Neil Gaiman – M is for Magic
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.
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
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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.