Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fragile Things Group Read: Four Stories (Includes Poem-ish Things)

And we come back around to this Fragile Things cover, the beautiful one I get to enjoy during these two months. Though you can't tell from the image, the cover is actually vellum with the text and eggshell printed on it and the butterfly and snowflake are printed on the white book cover underneath. That's what gives them the faded appearance. They look different in real life than in this image -- less like pictures and more like actual specimens.

We're halfway through the group read and it's interesting to spend this much time thinking about a set of stories and poems. For days I thought about the comments on last week's post including those about Tori Amos and then, with fantastic timing, my iPod decided to play "Little Earthquakes" the other day when it hasn't "randomly" chosen Tori Amos in months. Carl was right -- her songs are still hauntingly beautiful and I think I will spend a little more time with her earlier albums this fall. And yet, maybe I'm spending a little too much time with Mr. Gaiman. Recently I had a dream that I woke up and Neil was waking up at the same time -- in my bed. There's wasn't anything going on, we had just, literally, become bedfellows. Anyway ...

(remember, there might be some SPOILERS ahead ...)


This is a beautiful little free-form piece about parenthood and story-telling that was written for Neil's daughter when she was two. You can read it here and there are plenty of videos out there of him reading it. It's about a father telling his two-year-old daughter the story of Goldilocks and also contemplating his own role as a Father Bear. He says in the introduction that stories are "the currency that we share with those who walked the world before ever we were here. (Telling stories to my children that I was, in my turn, told by my parents and grandparents makes me feel part of something special and odd, part of the continuous stream of life itself.)" I wasn't told many stories when I was a kid (although my dad would make up the most hilarious songs sometimes), but I know that my time reading with Z is a special time where we share a story. We may not experience it in exactly the same way or be looking to get the same things out of it, but the moment is there for us to remember, each in our own way.


I don't have any real connection to The Chronicles of Narnia. I read them when I was a kid (or most of them at least -- I can't really remember) and thought they were fine but I didn't love Narnia the way I loved Oz. So, I didn't recall what had happened to Susan and the others. But I do remember that Aslan and the White Witch never had dirty s.e.x. and Aslan never ate children. I have yet to be comfortable when Gaiman writes explicitly dirty things. It kind of ruins everything else around it for me because it rarely seems super relevant. I mean, Aslan could have still eaten Susan and Lucy without stopping for nookie in the middle, right? This story could have been okay (and was really thoughtful about the elderly Susan in parts) but really lost me toward the end there. I just searched for "gaiman susan" in the Googles and the second thing there after the Wikipedia entry on Susan Pevensie was the wonderful Jenny and her thoughts on this story from January 2009. You should go read what she says. It's smart and stuff and the comments go on for ages. It seems this story is thought-provoking for a lot of readers (who don't all have the same interpretations of it).


Here is another free form poem that you can read online. It has the unique distinction of also having been turned into a picture book last year, illustrated by Charles Vess. Here is the book trailer that also includes the whole piece, read by Neil himself --

While I was embedding this, Z sat down and watched and listened with me. He seemed to like it quite a bit. This was strange because when I read it from my book just moments before, I thought it felt old and dark and my imagination took me to slightly frightening places that I didn't think were quite appropriate for children. But when Z was presented with these pictures along with the story, these ones with muted colors and only hints of danger, it was okay for him. And I think that's kind of the point of this piece. The instructions are for a journey through fantasy worlds -- whether it be the literal journey that Z still believes in (especially when he sees it right before his eyes) or the mental one that I took when I was reading. The instructions are a bit vague because the journey isn't the same for everyone. But the basic ways of getting through trials, both in fantasy and in life, are similar for most --

"Remember your name.
Do not lose hope--what you seek will be found.
Trust dreams.
Trust your heart, and trust your story."


And then again with the s.e.x. I'm a bit perplexed by the order of the pieces this week. How can a poem, fit to be turned into a children's picture book, be nestled between two stories that are so incredibly adult? And this one isn't only very adult but it's very male. I got more and more annoyed as I read the story. Years later they meet up and she's still beautiful and trim but he's overweight and balding and she wants him more than ever? Of course. Although, I think this did finally clarify some of my thoughts on Gaiman and his writing of sex. At the start of the story, when the man and woman are young and in love, it's glossed over and barely mentioned, just a small part of all the things the couple does together and what their relationship is about. But later, it turns explicit when it's connected to sadness and anger and is the last remaining connection between them -- when it's no longer really love. Not my favorite story of the week (obviously) but I kind of get it.

Not thinking about how it feels,


  1. I had the same problem with The Problem of Susan. I feel like there were a lot of different ways he could go without him having to sexualize The Chronicles of Narnia. There are a lot of times in Gaiman's writing where I feel like maaaaaybe he just throws in some graphic stuff for the shock value. :/

  2. I agree with your thoughts on the cover for this book. It is the same hardback cover I own and I treat it reverentially, so as not to damage the beautiful vellum cover. It isn't the most practical dust jacket, but the effect is gorgeous.

    Dreaming of Neil, eh? Haven't gotten that saturated with Gaiman stories yet. (Now watch, I'll dream about him tonight, LOL!).

    So glad you linked to that post about The Problem of Susan. It so eloquently speaks to exactly the way I feel about this story. I would consider her my 'go to' expert now on this story. I wish I had seen it before I wrote my post. I would have pasted in the link and wrote "ditto".

    I too feel uncomfortable when Gaiman writes explicitly dirty things. You put that very well. I rarely see it serving the story and as such it stands out and feels even more "wrong" than it might otherwise seem.

    I hadn't thought about it much before reading your comments, but there is a thread of darkness woven through "Instructions" that I find delicious. Overall it seems very sweet, but I like that it doesn't completely shy away from the ideas that fairy tale journeys are fraught with danger.

    I'm not fond of How Do You Think it Feels? The golem part is interesting but I just have no feelings but disgust and frustration with the main character. And I hadn't thought about it but it does seem a bit like a male fantasy that she would still be so attracted to him.

  3. Thank you for posting the link to the illustrated version of Instructions - it would never have occurred to me to look for it online. Absolutely lovely, and how interesting that the pictures lightened the darkness that you saw in it and made it a pleasure for your son too. It makes it even more perfect that people can bring their experience at different stages of life to it, and yet the instructions work for everyone.

  4. Dooliterature - Exactly.

    Carl - I was so happy to find a pristine used copy of this version! And yes, it was strange to dream of Neil -- especially to have it be so matter of fact, like I expected him to be there. I guess I feel like he puts a lot of himself in the stories! I'm glad that Jenny's post helped you sort your feelings on Susan. It was a very thought-provoking story but sometimes my mind goes blank when I sit down to write!

    Geraniumcat - I'm not sure what I went looking for but I was glad to find that! I thought it was just a book trailer. Getting the entire text was a treat!