M is for Magic, by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is everyone’s darling right now. Not only have his last two movies (Coraline and Stardust) done fairly well, viagra order but he won the Newbery Award just recently for The Graveyard Book, link a novel about a toddler who runs into a graveyard to escape being murdered with the rest of his family, and is raised by the denizens there. (No, really, it is a children’s book. For more commentary, see The Colbert Report.) Anyway, Mr. Gaiman has also written a handful of books for adults and children, as well as the amazing comic series Sandman, and the scripts or translations for several movies. He’s also got a very popular blog, and now a Twitter.

M is for Magic is a collection of his already-published stories that he put together for children; the title, as he says in the introduction, is after Ray Bradbury’s similarly-collected (already published and picked for children later) works with titles such as R is for Rocket and S is for Space. The titles include “The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds,” “Troll Bridge,” “Don’t Ask Jack,” “How to Sell the Ponti Bridge,” “October in the Chair,” “Chivalry,” “The Price,” “How to Talk to Girls at Parties,” and “Sunbird,” as well as “The Witch’s Headstone,” which is an excerpt from The Graveyard Book.

I have one major issue with this collection, which has nothing to do with Mr. Gaiman himself or his writing: the packaging. This is a 260-page collection, printed with large fonts and large margins, with a juvenile title (what child is going to recognize the homage to Bradbury?) and a non-descript cover. Overall, if I’d just picked it up, I’d say it was intended for middle-grade readers (grades 4-8ish, ages 9-14). Having actually perused the contents, though, I can say that it should be intended for YA readers (grades 7-12ish, ages 12-18). Many of the stories allude to sex or anatomy, and while I’m willing to forgive a fair amount of violence because he states that many of the stories are horror stories, I don’t think most fifth-graders would even be interested in the story about a guy hoping to get lucky with a girl at a party who turns out to be an alien.

If this collection was intended for YAs, I assume it would look more like Charles de Lint’s Viking-published collection, Waifs and Strays. There are more stories, in smaller fonts; not only does it take up more space, but the cover was done by the same person who does most of his adult covers.

In any case, as an adult, I found the contents generally delightful. Mr. Gaiman as usual manages to include diverse themes, interesting character types, and odd-twist endings. One of my favorites was the story entitled “Sunbird,” about an epicurean club that is convinced that they have eaten everything that there ever was to eat. Their descriptions of which foods they preferred were quite amusing (apparently fruit bat tastes like sweet guinea pig), and I liked the interplay of the five different club members. And no, actually, the epicurean club does not decide to practice cannibalism. That would be far too simple for one of Mr. Gaiman’s stories.

The excerpt from The Graveyard Book, which was published as a sort of standalone short story in 2007, was quite interesting, but I think even if I didn’t know that it was part of a longer work, that I would have suspected. There was too much backstory — too many hints of what came before and what would come after. Of course, it did whet my appetite for reading the full version, and although I do agree a bit with Stephen Colbert that on first blush the story doesn’t sound like a children’s story, I figure I should at least give it a chance. Some children are quite capable of handling levels of horror that many adults don’t care for (see: how many children start reading Stephen King in elementary school), and after all, I’m not actually in the business of censorship.

The other stories are quite interesting as well; each had a quirky interpretation of fantastic or fairy-tale elements that I’ve come to associate with his works. I did find the choice to end the book with a poem a little strange. It was the same poem that was included in A Wolf at the Door, and the only poem in the collection. Being that it was at the end and after the longest work in the book, I found it incredibly easy to skip. As a reader, I thought the book would have ended more strongly if it would have ended with “The Witch’s Headstone.” Overall, though, adults and horror-minded YAs should enjoy this volume very might, and might immediately choose to follow it up with The Graveyard Book. 4.5/5 stars.

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