Love the introduction, I do! Get some good insight into the Neil Gaiman cave of wonders! Funny how he dreamed up “I think…that I would rather recollect a life mis-spent on fragile things than spent avoiding moral debt” and that he remembered these particular lines and woke up with a pen to write it down! (Sometimes I dream up – I believe – wonderful things, and they are followed by another dream in which I possess a pen and I have written down those wonderful ideas – so that once I have woken up I feel like I have just gyped myself). What do you think he means by this? He says he doesn’t know what he means by fragile things, either. Perhaps a life spent doing risky breakable potentially hurtful things is a life spent more fully than one where the person’s a-scared of everything and won’t do anything beyond staying on the sidewalk, safe? Here are my impressions and questions for the first three shorts:
A study in emerald
This is a story that, each time I read it, I feel like my neurons are arc-sparking across vast empty spaces in my brain to make new connections. Full of lovely Aha! moments for zombie-brained, me.
I am curious to know at exactly what point you guys clued in on the familiarity of the main characters? I didn’t figure it out until Baker Street was mentioned and even then, I wasn’t completely sure until Lestrade strolled into the picture. Even then, I didn’t clue in to the weirdness of London until the scene with the Queen. All that talk about something mysterious happening to our narrator in the caves of Afghanistan, and the ichor on the walls from the Prince – it totally went over my head the first time I read it. I should have figured something was up, Neil Gaiman introduces each chapter with a local ad of some sort, which I found squirmingly amusing. My favourite is the one selling “Jekyll’s Powders” – “Too many people, both men and women, suffer from CONSTIPATION OF THE SOUL!” I really wanted to laugh like a little troll, but I was in a public place and had to subdue my inner me. (I would buy it in vanilla).
More than the main mystery at hand, did you pick up any funny cues for dramatic irony? Like when our narrator and his friend go to Drury Lane to watch a play. The first play was about mistaken identities. And what about the Restorationists, hm? The first time I read the story, I read it for the actual mystery – plotwise. The second time I read the story, I was reading for Neil Gaiman’s little clues, now knowing the ending and the two sets of characters. As usual, I’m always half-certain I’ve got it right as well as squeamishly half-certain I’ve got it completely wrong and I’m crazy. I always feel this way reading a Neil Gaiman story.
Some questions I still have about this story: what was all that about the “Dynamics of an Asteroid” paper and “wild theories furthering the relationship between mass, energy and the hypothetical speed of light”? And also, why did Neil Gaiman give our friend the names Sherry Vernet and Sigerson? Any thrilling connections to made there that I can’t seem to make?? Please enlighten me so I can enjoy this story more! The only thing I can think of – don’t make fun of me! – is that Albion is on another planet? Or in another dimension? It’s called New Albion, after all – anything with New before it must be on another planet in my logic. In the mean time, I will probably re-read it again.
The Fairy Reel
My favourite part to read is “And sang and whirled and sank and trod and/ skipped and slipped and reeled and rolled/ Until, with eyes as bright as coals, they’d/ crumble into wheels of gold…”
The fairy world seems pretty much wild and scary. The things they do with a heart, man.
If I were to extract meaning from this poem, I would wonder how dreams and death are related to being old? And it seems like the voice of the poem is regretting his decision to be double-souled yet, the line, “the single-souled, who dare not feel/ The wind that blows beyond the moon..” makes me believe that it is a good thing – an act of courage in some way – to dare to wander the Fairy world? But then once he lets his soul/heart go there, he gets wound up in the fairy reel, and is helpless to do anything except watch as the folk do what they will to it and use it against other humans?
October in the Chair
I wouldn’t trust anybody to convince me these were the characters of each month except for Neil Gaiman. Of course, now that Neil Gaiman has defined such personalities for each month, I can’t think of them as having any other personalities but the ones they have in this story. And anyway, I’ve always liked October the best. And I agree with June, there are a whole lot of someones in the woods watching them (I’m close enough to smell the sausages). Who wouldn’t want to gate-crash on this assembly, if possible?
The beginning of October’s story kind of reminded me of the beginning of Mio my Son by Astrid Lindgren. The boy seems pretty much all alone with no one who seems to really care about him or remember him in their selfish busy lives except to point out how insignificant he is (“he is the runt of the litter. Look at him. Look at us.”) And, once the name sticks, everyone starts heaping on the insignificances on him everywhere he goes until he kind of fades from the memories of people. It remains ambiguous whether Karl from Mio my Son and Donald from this story die from their sorry situations or enter another sort of adventure (perhaps, it’s the same thing).
And the whole search for the sea resonates with all these other stories I’ve read (the most recent being Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth where Mary’s searching for the ocean in zombie-ravaged country). What is it about the ocean? Does it signify the beginning of an adventure into the unknown – here, death, likely?
I feel very sorry for Donald. He doesn’t fit in with the life he was born into. No one understands him or bothers to really get to know him – they just label him something and shove him under a rug, basically. He may be a runt of a boy, but that’s not all he is, but that’s all he is to others.
He’s brave to go off like this on his own. He hopes that helicopters and dogs will go after him. He also hopes that he can return one day, older and wiser and better somehow, and his family will welcome him back with relief and delight and awe. Perhaps his dramatic change from this adventure will finally make his family realize that he’s not just the runt. But in his heart, perhaps he thinks he’s already been forgotten. Even if he’s found and taken back home, he’ll just fall back into the old routine of being forgotten. I forget his name pretty much right after it was mentioned because he’s called the runt throughout the story. Just like the boy ghost is called Dearly because he’s forgotten his own name. Sadly, though, even the ghost boy’s ghostly neighbours don’t care about him, preferring to sleep rather than “be bothered to just go and see stuff and do things. They can’t be bothered with [him].” The runt and the ghost boy have a lot more in common with each other than their own respective worlds.
May I say that I’m glad not to know what’s in the tumbledown farmhouse? It sounds sinister.
I like the ending of the short story. “We can’t help who we are.”