Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman: Read-a-Long Week Five

Hello, all! I hope that your October has been treating you as lovely as mine has been so far, and that whatever you’re reading has wrapped you up in a lovely blanket of fall and cooler temperatures – finally! (I really, really love fall if my glowing adoration in prose the past few weeks hasn’t given that away!) I’m so glad to be writing another week’s worth of reflections on Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman! For my first ever read-a-long, I’d like to toot my own horn a bit and say that I think I’m doing great with the keeping on schedule and what not, but I really can’t even say that because that’s not important. What’s great is that I’m having such an awesome time discussing these stories and really do look forward every Sunday to seeing what everyone else has to say! This week, we looked at two poems and two short stories. Unfortunately, this was another rough week for me (see week three for another not-so-great time) as I can’t say I really cared for most of the works this week. We’re covering “Locks”, “The Problem of Susan”, “Instructions”, and “How do you Think it Feels” this week, and the only one that stuck with me in a really positive way was “Instructions”. But more on that later! Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we?


Alright, alright. So, this is a well-written poem. I can’t really knock it for what it does technically. It reminded me quite a bit of “The Hidden Chamber” in that it was a very prose-y poem, and I remember quite a few people saying that “Hidden Chamber” read like a kind of paragraph with weird line breaks. I feel like we get the same kind of thing going on here – not in a bad way, just a prose-y one. Anyway, the things (well, thing, really) I liked about this poem had very little to do with the actual Goldilocks-inspired content. I mean, I’m sorry, but Goldilocks was never one of my favorites as a kid, and even less so after I was put in to a HORRIBLE childrens theatre rendition in high school, so that part of this poem was just kind of whatever for me. But I really did thoroughly enjoy Gaiman’s on-going discussion in this poem of a theme he started, I believe, in “Flints of Memory Lane” – primarily, what is a story, how do we tell one, and what do we do with the stories we have? I had to go back and read the introduction, but I love what Neil says about he and his daughter still sharing stories, to this day, although the forms have changed, and I think there is importance in that. With all of the paper v. e-reader debates going on out there, its nice to think that stories will always be stories, regardless of the form they take (is an oral tradition less important than a written work is less important than a movie?) I also think that the camaraderie between the teller of the poem (presumably Gaiman, the way I read it) and this child being told, the answer and response and parental reflections on the way we hear our favorite stories differently as we grow up – to me, that’s where the real value in the poem lies and where Gaiman’s skills really show through!

“The Problem of Susan”

Okay, so I should probably say that right off the bat thus story totally spoiler-ed me on the ending of the Narnia series for me. It’s been one of those series that I’ve read bits and pieces of over the years, and always meant to finish, and it’s not this stories fault I haven’t finished them yet, but still. Totally through me for a loop right at the beginning.

While I really liked Gaiman’s focus on the importance of children’s literature (a belief I fully support!!) and the way he turns Susan in to a professor on the subject, but my enjoyment of the story pretty much stopped there. My mind was too busy dwelling on the spoiler effect and the fact that in this one Gaiman RUINED Aslan for me! I mean, the big majestic lion was one of my favorite characters as a child, and to suddenly see him lewd, sexualized, and eating children…I didn’t like it. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in their somewhere, but I don’t really think it’s one I care to unravel.


In the introduction, Gaiman introduces thus poem simply as a set of things to do if you find yourself in a fairy tale. How good of a poem premise is that?! This one was my favorite for this week without a doubt. Not only do I love the premise, but I thought the imagery of walking through the house was a really good metaphor for how we read and discover fairy tales (and literature) when we’re young. I did think it was interesting to see another red, imp-ish face knocker, and was kind of wondering if a.) anyone else has noticed that these knockers seem to be a favorite of Neil’s, and b.) this is intentional! Unfortunately I don’t have much else to say about this poem except to repeat how much I loved it and to thank this poem for lightening what was an otherwise very bleak week of short stories!

“How do you Think it Feels”

Okay. So. There are really very few things in literature that bother me. I mean, the dirty bits and naughty language usually just kind of…is to me. A part of life in certain interpretations and representations of life. However, that doesn’t mean that I want Neil Gaiman in particular writing said naughty bits or dirty words. I mean, yes, I know this is the same man who wrote all the beautiful darkness of the Sandman series, but he also wrote Stardust and The Graveyard Book and I would just much rather think of him and his writing that way! I did like what the gargoyle over the heart stood for, but as with “Miss Finch”, I really just feel like I missed something here. A not great ending to a not great week.

In other reading news, I’ve begun reviewing for a new site called Custom Reads that functions kind of as a Pandora radio for books, only with real people imputing books to recommend rather than some functional algorithm. I’m super excited about the opportunity and just really hope it goes well! My public library book sale is also Tuesday of this week (at least, that’s when 5$ bag day is) so look forward to me vlogging (hopefully) my scores from that later this week. Happy reading!


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anna
    Oct 09, 2011 @ 17:43:10

    Yeah, I’ve noticed that a lot of Gaiman’s poems tend to be prose-like. Which I don’t mind, considering I’m not a huge fan of poetry and (to me at least) being more like prose makes them easier for me to read. 🙂 I both really enjoyed Locks and Instructions this week, much for the same reasons you did.

    I also prefer Gaiman when he focuses more on fantastical adventures and stories as opposed to the dark grittiness that the world sometimes has to offer. While he does know how to write a good horror story, I like when they are on the lighter side.

    Also, I have never heard of Custom Reads, but it sounds like something that might be fun! What are the responsibilities of a reviewer?


  2. Carl V.
    Oct 09, 2011 @ 20:45:45

    We unfortunately haven’t had October weather in October yet. October has seen a return to nearly 90 degree temps. It is supposed to drop next week. Fingers crossed. 🙂

    I don’t remember how I felt about Goldilocks as a kid. I do know that I never thought of things from the point of view of the bears and I like that Gaiman’s poem makes me think of that, as well as the greater impact of the poem in its examination of stories and of how telling stories is an important part of our relationships to each other. Love it.

    Hate “The Problem of Susan”, not because of Gaiman’s frustration with how Lewis handled the series but with Gaiman’s need to drag Aslan through the gutter, as if tearing down Lewis’ representation of Christ is justified because of Gaiman’s annoyance with the handling of Susan. Yuck.

    “Instructions” is magical and amazing and fun. I love how there are a couple of references to other Gaiman short stories in it and each time I read it I get a thrill out of it.

    Not a big fan of “How” although I think the use of the gargoyle and what that part of the story represents is very well done. I’m not sure that you missed anything major with the story. The guy acts like a jerk, makes a golem to protect his heart out of his desperation, and becomes an unfeeling zombie of sorts, making his way through life with some success while not actually developing any emotional connections with anyone. And in the end his decisions seem to result in the death of the mistress. Doesn’t really do much for me.


  3. emily barton
    Oct 10, 2011 @ 15:57:33

    We’ve had a mostly warm October in PA this year, but I’m headed to ME where I hope for real fall weather. I think I’m beginning to see everyone’s point about Tsunami ruining a children’s story with “Susan.” Still, I really loved the story., at least the idea if it. My favorite this week, though, was definitely “Instructions.”


  4. emily barton
    Oct 10, 2011 @ 16:00:02

    That’s “Gaiman” not “Tsunami” (Smart phone not quite the smartest when it comes to spell check.)


  5. Kailana
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 15:49:36

    I loved Instructions the best, too. What a fun poem! I actually enjoyed both of the poems, so that was surprising to me!


  6. Trackback: The R.I.P. VI Challenge: A Wrap-Up « Book Maven’s Blog

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