Sunday, February 21, 2010

Book Review: M Is For Magic by Neil Gaiman

I was turned on to Gaiman by a friend who, more or less, demanded I read Stardust after having seen, and loved, the movie. Since then, I’ve been interested in reading more of his work (because Stardust is brilliant). M Is For Magic is my first excursion in new Gaiman territory. M Is For Magic is a collection of short stories (and a poem) that showcases Gaiman’s unique and whimsical style. His stories have a tendency to manipulate classic fairytales until they no longer represent what they once were. This collection demonstrates Gaiman's expert ability to make the old look new and the new look like it had always been there before. In reading this collection, it is easy to see why Stardust functions so well as a novel; Gaiman’s expert use of familiar tropes from childhood and beyond makes for engaging reading both in form and content. Here it works to good effect, mostly. Below are some quick notes on each of the stories: The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds A fun story about a detective trying to discover who killed Humpty Dumpty. The ending could have been stronger, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Troll Bridge One of my favorites from Gaiman’s book. A complete reworking of the troll under the bridge fairytale (as I remember it) about a boy who makes a deal with a troll to wait until he grows older before the troll eats him. The ending is both surprising and brilliant. Gaiman’s sparse style works well here. Don’t Ask Jack A brief story that never really develops about a jack-in-the-box. Gaiman was trying to do something interesting with this story, but I think it feel flat by being too short for its own good. How to Sell the Ponti Bridge The title says it all. A rogue tells the story of how he tricked a bunch of rich men to buy a bridge (which the rogue didn't own). Funny, clever, and ridiculous in all the right ways. October in the Chair The various months get together to tell stories. I didn’t much care for this one. There’s something brilliant here, but I don’t think it ever becomes fully realized in the story. Chivalry One of the best stories in this collection. It's about an old woman who discovers the Holy Grail in a thrift store and is then visited by a knight, who tries to buy it from her. The story is heartwarming and the depth in character development makes for a fascinating read. If you buy this collection for any one story, it should be for this one. The Price Another story that suffers from being too sparse on detail. I never really understood what was going on. Was the cat fighting the devil to protect the family? I don't know. The ending leaves too much unanswered. How to Talk to Girls at Parties A teenager goes with a friend to a party, which turns out to be the wrong party altogether and hosted by aliens who look like beautiful teenage girls. Strange? Yes, but also enjoyable. If only Gaiman could have made more of the story. It's good, but it's too brief. Sunbird A story about a group of food enthusiasts who have tasted everything in the world, except the mythical sunbird. Wonderfully dark and ridiculous. I almost feel like this should be a novel, but then I have no idea how Gaiman could manage that. Still, this story is one of the best in the collection because it takes a silly concept, twists it, and makes an adventure out of it. The Witch’s Headstone The precursor to The Graveyard Book. You know the story: a boy raised in a graveyard by dead people. I haven't read The Graveyard Book, but if "The Witch's Headstone" is any indication, it's bound to be good. Instructions A poem about how to survive in a fairytale. Fun and cute. See for yourself below: Personally, I think Gaiman’s style is better suited to the long form. While his short stories are mostly quite enjoyable, the stories seem sparse on detail—sometimes for good reason, and sometimes unnecessarily so. The result is that some stories feel stiff, while others, which benefit from a spartan narrative style, seem well-rounded re-imaginings or original fairytales. If you’re a fan of Gaiman’s work, M Is For Magic will be a welcome addition to your collection. Overall, it is thoroughly enjoyable, and very readable. His stories would work well at bedtime to be read to the little ones, or maybe for a quick, cute read. You can find M Is For Magic on Amazon.com or just about anywhere that his books are sold. More information about Neil Gaiman can be found on his blog.

7 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It does sound as if his work is better read in full detail.

Sullivan McPig said...

I recognise some of the stories as having been published before in anthologies. Must say I really don't like that as it would mean that if I buy the book I already have a lot of the stories that are in there.

As for Gaiman: Best book (besides the complete Sandman series) I've read from Gaiman still is 'American Gods'. I didn't care much for Stardust I must confess.

SQT said...

I haven't been able to get into Gaiman. I tried to read "American Gods" but it just didn't connect for me.

Huh. Word verification is "contest." That seems appropriate to this site...

Avery DeBow said...

Some writers just do better with more space. I think I first figured out I really liked Gaiman with the screen adaptation of MirrorMask. I then read Anansi Boys, and very much liked his style.

Simcha said...

I actually didn't like Stardust and but this short story collection sounds good, so perhaps I'll give it a try.
Thanks for the review!

Steve Malley said...

Big, big fan, but somehow missed this one. Probably all that writing/drawing/etc. I'll remedy this situation at once! :)

Carl V. said...

M is for Magic was put together to market some of Neil's more appropriate short stories to a younger audience. Whether all of these stories are really appropriate to be housed in the children's section of the bookstore is open to debate, but these are by far the tamest of his short stories, which the gamut from being kid appropriate to being quite adult and disturbing.

Gaiman is a master of the short story genre. Smoke and Mirror, and Fragile Things, are two collections filled with incredible stories.

Chivalry is, in my opinion, one of his very best works.

Don't quite agree with you on The Price as I felt the story was pretty self explanatory, but then I've read it several times over the years and have no real accurate memory of the first time I read it.

As for How to Talk to Girls, that story won several awards and the first time I read it I really wasn't impressed. Then my friend got me an audio version of this book and I listened to Gaiman read the story himself and was blown away by it. The way he presented the story and how he chose to emphasize words, etc. really made the story come alive. If you ever have a chance to listen to Gaiman read his own stories, take it! I highly recommend buying all the audio books of his that you can, many of which can be found at half price outlets and places like that for reasonable clearance prices.

Graveyard Book is wonderful, I highly recommend you giving it a try if you enjoyed The Witches Headstone.