Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fragile Things Group Read: Introduction and Three Fragile Things

I'm very excited to begin my second reading of Neil Gaiman's short story collection Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders with this RIP Challenge group read.

From Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings:
There are 32 short stories in Fragile Things, counting the introduction. Those of you who have read a Neil Gaiman short story collection know that it is a special treat to read the introduction. Not counting Sunday, September 4th (because that is almost upon us), there are 8 Sundays during the R.I.P. Challenge (Sept 1 through Oct 31st). The plan will be to read 4 stories per week and post about them on each Sunday throughout the challenge. The Fragile Things reading will officially begin on September 1st and this first week will include the:
Introduction, A Study in Emerald, The Fairy Reel and October in the Chair.
We will post about these stories on Sunday, September 11th.
My goal is to read only one story a day and write about it that same day so that I can really give a good amount of thought to each piece (we'll see if that happens!). This was the first of Neil's writings that I read in October 2008 (brief thoughts) and I'm guessing that, now that I know him and his style better, I will have different views on some of the pieces (although I will probably love many of the same ones!).

I placed my hold again at the library but then thought that, since this is a second reading, I would just try to find a good copy of the book to own. I was very lucky to find a used hardcover with the beautiful cover above that looks as if it has never been read! So, without further ado, let's start with --


In about 20 pages, Neil Gaiman visits the circumstances behind all of the pieces in the book -- whether they were written for anthologies or gifts, in a brief flash of inspiration or after years of aging in a box in the attic. There's even a short story within the introduction that couldn't find a home elsewhere. What I've found most interesting about Gaiman over the past few years of reading his blog is that he is able to relate the smallest things in life in a way that makes it all seem magical. I think that it's because he believes in the magic of everyday life. You may be doing something mundane or run-of-the-mill but that doesn't change the fact that you are the only person doing it at that moment, in that place, in just that way. I think this is one of the "fragile things" that Gaiman tries to define in the introduction to this collection.
"I believe we owe it to each other to tell stories. It's as close to a credo as I have or will, I suspect, ever get."
"Stories, like people and butterflies and songbirds' eggs and human hearts and dreams, are also fragile things, made up of nothing stronger or more lasting than twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks. Or they are words on the air, composed of sounds and ideas--abstract, invisible, gone once they've been spoken--and what could be more frail than that? But some stories, small, simple ones about setting out on adventures or people doing wonders, tales of miracles and monsters, have outlasted all the people who told them, and some of them have outlasted the lands in which they were created."

As a marriage of Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft, this story is pretty straight-forward. There are beasts in caves and the world has been ruled by tentacled monsters for seven hundred years. And, of course, there are mysteries to be solved and Sherlock Holmes is still on the case. And this story proceeds in a fairly predictable manner -- until right before the end when something rather shocking is revealed and it elevates the story to a whole new level. I remember feeling this same way the first time I read the story but somehow had forgotten the twist. I find that the "fragile things" in this story are one's assumptions.


This is a poem of regret at a foolish choice made as a youth. It's simple and sad but also a bit sterile somehow. I'm hoping that other readers have something more to say about it.


This story is quintessential Gaiman. The voice, the topic -- it's exactly what you get in novels like American Gods and The Graveyard Book. In fact, this story was born of the same idea for The Graveyard Book and it shows. It's an archetypal sort of story but at the same time it seems entirely unique. He personifies the Months in such a way that you can actually see them sitting, together in a wood around a campfire, telling stories and bickering. In fact, I went searching to see if the story happened to exist online and came across these illustrations (by artist Mike Sgier) of April and June and these of May and October (from the Tumblr called Pochemuchka) and they are just as I imagined them -- showing that Gaiman's storytelling is so vivid that most readers will actually see these characters the same way in their minds. And the part of the story about a young boy who feels unloved and runs away from home is heartbreaking. I can't recommend this story enough if you want a small taste of Neil Gaiman's work.

