must be wonderful to experience first-hand, having the words on the page and interpreting it yourself wields its own kind of magic.

In the end, it’s the phenomenon of connecting mythology and modern life that makes Gaiman such a captivating author — one who continues to deserve readers’ indulgence.

 

John Lyttle is a Winnipeg graphic designer and writer.

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Updated on Saturday, February 21, 2015 8:40 AM CST: Formatting.

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