Tag Archives: supernatural

#1. Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman


Trigger Warning is a collection of short stories (with some poems and fairy tales lurking within, Gaiman warns), most of which “end badly for at least one person in them.”

Before I review the collection – which is very good — I feel I must say something about the title, and his explanation for the title in the introduction. Boiling it all down, Gaiman puts forth the idea that ideas can, and often should, be dangerous, and therefore trigger warnings blunt the edges of our own worldview. He’s saying that the whole book could “trigger” you because large portions of it are sinister and spooky, but it’s okay because being scared teaches you things about yourself.

It’s a great ponderance on the importance of uncomfortable fiction, but I disagree with this argument because I believe it is misguided at its foundation. It’s misguided because he’s not really talking about trigger warnings as I know them, and as a majority of Internet-savvy people of a certain age know them. He’s talking about a much broader, watered-down aversion to discomfort, which has made the term the butt of so many jokes and the cause for certain university officials to absolutely lose their chill.

The first time I encountered a trigger warning at the head of an entry was on LiveJournal, and its intention was singular: prevent self-harm. I would see it particularly on blog posts that might trigger survivors of sexual abuse or eating disorders. The warnings were not to prevent bad feelings, but self-destruction. This is a far cry from the way it is currently talked about, over a decade later. But I still see the importance of trigger warnings, and I see the inherent compassion in their existence. Gaiman pokes a little fun at the term to talk about horror stories, and it’s a fairly innocent example, but it falls into a larger trend of people dismissing the term because they themselves have not benefitted from it.

It’s a minor blip, but a blip nonetheless, and  I still think he could have come up with a less tongue-in-cheek title.

Moving on to the stories themselves, they’re incredibly fun to read (or listen to, if you download the audiobook that Gaiman himself narrates)! I love short stories full stop, and his earlier collection Fragile Things stands out as one of my favorite things I read in 2014. (I still often think of “A Study in Emerald.”) This collection is actually pretty light, in spite of the aforementioned provocative title and a few well-timed character deaths. Loving tributes to Dr. Who, Sherlock Holmes, Ray Bradbury, and others fill the pages of this book. Even the scariest stories still have an “A-ha!” factor to them, campfire tales to make your friends shriek then break into recovering giggles.

One breathtaking exception is the novelette entitled, “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains…,” a quasi-fantasy journey story about the dark magic found in a cave far from our hero’s home. Darker than even the legends surrounding it. I found myself very absorbed in the suspicious circumstances of this quest, and it is sure to stay with me for a long time.

I also enjoyed “Black Dog,” a story that reunites us with Shadow Moon from American Gods. Other great stories include “Orange” and “A Calendar of Tales,” among many other microfictions that read like village myths and lyrical fables.

I enjoy Neil Gaiman’s writing. He weaves cleverness and earnestness together in his stories that make them feel so large and real. (As real as a world of fairies, immortality, ghosts, robots, magical caves, and spectral visions can be; though much like the beloved sci-fi writers of his own childhood, Gaimain is light on the science and focuses instead on the people.)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 cups of fine English tea, served with unusual honey.


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#5. Fragile Things & #6. Coraline by Neil Gaiman

FragileThingsShortFictionsandWondersPS_PaperbackPS_1213846460After reading American Gods and The Ocean at the End of the Lane last year, I thought I might dive in to the other Gaiman books on my shelf.

Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things is a short story/poetry collection full of creepy vignettes and heartfelt nostalgia. I was blown away just by the first paragraph of the first story, a Sherlock Holmes/H.P. Lovecraft mashup of sorts called “A Study in Emerald.” What if the Old Ones…came? And then life continued as normal? It is ingeniously written, blending the narrative deftness of a detective story and the weighty gloom of supernatural horror, and got me excited for the remainder of the book. Some of my other favorites from this collection are “October in the Chair,” “Locks,” “Instructions,” “Feeders and Eaters,” “Goliath,” “How to Talk to Girls at Parties,” and “Sunbird.” Fairy tales, body horror, flying saucers, even a brief immersion into the Matrix universe — the creativity and diversity are so impressive!