I'm already glad that I decided to participate in this group read. I'm experiencing these stories in a different way than I did the first time, especially October in the Chair which I could barely remember but now wanted to read again immediately. This is going to be a wonderful journey.

Until next week,


  1. I read the Fairy Reel aloud and really enjoyed it like that... I think I wouldn't have liked it at as much if I had just read it on the page.

  2. Good for you finding such a great used hardcover copy! I'm so thrilled for you, what a treasure.

    I like the idea of writing about each story after you've read it. That was my intention but it didn't quite work out for this section. Hopefully I can do better with the others.

    "You may be doing something mundane or run-of-the-mill but that doesn't change the fact that you are the only person doing it at that moment, in that place, in just that way."

    Well put, and I agree completely. Neil does see the magic in every day life and I certainly do my best to try to live that way every day as well. I'm sure none of us are as successful with that as we would like to be, but it is something to strive for.

    I like Gaiman's credo. I don't think we can ever overestimate the importance of stories in our lives.

    I suggest a visit to Sharry's site to see what she wrote about The Fairy Reel. I think she really "got it" and I agree with her thoughts. I would be interested in what you think about what she had to say.

    Great idea to include those illustrations. I hadn't dreamed of looking for any but many author's work inspires art so it makes sense that some folks would illustrate the months. Very fun.

    I would love to crash one of these get togethers. Just to sit quietly on the edges and soak up all the conversation.

    I like it when I've left enough time between re-reads that I forget much of a story. It feels so new that way.

  3. And thanks for partipating, I enjoyed your post.

  4. I loved the way that you included the illustrations that you found. They are awesome!

  5. I just love reading and re-reading "A Study in Emerald"... the first time I read it I was wowed at the end. Then I re-read it, and picked up on all these little clues Gaiman dabs here and there into story. Makes it so much fun to read!


  6. Okay, so maybe the reason "October in the Chair" was my favorite was because, as you say, it's quintessential Gaiman? I think you're right. Although I have yet to read American Gods, I have read The Graveyard Book, and four of the Sandman collections, and I'd agree, even though, while reading, I didn't quite make that connection. However, he hints at that in the Introduction when he tells us that he began writing it, and Harlan Ellsion told him that the story was "all Gaiman" (or some such thing. I can't remember the exact wording).

  7. Kailana - I'm going to read it aloud tomorrow when the house is empty. I'll mention next week how it goes!

    Carl - I totally lucked out finding the beautiful hardcover! I ended up doing the reading in three days rather than four (as I wanted) but I still wrote after reading each piece and it really helped me think of them separately. And I feel fortunate to have stumbled on those illustrations. I might go looking for more through the weeks!

    Bookswithoutanypictures - They were, right? And I love the different artists' takes. They're different styles but quite similar.

    xalwaysdreamx - It's definitely one to read again and again!

    Emily - We're totally on the same page (and obviously not alone in thinking it). And yet Gaiman says that Ray Bradbury would have written the story better. I beg to differ.

  8. I adored "The Fairy Reel" and thought it was a great way for Gaiman to play with some of this favorite themes: the power of a moment, the blurring between "this" world and "that" world, and the sadness and happiness that so often go together. I loved reading your thoughts on "October in the Chair" and totally agree that no one can make us visualize a character like Gaiman can!

  9. I don't plan on re-reading this book, but I love hearing everyone's thoughts on the stories. I never did give a review for it, though, so I may have to skim through it and finally get a review up.

  10. One day I will get off my lazy butt and finally read this author and then I'll be like "Why did I resist for so long?"

  11. wereadtoknow - Now that I think more about The Fairy Reel, I like it more. The idea that an abandoned youth isn't necessarily the best thing. A bit of restraint can actually benefit you through life.

    1morechapter - I would love to see your review. The first time I wrote about it, I was very brief so I'm enjoying going back through and really thinking about each piece individually.

    Jenners - I hope you will like him when you finally try him! I was lazy for a long time too. I think it was because he wrote graphic novels and I was like "meh ... not for me".