Neil Gaiman: M Is For Magic

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Neil Gaiman M Is For Magic
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    M Is For Magic
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    Фэнтези / на английском языке
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    Английский
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Taking both inspiration and naming convention from Ray Bradbury's R Is for Rocket and S Is for Space, Gaiman's first YA anthology is a fine collection of previously published short stories. Although Gaiman's prose skill has improved markedly since the earliest stories included here, one constant is his stellar imagination, not to mention his knack for finding unexpected room for exploration in conventional story motifs. Jill Dumpty, sister of the late Humpty, hires a hard-boiled detective to look into her brother's tragic fall; the 12 months of the year sit around in a circle, telling each other stories about the things they've seen; an elderly woman finds the Holy Grail in a flea market and takes it home because of how nice it will look on her mantelpiece. Collectors will be pleased to note the inclusion of several stories that were previously published in the now-hard-to-find collection Angels & Visitations. Also of note is fan favorite How to Talk to Girls at Parties, which has been nominated for a Hugo Award for 2007. Though Gaiman is still best known for his groundbreaking Sandman comic book epic, this volume is an excellent reminder of his considerable talent for short-form prose. Ages 10-up.

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Neil Gaiman

M is For Magic

Writing imaginative tales for the young is like sending coals to Newcastle. For coals. 

Introduction

WHEN I WAS YOUNG, and it doesn’t really seem that long ago, I loved books of short stories. Short stories could be read from start to finish in the kind of times I had available for reading—morning break, or after-lunch nap, or on trains. They’d set up, they’d roll, and they’d take you to a new world and deliver you safely back to school or back home in half an hour or so.

Stories you read when you’re the right age never quite leave you. You may forget who wrote them or what the story was called. Sometimes you’ll forget precisely what happened, but if a story touches you it will stay with you, haunting the places in your mind that you rarely ever visit.

Horror stays with you hardest. If it brings a real chill to the back of your neck, if once the story is done you find yourself closing the book slowly, for fear of disturbing something, and creeping away, then it’s there for the rest of time. There was a story I read when I was nine that ended with a room covered with snails. I think they were probably man-eating snails, and they were crawling slowly toward someone to eat him. I get the same creeps remembering it now that I did when I read it.

Fantasy gets into your bones. There’s a curve in a road I sometimes pass, a view of a village on rolling green hills, and, behind it, huger, craggier, grayer hills and, in the distance, mountains and mist, that I cannot see without remembering reading The Lord of the Rings. The book is somewhere inside me, and that view brings it to the surface.

And science fiction (although there’s only a little of that here, I’m afraid) takes you across the stars, and into other times and minds. There’s nothing like spending some time inside an alien head to remind us how little divides us, person from person.

Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.

I’ve been writing short stories for almost a quarter of a century now. In the beginning they were a great way to begin to learn my craft as a writer. The hardest thing to do as a young writer is to finish something, and that was what I was learning how to do. These days most of the things I write are long—long comics or long books or long films—and a short story, something that’s finished and over in a weekend or a week, is pure fun.

My favorite short story writers as a boy are, many of them, my favorite short story writers now. People like Saki or Harlan Ellison, like John Collier or Ray Bradbury. Close-up conjurors, who, with just twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks, could make you laugh and break your heart, all in a handful of pages.

There’s another good thing about a book of short stories: you don’t have to like them all. If there’s one you don’t enjoy, well, there will be another one along soon.

The stories in here will take you from a hardboiled detective story about nursery rhyme characters to a group of people who like to eat things, from a poem about how to behave if you find yourself in a fairy tale to a story about a boy who runs into a troll beneath a bridge and the bargain they make. There’s a story that will be part of my next children’s book, The Graveyard Book, about a boy who lives in a graveyard and is brought up by dead people, and there’s a story that I wrote when I was a very young writer called “How to Sell the Ponti Bridge,” a fantasy story inspired by a man named “Count” Victor Lustig who really did sell the Eiffel Tower in much the same way (and who died in Alcatraz prison some years later). There are a couple of slightly scary stories, and a couple of mostly funny ones, and a bunch of them that aren’t quite one thing or another, but I hope you’ll like them anyway.

When I was a boy, Ray Bradbury picked stories from his books of short stories he thought younger readers might like, and he published them as R Is for Rocket and S Is for Space. Now I was doing the same sort of thing, and I asked Ray if he’d mind if I called this book M Is for Magic. (He didn’t.)

M is for magic. All the letters are, if you put them together properly. You can make magic with them, and dreams, and, I hope, even a few surprises….

NEIL GAIMAN

August 2006

The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds

I SAT IN MY OFFICE, nursing a glass of hooch and idly cleaning my automatic. Outside the rain fell steadily, like it seems to do most of the time in our fair city, whatever the tourist board says. Heck, I didn’t care. I’m not on the tourist board. I’m a private dick, and one of the best, although you wouldn’t have known it; the office was crumbling, the rent was unpaid, and the hooch was my last.

Things are tough all over.

To cap it all the only client I’d had all week never showed up on the street corner where I’d waited for him. He said it was going to be a big job, but now I’d never know: he kept a prior appointment in the morgue.

So when the dame walked into my office I was sure my luck had changed for the better.

“What are you selling, lady?”

She gave me a look that would have induced heavy breathing in a pumpkin, and which shot my heartbeat up to three figures. She had long blonde hair and a figure that would have made Thomas Aquinas forget his vows. I forgot all mine about never taking cases from dames.

“What would you say to some of the green stuff?” she asked in a husky voice, getting straight to the point.

“Continue, sister.” I didn’t want her to know how bad I needed the dough, so I held my hand in front of my mouth; it doesn’t help if a client sees you salivate.

She opened her purse and flipped out a photograph. Glossy eight by ten. “Do you recognize that man?”

In my business you know who people are. “Yeah.”

“He’s dead.”

“I know that too, sweetheart. It’s old news. It was an accident.”

Her gaze went so icy you could have chipped it into cubes and cooled a cocktail with it. “My brother’s death was no accident.”

I raised an eyebrow—you need a lot of arcane skills in my business—and said, “Your brother, eh?” Funny, she hadn’t struck me as the type that had brothers.

“I’m Jill Dumpty.”

“So your brother was Humpty Dumpty?”

“And he didn’t fall off that wall, Mr. Horner. He was pushed.”

Interesting, if true. Dumpty had his finger in most of the crooked pies in town; I could think of five guys who would have preferred to see him dead than alive without trying. Without trying too hard, anyway.

“You seen the cops about this?”

“Nah. The King’s Men aren’t interested in anything to do with his death. They say they did all they could do in trying to put him together again after the fall.”

I leaned back in my chair.

“So what’s it to you. Why do you need me?”

“I want you to find the killer, Mr. Horner. I want him brought to justice. I want him to fry like an egg. Oh—and one other little thing,” she added lightly. “Before he died Humpty had a small manila envelope full of photographs he was meant to be sending me. Medical photos. I’m a trainee nurse, and I need them to pass my finals.”

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