Coraline is a delightful book, one I have been meaning to read for quite some time now. I thoroughly enjoyed the film that came out, and even had the very great privilege to talk to Henry Selick about it at SXSW in 2009. Coraline is a bright young girl who considers herself an expert explorer. Though she feels her parents and her life are fairly dull, she learns to be brave under some nightmarish circumstances that occur in her very own house. The edition I read was filled with amazing artwork, including some particularly frightening images of the Other Mother.


Can you tell that I was a little bit into Coraline? Coraline/me, right. Flo the Progressive Lady/Delia, left.

Does anyone have any more Neil Gaiman recommendations for me?

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#10. The Shining by Stephen King

ImageThe Shining is, obviously, a modern horror classic. Everyone knows the story in one way or another: isolation, madness, murder, ghosts, all in a grand hotel. Kubrick’s The Shining is one of my favorite films, and I recently saw the documentary Room 237, so my interest in exploring the novel was particularly piqued.

I know King did not like Kubrick’s film adaptation. (This has apparently softened in more recent years, but at the time of the film’s release he was quite angry with the iconic director for tossing his screenplay and leaving huge chunks of familial context out.) They’re actually a bit hard to compare, when all is said and done. They are two entirely different animals, the enigmatic world of the films’ Overlook Hotel and the menacing depths of the novel’s Overlook. One tells a story of grim madness with a ghost and ghoul or two amid unnerving symmetry and sumptuous cinematic detail. One tells the detailed story of a family’s very gradual descent into the dark history of an incredibly haunted place. The tone of the film is one of doom from the very beginning; the book is one of utter suspense, as bumps in the night are interrupted by the mundane tasks of everyday life. And familiar things that become unfamiliar are, in my opinion, far more terrifying.

I really enjoyed the novel. The characters are so easy to relate to in the beginning that it becomes even more sickeningly frightening to see Jack Torrance, recovering alcoholic trying to pull his family back together, truly become consumed by the spirit of the Overlook. The slow build to all the visions and voices the hotel has to offer the Torrance family creates an unforgettable atmosphere of excitement mingled with dread.

It’s an interesting study in how memories are like ghosts, haunting us and causing us to haunt one another.

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#5. Horns by Joe Hill

ImageThis is easily one of my new favorite books. I read his novel Heart-Shaped Box the summer before last, and just this past month read (and reviewed!) his short story collection. Joe Hill can do no wrong for me at this point.

Horns is a novel that picks up on one of the worst days of Ig Perrish’s life: it is the one year anniversary of the brutal murder of his girlfriend, Merrin Williams. Not only is the love of his life dead, everyone in town thinks he’s the one who killed her. He wakes up with a hangover and a set of horns sprouting out of his forehead. The horns at first terrify him — when people see them, they confess their most appalling desires and sins to him. He soon discovers their true power, though, as he realizes his horns are the perfect way to find out what really happened to Merrin that rainy autumn night.

Ig slowly turns into a dark antihero, his horns growing all the time, but you are rooting for him from start to fiery finish. What’s a human without flaws and desires anyway? Ig starts to embrace his demonic new life the closer he gets to the revenge that he hopes will set him free.

This novel is full of sly references to evil, heaven, and hell through youthful flashbacks, cherry bombs, pop culture, trumpet-playing, half-heard church sermons, and a mysterious tree house that seems to somehow hold the answer to everything. While it is thrilling and horrifying in parts, it is also a heartfelt story about Ig’s family, childhood, and the one woman he loved so much, he turned into a devil without her.

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#2. 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

20th century ghostsA collection of short stories that range from ghost stories and paranormal oddities to father-son stories or peculiar tales of friendship that are more heartwarming than blood-chilling. It is an eclectic mix that reads very quickly — most of the stories are about 15-20 pages long, with one in the middle about the ghosts of trees (“Dead-Wood”) being only 2 pages and the final story “Voluntary Committal” being exceptionally long. If you like speculative fiction regarding movie theaters, baseball, superheroes, giant locusts, cardboard boxes that lead to other worlds, mind games in the middle of the woods, childhood, and horror movie cliches played to pitch perfect, you are sure to enjoy this book.

My favorite stories were “20th Century Ghost, “Pop Art,” “Better Than Home,” “My Father’s Mask,” and “Voluntary Committal.” “Voluntary Committal” is a haunting, haunting story. You may never listen to The Ants Go Marching 2 by 2 the same way again.

There is even a story hidden in the Acknowledgements at the end!

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