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SMOKE AND MIRRORS by Neil Gaiman

SMOKE AND MIRRORS

Short Fictions and Illusions

By Neil Gaiman

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-380-97364-2
Publisher: Avon/HarperCollins

A whopping collection of 30 stories, narrative poems, and unclassifiable briefer pieces from the peerlessly inventive British-born co-editor/creator of The Sandman graphic novel series and last year’s terrific fantasy Neverwhere. Gaiman, who’s also provided a disarmingly genial introduction, calls these tales “messages from Looking-Glass Land and pictures in shifting clouds.” Though they’re often derivative of both traditional folk materials and acknowledged favorite writers (such as John Collier, H.P. Lovecraft, and Michael Moorcock), the volume’s numerous successes put an engaging spin on even more-than-twice-told tales. “Nicholas Was,” for instance, offers in scarcely half a page a hair-raising revisionist look at the benevolent figure of Santa Claus. The poem “The White Road” deftly reimagines the English ballad about the innocent virgin fated to be sacrificed to her vulpine fiance (“Mr. Fox”). “The Daughter of Owls” is a fiendishly compact revenge tale told in the manner of (“as by”) 17th-century antiquarian John Aubrey. Elsewhere, Gaiman offers amusingly lurid images of “swinging” London in the —70s (“Looking for the Girl”), Hollywood’s past and present “wild days” (“The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories”), and sex in the age of AIDS (the very erotic “Tastings”). And, at his best, he makes something daringly new out of the stories we think we know best: “Baywolf” memorably combines the narrative and pictorial elements of the real Beowulf and of TV’s Baywatch; “Snowglass, Apples” retells the story of Snow White from the viewpoint of the exasperated “evil queen”; and two tales (“Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar” and “Only the End of the World”), set respectively in the Innsmouth of England and of New England, pay hilarious homage to Lovecraft’s Ctulhu Mythos and the conventions of the classic horror film. Gaiman miscalculates only in leading off With “Chivalry,” the unforgettable tale of a placid widow who discovers the Holy Grail in a secondhand shop. Nothing later on matches it in a volume that’s otherwise an exhilarating display of the work of one of our most entertaining storytellers.