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Introduction of The Books of Magic (by Roger Zelazny)

 

Introduction of 
The books of magic

(by Roger Zelazny)

 

 I once stopped in an odd little establishment in Ensenada, down in Baja, where a hindu gentleman was selling tiny gold-plated orchids. He explained that they were real flowers, and that a process existed for plating them with that shiny metal without ruining their forms. Unable to resist, I said, "Sort of liking gilding the lily, huh?" But his knowledge of the language had not progressed to the point of catching bad deadpan humor, and he responded, "No! No! Is not lily! Is orchid!"

Neil Gaiman does not really need an introduction. It would sort of be like-never mind.

He writes the award-winning SANDMAN series and is co-author with Terry Pratchett of the novel Good Omens which I have recommended to many and do yet again.

I first met Neil at an autographing session in Dallas. Most recently, I spent a pleasant evening with him and Steven Brust at the World Fantasy Convention in Phoenix, where we spoke of many things and I was reminded of something an older writer had told me long ago-namely, that editors only think they're buying stories, that what they really buying is the way a story is told. Look at Nick bantock's fansinating Griffin & Sabine, where the medium is 95% of the enchantment.

Neil Gaiman is such a medium specialist. While his tales are gripping, moving, there is in particular the way of his stories to consider. I'm always fascinated by his point attack and by the angles from which he views his people, settings, situations, actions. it's his approach that I study as much as the ideas he employs. And in the case of The Books of Magic I am again fascinated. The time he has chosen for his subject the tale of initation, the story of the magician's journey from innocence along the road to power.

The four volumes of The Books of Magic, herein gathered, are a wonderful romp which i have read both backwards and forwards. In that they worked well for me in either direction, as well as in several odd shufflings of the deck, I feel free to talk about them in a variety of ways-none of which can really "give away the plot." because it's no that sort of story. While there is a storyline from which events depend, it is also a thematic tale, and I can talk about it at this level, choosing examples from wherever I would, without doing harm to anyone's reading pleasure.

Open Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces to the Table of Contents and skipping over the Prologue wherein he will speak of the monomyth in general terms, we come to Part I, "the adventure of the Hero," which is divided into four chapters: "Departure," "Initation, " "Return," and "The Keys." In that Campbell is examining the archetypes of all mythology here, and looking to describe a rhythm common to heroic fiction, I thought to hold it up next to The Books of Magic to see how Neil's story compares with the hero's journey in world mythology at large.

Looking at the first volume as representing "The Departure," we se that it is indeed characterized by the five features Campbell discussed. The "Call to Adventure" comes simply enough in the midst of Timothy's mundane activity, skateboaring. The "Refusal of Call" follows immediately, as Timothy flees the Stranger, Dr. Occult, and Mr. E - whereupon Constantine stops him, offering the classical "Supernatural Aid" by turning his yo-yo into a owl/familiar. "The Crossing of the First Threshold" then takes him on a journey back through time to beginnings. Then comes "The Belly of the Whale," the return to the center of things - the self-sacrificialexperience, the learning of the price - which begins in the theater.

Looking on Book II as a continuation of "The Belly of the Whale," let us hold Book III up against the "initiation" chapter. Campbell's breakdown here is "The Road of Trials," "The Meeting with the Goddess, " Woman as the Temptress," "Atonement with the Father," "Apotheosis," and "The Ultimate Boon."

All of these are encountered in Fairyland, with Titaniaas the goddess and the temptress, the father as the sleeping king under the mountain, and the apotheosis of sorts occuring on the receipt of the boon.

I won't even try to match things up for the final Book of Magic. I will simply point out for homework that Campbell's next chapter, "The Return," contains the following sections "Refusal of the Return," "The Magic Flight," "Rescue from Without," "The Crossing of the Return Threshold," and "Freedom to Live."

This is one way to look at it. Sure, all of those things are there. It does not matter one whit, though, wheter Neil cleverly synthesized the piece out of Campbell or whether crafted a tale drawing upon similar sources so that such a thoroughgoing analysis must necessarily apply. Either way, the result is a work worthy of respect.

One might remark on the sense of humor exhibited in Book III, where the hero and his companions are hanging around Baba Yaga's house, or the tangential nature of the future according to Book IV, or the blackness at the beginning of the universe. or at its end, view everything between as a cosmic day, and reduce all of the action to a solar myth; or, as I did earlier, one might play the sequence backwards, beginning with the playing-card archetypes and winding up regarding the Fall as an Ascension; or -

From a mundane standpoint, one might merely observe that Neil has arranged appearances here by every major occult figure in DC's history, to the possible end of introducing a new series character. And I do wonder whether Timothy will be back.

It is more that a clever story, however. It is rich and it is resonant. Like all good writing it causes the mind to wander of down byways by arousing speculations and leaving them to simmer. Why is Dr. Occult's female side so strong? What wonders will emerge from the mundane egg? What lock will Timothy's key one day fit? I like this allusiveness, this senses of depth. It entertains and engages me to see so much contained between these covers.

And Neil is fortunate here in having such interesting and talented colleagues as John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess, and Paul Johnson rendering his visions into vivid images. And while people seldom comment on lettering because its job is generally to be unobtrusive, they also, for the same reason - habit - may not always note ts subtle shifts in such places as the Museum of Ghosts sequences or Zatara's poem or the dialogue at Baba Yaga's or its alternation in various of the future sections - or simply not wonder why certain words get the bold-face treatment. Todd Klein's sure hand is a definite part of the magic here.

Neil Gaiman is a writer I have resolved to watch, and so far the effort has never failed to return more than the price of admission to his worlds. Yes, I have enjoyed this story in many ways. It has been a journey worth taking. To say more would be to dip it in molten metal. Sweet dreams.