Fragile Things Read-Along, Part the Fifth

Man. I think what I’m discovering more than anything while reading through this collection is that I know very little about fantasy. I’ve mentioned before and I’ll mention again this week that I’m sure I would like more than a few of these stories better if I just had any idea what Gaiman was talking about. And that’s good, on the one hand, because it inspires me to go learn new things, but bad, on the other, because that doesn’t help me understand or appreciate the stories now! Alas.

I get this one! I totally know what’s going on here! This is a cute little poem-y story about stories, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” specifically, and the telling of them. Gaiman writes as himself, talking to his daughter about reading “Goldilocks” to her and how she would take part in the telling of the story and sometimes re-write the story, and that’s all cute and adorable. But then Gaiman also takes into account how it feels to be a parent reading the stories, and how there are always parts that read differently for adults (see: my reaction to Peter Pan earlier this year) and how it’s a bit sad to know that the adorable child will grow into a cynical adult who locks his doors to keep out strangers who might eat his porridge. This is definitely my favorite story of the week.

“The Problem of Susan”
And here is where I admit that my knowledge of the Narnia books comes mostly from the 2005 movie, which I didn’t pay terribly much attention to, and various references to the series in other things I’ve read. Which is to say that I don’t have any attachment toward Susan and so this story is entirely lost on me. What I gather is that Susan, who didn’t die in some train crash, has grown up to be a professor of literature, since retired. And she’s being interviewed about children’s literature by some young thing and Narnia comes up and that’s when I learned all that stuff about Susan, and then Susan gets sad or something and goes and has a nap forever. And the young thing has a dream about Aslan and the White Witch having the sexytimes and, um, okay. Ew. I’m not sure I want this one explained to me.

Props to the awesome poetry this week. I liked “Instructions” a lot because while I may not know a lot about fantasy stories past and present, I am certainly well-versed in fantasy conventions, and that’s what this poem is about. It is, as the title suggests, a set of instructions for what to do if you find yourself stuck in a fairy tale. Basically, don’t do anything stupid and be nice to everyone, which are not bad instructions in general. Also, there’s a cameo from my friends the months of the year, which is delightful.

“How Do You Think It Feels”
Um, yes. Least favorite story. Gargoyles. LOTS of sexytimes, including sort of with a plasticine gargoyle. Extra-marital affair(s?). Not my cup of tea. Things I did like: the reference to the narrator being “by far the older man” at 27 to his lady’s 20. The narrator getting totally shut down by his lady when he offers to actually finally leave his family for her. The lady getting eaten by the gargoyle. Can’t go wrong with people getting eaten, I say.

9 thoughts on “Fragile Things Read-Along, Part the Fifth

  1. GeraniumCat says:

    “while I may not know a lot about fantasy stories past and present, I am certainly well-versed in fantasy conventions” – brilliant! You've got your priorities absolutely right. And the poems are lovely, aren't they?

    The bit about Susan comes from the last of the Narnia books, which is an uncomfortable read at best, with false gods and nasty people. As you say, there's a train crash and all the others get to stay in Narnia forever, but Susan was growing up and getting interested in boys, and was excluded. Can't explain the rest, it just doesn't seem very appropriate to me. The same with the final story – as you say, ew!

  2. dooliterature says:

    I also loved the poems this week!

    I felt I didn't fully understand The Problem of Susan either, because I haven't read the Chronicles of Narnia in its entirety. It wasn't as interesting for me because of this, I think. :/

    I couldn't decide if the girl got eaten at the end of the gargoyle story or not! I thought she did at first, but then I thought about she would be living inside the man's body (or heart?) forever, and that was kind of weird. I don't know. It was a weird story, for sure.

  3. Carl V. says:

    Great thoughts on “Locks”. I agree. It is such a sweet story and speaks so deeply to those of us who are parents.

    The Problem of Susan would have been a great story without the sexual bits. That part of the story, and the attitude that would cause Gaiman to feel compelled to put them in, turn me off of the story. I read it once and that was enough. I'll never read it again.

    You point out one of the great things about “Instructions” and that is that you don't really need to have a deep knowledge about fairy tales because so many of us are raised on and understand at least the basic conventions of them and this poem touches on them so well. But it is also great because if you wanted to use it as the foundation for a greater study of fairy tales it would be a great place to start.

    My thoughts on “How” are similar to yours. I like the same things that you enjoyed and at the same time I didn't like the story overall because the non-fantastical bits, the “reality”, is not to my liking.

  4. Alison says:

    GeraniumCat — Interesting. I can see how that's a problem that Gaiman would want to address, and I do like that Professor Susan is like, “If that's God's doing, he's kind of a jerk.” Maybe someday I'll get around to actually reading the books!

    Anna — Oh, good, I was afraid I was the only one who missed out on them, since I have a lot of friends who love them to death. Re: the gargoyle, I read it as the chick getting eaten and I will not unread it that way, because she totally deserves to be eaten by a gargoyle. 🙂 But, yes, I also don't really want her living inside of anyone, so maybe the gargoyle ate her and then spit her out? This rationalization isn't going to go very far, is it?

    Carl — Yes, I really didn't need to think about the weird lion/witch business. Ick. But fairy tales, yes! I would love a reason to use those instructions in real life!

  5. dooliterature says:

    Yeah, I'm starting to lean more towards the chick-got-eaten camp. I like the idea of the gargoyle eating her, haha! She definitely deserves it. What an awful woman!

  6. Emily Barton says:

    I have a feeling Gaiman could make even the most fantasy-literate person in the world feel illiterate. At least he makes you want to read more, huh? “Instructions” was my favorite this week. I like the way you describe it, knowing conventions rather than details of specific stories.

  7. bookswithoutanypictures says:

    I dunno… while the girl in “How” wasn't an exemplary character, I think that the majority of the blame still goes to the narrator, because it does take two for an affair to happen. I'm not sure if she got eaten or not, but I do know that the gargoyle was weird. It's hard to know exactly what happened the night the gargoyle was created, because the main character seems to have been quite inebriated at the time.

  8. Alison says:

    bookswithoutanypicture — No, you're right, I wasn't trying to make apologies for the narrator. If he had been eaten by the gargoyle, that would also have been fantastic! I'm really just rooting for people getting eaten. And, yes. The gargoyle's creation is a bit… lacking in sense? How did it get inside him?

  9. Carl V. says:

    Neil has always made me want to read more, that is for sure. That started with the Sandman series and continues to this day. There are many books I've picked up and characters I've researched because of Neil's work.

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