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Neil Gaiman – M is for Magic

May 12, 2010

49. M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman (2007)

Length: 260 pages

Genre: Short Stories, Fantasy, Young Adult

Started: 27 April 2010
Finished: 28 April 2010

Where did it come from? Amazon.
Why do I have it? I was buying the second two books in the Book of the Stars series and I needed something cheap to push my total up over the free-shipping limit.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 19 February 2009.

Summary: M is for Magic is a collection of Neil Gaiman’s short stories that are selected to appeal to young people. (The name is a riff on Ray Bradbury’s similar YA-themed collections, S is for Space and R is for Rocket.) They run a gamut of genres, from noir-ish mystery to ghost story to creepy horror to tall tale to science fiction to fairy tale.

Review: All of these stories had been published in one form or another before this collection appeared, and many of them have been published in other places since. It was my bad luck that I didn’t look too closely at the table of contents before I bought this book, and as a result, I was already familiar with almost half of the stories. I’d read “October in the Chair”, “How to Talk to Girls at Parties”, and “Sunbird” in Fragile Things, the poem “Instructions” in both Fragile Things *and* the anthology A Wolf at the Door, and of course “The Witch’s Headstone” became a chapter in The Graveyard Book. And, while I don’t mind revisiting short stories as a general rule, Gaiman and his editors managed to pick out some of my least-favorite stories from Fragile Things, and in general I was just hoping for more new material than I actually got.

Of the stories that *were* new to me, I mostly enjoyed them, although it was still somewhat of a mixed bag. The story that starts the collection, “The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds” felt like a less-funny version of Jasper Fforde’s The Big Over Easy (although to be fair, “Blackbirds” does predate Fforde’s book by about twenty years), plus hard-boiled detective noir has never really been my genre of choice, even when it’s applied to children’s stories (with the exception of Eoin Colfer’s Half-Moon Investigations, which I really enjoyed). “Troll Bridge” was an interesting blend of spooky and melancholy, if somewhat predictable; “Don’t Ask Jack” was certainly creepy, with the potential to be nightmare-inducingly scary, but it was too short to really reach it; and “How to Sell the Ponti Bridge” was a clever if not particularly memorable little con story dressed up in the cloth of fantasy. My two favorites amongst the new-to-me stories were “The Price”, which was surprisingly dark tale of the Devil; and “Chivalry”, which was a wry and charming take on a bit of Arthuriana. (As a side note, all of these except “Blackbirds” are also included in Gaiman’s collection Smoke and Mirrors, which I have not read.) 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: This collection is probably great for its intended purpose: to provide a bunch of Gaiman’s short stories that are appropriate for mid-grade/YA readers, readers who like horror stories or who have read Coraline but who aren’t quite ready for some of the more adult parts of Gaiman’s adult fiction. For grown-up readers, however, I think this book can safely be skipped by all but the serious Gaiman completists; if you’re looking for short stories, I’d go with Fragile Things or Smoke and Mirrors instead.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Neil Gamain’s website, where you can read “The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds” and “How to Talk to Girls at Parties.”

Other Reviews: Fantasy & SciFi Lovin’ News & Reviews
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: When I was young, and it doesn’t really seem that long ago, I loved books of short stories.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 9: “He puffed on his meerschaum and then put it away, and idly played a couple of phrases of the William Tell overture on his oboe.”” – a tobacco pipe with a bowl made of the white, claylike mineral hydrous magnesium silicate.
  • p. 30: “His hair was long, like one of my sister’s little plastic gonks, and his eyes bulged.” – a small egg-shaped furry soft toy which was extremely popular in the 1960s.
  • p. 53: ““My mind, usually teeming and coruscating with fine schemes, was a perfect blank.”” – to exhibit sparkling virtuosity.
  • p. 75: ““Beshrew and suck ordure on it,” she said.” – dung; manure; excrement.
  • p. 164: “His great-grandfather had founded the Epicurean Club with the proceeds of a tontine, which he had taken great pains, in the traditional manner, to ensure that he had collected in full.” – an annuity scheme in which subscribers share a common fund with the benefit of survivorship, the survivors’ shares being increased as the subscribers die, until the whole goes to the last survivor.
  • p. 167: ““We’ve eaten bowerbird and ortolan and peacock.”” – an Old World bunting, Emberiza hortulana, esteemed as a table delicacy, otherwise known as the bobolink.
15 Comments leave one →
  1. May 12, 2010 5:22 am

    aw that’s disappointing, but it’s good to know I can skip it and delve into other collections instead. I haven’t read *any* Neil Gaiman’s short stories!

    • May 12, 2010 10:14 am

      Valentina – Gaiman’s got a lot of good short stories, but I think I actually prefer his long-form fiction; it gives him more space to really develop his imagination.

  2. May 12, 2010 8:28 am

    Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things have been on my reading list for ages. This definitely looks cute and appropriate for kids who aren’t ready for his bigger stuff, but doesn’t really have much of a use to the adult reader.

    • May 12, 2010 10:15 am

      Omni – Lesson to take away from this one: always check the table of contents on short-story anthologies BEFORE buying. :)

  3. May 12, 2010 8:57 am

    Thanks for your review – I think I’ll skip this one.

    • May 12, 2010 10:16 am

      bermudaonion – Especially if you’ve already got/read one of his larger short-story collections!

  4. May 12, 2010 2:31 pm

    I don’t mean to contradict you, but I think you’ll find that M is for Mirrors you’ll stare in forever.

    Having made my obligatory Neil Gaiman Dangerous Alphabet joke – I rarely feel that Neil Gaiman is living up to his potential in his short stories. Even the ones I like, the adjective I use for them is “fine”. Novels are better. I like to be able to sink my teeth into all the weirdness.

    • May 13, 2010 11:07 am

      Jenny – Ahhhh, I haven’t read the Dangerous Alphabet yet. I guess he’s contradicting himself, eh?

      I completely agree with you on Gaiman’s short stories vs. novels. There are plenty of stories I like well enough, but they’re just not as good as his longer stuff. The exception I’d say would be some of the short pieces within the Sandman books, but even there, they’re good because they’re part of the larger universe… if they didn’t have that context, I’d find them way less compelling.

  5. May 13, 2010 5:27 pm

    I’ll wait before diving into this one. I have yet to read any of NG’s adult fiction and it is HIGH TIME.
    Loved the vocab words.

    • May 17, 2010 10:11 am

      Care – High time indeed! Stardust is my personal favorite, but however you pick, it’s hard to go too far wrong.

  6. May 14, 2010 11:34 am

    How frustrating to find out that his story collections are so repetitive. I’ve only recently “found” Gaiman; we’re still newlyweds! I have found that although I love his Young Adult books, I haven’t been too impressed with his adult fiction.

    • May 17, 2010 10:12 am

      christina – I’m not necessarily opposed to authors repackaging their short stories to suit different audiences, I just wish I’d known about it ahead of time.

  7. May 17, 2010 1:33 pm

    This was one of my first introductions to Gaiman’s work. (My husband has all the Sandman comics but I never read them.)

    • June 9, 2010 10:15 am

      Amber – The Sandman comics are *very* different from these short stories – similar mentality, I guess, but the tone and the level are not at all the same.


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