Monday, December 01, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #335: The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman; illustrated by Eddie Campbell

This is not a comic, though it does have a few panels with dialogue, and a lot of Scott McCloud's essential marker: words and pictures juxtaposed. It's also not quite a record of the live show that it grew out of, since that also featured the music of FourPlay String Quartet. It's also not a book for children, despite what my local library seems to think -- but, these days, only pre-adults get books illustrated for them, so it's an understandable mistake.

But what is The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains? I could be flippant, and say it's a Neil Gaiman novelette -- published in the 2011 anthology Stories edited by Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio -- with a lot of Eddie Campell pictures thrown in. And that's more or less how the book came to be, leaving out the complicating details, like its origin in a performance at the Sydney Graphic festival, and how the Campbell pictures seem to have come in three successive waves, not necessarily all adding entirely new work.

It's a bit more integrated than a prose story with added art -- perhaps the best model is Gaiman's own Stardust, a novel published both with and without Charles Vess's artwork, and clearly better with. The story was a chilly and powerful thing by itself, but Campbell gives it more life and space, and allows a reader to linger on Gaiman's spare sentences and ponder what's said and not said.

The story is of Scotland, several hundred years back -- there's still a Jacobite pretender across the water, and men actively raising money to bring him home with fire and sword. In it, two men travel to the Isle of Skye -- the Misty Isle, the Winged Isle -- to find a fabled cave where as much gold as a man could want can be found, to be taken for just the loss of a small piece of his soul. The two men don't know each other. As the story begins, they have no connection. But they will find that cave, and that truth, in the end.

Gaiman is one of our finest modern writers, and his rare short stories are nearly always his best work. (Think "Snow, Glass, Apples" or "The Problem With Susan.") This is one of his best. Campbell is well-chosen to compliment the story; his work is dark and murky and impressionistic and bleakly Scottish in its own right. Together, they make a dark and compelling tale.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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