24 March 2007

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

In Smoke and Mirrors, Gaiman tells a collection of stories which overlap thematically or through characters or through plot, one after another like watching a family slideshow where each slide is from a different family vacation, the connections come out. Each story is a good read in its own right, some better than others, but the collective whole is oddly (and simultaneously) comforting and disturbing.

Gaiman writes in his introduction that "Stories are mirrors...We use them to explain to ourselves how the world works or how it doesn't work...Fairy tales are more than true. Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be defeated." I find the two points in here very interesting, being an avid, voracious, or insert some other cliched word here, reader. Most would agree that stories such as Jane Eyre, The Color Purple, and even Hamlet are mirrors reflecting the world we live in. And yet, when we stray into the worlds of science fiction, horror, and fantasy, the mirror is getting a bit more distorted; we are getting lost in the fun house a bit. Even though the image in the mirror is stretched a bit thin or made to have curves where none before existed, I still say that scifi/fantasy/horror are purposeful reflections of the actual world which still teach us "how the world works or how it doesn't work." It is just done with a bit more smoke. Obviously, Gaiman agrees.

As for the fairy tales, well the idea I guess is the same as what I just said about scifi/fantasy/horror, fairy tales falling somewhere under that huge umbrella of a genre. What are fairy tales after all except morality tales, tales to teach the reader some ideology, some moral, some cultural norm? The tales Gaiman has in Smoke and Mirrors certainly teach the reader some interesting ideologies. For instance, in the story called Changes, a pill is developed with the intention of curing cancer. And it does. But it has a strange side effect. The pill has the ability to change a person's gender. And it can be taking over and over again, allowing one to move back and forth between breats and pecs, effectively annihilating gender. As an added benefit, those who take the pill seem to have suspended aging. Fascinating. Take from it what you will.

Another story called BayWolf manages to combine Beowulf with Baywatch, use an interesting play on words that is now stuck with me - fearmoans and whoremoans (pheromones and hormones) - and remind me that evil has a mother too. Or there's We Can Get Them For You Wholesale where the true meaning of being cheap is addressed. Or my favorite line, "Richard believed, with no problems or contradictions, in everything," from One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock. There are assassins in the phonebook under pest control, a woman who will trade the Holy Grail for some pretty object for her mantel, a suicidal Santa Claus, and frog-sounding worshippers of something that lives in the water.

And through it all, the characters in these stories have unusual reactions to the supernatural events that surround them - they don't react. It is all taken in as being normal. This non-reaction is what blows the smoke across the mirror, allowing the reader to see that what is happening in the story, the monsters and gods and almost-but-not-quite-entirely-abnormal people are a thin sheet of ice away from reality.

Buy  |  Borrow  |  Accept  |  Avoid

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