Went to the beach yesterday with a hardback. That's unusual. Paperbacks are better for beach reading. But I'd just started this book and didn't want to put it down. Frankly, I didn't want to put it down long enough for the three-minute drive to the beach, but you have to make some sacrifices, don't you?
The book is Neal Gaiman's The Books of Magic. It's what is today called a graphic novel, although when I was a kid back in the Triassic Era we weren't embarrassed to call them comic books.
But it was magic, a really amazing mixture of Gaiman's words and the art of four great illustrators, originally done as four-book mini-series for DC Comics, since gathered in a single-volume hardcover.
It's impossible for me to give away the story since I barely understood it myself, which is sort of the point, I think. It' about 12-year-old boy Timothy Hunter, a normal, skateboarding kid who happens to have the potential to be the greatest magician of his age. Four spectral figures (all DC characters) take him on a guided tour of the past, present and possible future in which magic (specifically the characters from DC's "magic universe" stable) figures prominently.
Despite being a paean to DC, the story and visuals draw as much from classical mythology, everything from the Egyptian Book of the Dead to C.S. Lewis and T.H. White, with plenty of room for Joseph Campbell to stretch out and throw his elbows around. Like I said, I didn't understand much of it, I'm not a fantasy or a graphic novel kind of guy. But Timothy didn't understand a lot of it either. He says several times in the story, in effect, "That was cool. I'm not sure I know what it means, but it was cool." The very same thing I said several times. That's not the point. The point was exposing him to it, so that he could decide whether he wanted to become part of that realm.
The key was probably this line: Where magic is concerned there is always an initial decision, an initial willingness to let it enter your life. If that is not there, then neither is magic.
Anyway, it was a fascinating read, an invitation by one of the best storytellers of the age (I would say the best, but who am I kidding? I haven't read everybody. Yet.) to enter his own magical world.
Anyway, stayed at the beach until I was finished. Which of course is why I'm ever-so-slightly sunburned today. I had planted my chair in the shade, but that darn sun kept moving!
Reading it at the beach had an extra advantage. The illustrations are really amazing, and taking the book to the beach made them even more so. Under the direct sunlight, they sparkled. I mean that literally. Something about the way the ink was laid on the page, in direct sunlight they actually sparkled, and holding the book close to my eyes I could actually see the light bouncing around the page.
(BTW – Speaking of that non-existent list of my five favorite books, Good Omens by Gaiman and Terry Pratchett would definitely be on it.)