Smoke and Mirrors

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Overview

The distinctive storytelling genius of Neil Gaiman has been acclaimed by writers as diverse as Norman Mailer and Stephen King. Now in this new collection of stories — several of which have never before appeared in print and more than half that have never been collected — that will dazzle the senses and haunt the imagination.

Miraculous inventions and unforgettable characters inhabit these pages: an elderly widow who finds the Holy Grail in a second-hand store...a frightened ...

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Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions

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Overview

The distinctive storytelling genius of Neil Gaiman has been acclaimed by writers as diverse as Norman Mailer and Stephen King. Now in this new collection of stories — several of which have never before appeared in print and more than half that have never been collected — that will dazzle the senses and haunt the imagination.

Miraculous inventions and unforgettable characters inhabit these pages: an elderly widow who finds the Holy Grail in a second-hand store...a frightened little boy who bargains for his life with a troll living under a bridge by the railroad tracks...a stray cat who battles nightly against a recurring evil that threatens his unsuspecting adoptive family. In these stories, Gaiman displays the power, wit, insight and outrageous originality that has made him one of the most unique literary artists of our day.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062291233
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/14/2013
  • Format: MP3
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Ships to U.S.and APO/FPO addresses only.

Meet the Author

Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman
Novelist Neil Gaiman has sent a British businessman tumbling into a fantastic underworld and had a devil and angel comically conspiring to thwart the Apocalypse. He found his biggest success, though, in Death, Dreams and Destruction -- and the four other similarly named siblings who controlled the reins of the human race's emotional impulses in his graphic-novel series The Sandman, a wholesale rejuvenation of graphic fiction that had everyone from Tori Amos to Norman Mailer spinning with, yes, Delirium.

Biography

Neil Gaiman thought he wrote comic books. But a newspaper editor, of course, set him straight.

Back when he was riding the diabolical headwinds of his popular series of graphic novels, The Sandman, the author attended a party where he introduced himself as a comic-book writer to a newspaper's literary editor. But when the editor quickly realized who this actually was -- and the glaze melted from his eyes -- he offered Gaiman a correction tinged with astonishment: "My God, man, you don't write comics, you write graphic novels." Relating the story to theLos Angeles Times in 1995, Gaiman said, "I suddenly felt like someone who had been informed that she wasn't a hooker, that in fact she was a lady of the evening."

Gaiman's done much more, of course, than simply write graphic novels, having coauthored, with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens, a comic novel about the Apocalypse; adapted into hardcover the BBC miniseries Neverwhere about the dark underworld beneath the streets of London; and, inspired by his young daughter, put a horrifying spin on C.S. Lewis' wardrobe doors for Coraline, a children's book about a passageway into a magical, yet malevolent, land.

But it is The Sandman that is Gaiman's magnum opus.

Though he had told a career counselor in high school that he wanted to pen comic books, he had a career as a freelance journalist before his first graphic novel, Violent Cases, was published in England in 1987. DC Comics discovered him and The Sandman was born. Or reborn, actually. The comic debuted back in 1939 with a regular-Joe crime fighter in the lead. But in Gaiman's hands the tale had a more otherworldly spin, slowing introducing readers to the seven siblings Endless: Dream, Death, Desire, Destiny, Destruction, Despair and Delirium (once Delight). They all have their roles in shaping the fates of man. In fact, when Death was imprisoned for decades, the results were devastating. Richard Nixon reached The White House and Michael Jackson the Billboard charts.

Direction from newspaper editors notwithstanding, to Gaiman, these stories are still comic books. The man who shuttled back and forth between comics and classics in his formative years and can pepper his writing with references to Norse mythology as well as the vaudevillian rock group Queen, never cottoned to such highbrow/lowbrow distinctions. Comparing notes on a yachting excursion with members of the Irish rock band U2, the writer who looks like a rock star and Delirium and the rock stars who gave themselves comic-worthy names such as Bono and The Edge came to a realization: Whether the medium is pop music or comic books, not being taken seriously can be a plus. "It's safer to be in the gutter," he told The Washington Post in 1995.

In 1995, Gaiman brought The Sandman to a close and began spending more time on his nongraphic fiction, including a couple of short-story collections. A few years later he released Stardust, an adult fairy tale that has young Tristan Thorn searching for a fallen star to woo the lovely but cold Victoria Forester. In 2001, he placed an ex-con named Shadow in the middle of a war between the ancient and modern dieties in American Gods. Coming in October 2002 is another departure: an audio recording of Two Plays for Voices, which stars Bebe Neuwirth as a wise queen doing battle with a bloodthirsty child and Brian Dennehy as the Angel of Vengeance investigating the first crime in history in heaven's City of Angels.

Gaiman need not worry about defining his artistic relevance, since so many other seem to do it for him. Stephen King, Roger Zelazny and Harlan Ellison are among those who have contributed introductions to his works. William Gibson, the man who coined the term "cyberspace," called him a "a writer of rare perception and endless imagination" as well as "an American treasure." (Even though he's, technically, a British treasure transplanted to the American Midwest.) Even Norman Mailer has weighed in: "Along with all else, Sandman is a comic strip for intellectuals, and I say it's about time."

The gushiest praise, however, may come from Frank McConnell, who barely contained himself in the pages of the political and artistic journal Commonweal. Saying Gaiman "may just be the most gifted and important storyteller in English," McConnell crowned Sandman as the most important act of fiction of the day. "And that, not just because of the brilliance and intricacy of its storytelling -- and I know few stories, outside the best of Joyce, Faulkner, and Pynchon, that are more intricate," he wrote in October 1995, " but also because it tells its wonderful and humanizing tale in a medium, comic books, still largely considered demimonde by the tenured zombies of the academic establishment."

"If Sandman is a 'comic,'" he concluded, "then The Magic Flute is a 'musical' and A Midsummer Night's Dream is a skit. Read the damn thing: it's important."

Good To Know

Some fascinating factoids from our interview with Gaiman:

"One of the most enjoyable bits of writing Sandman was getting authors whose work I love to write the introductions for the collected graphic novels -- people like Steve Erickson, Gene Wolfe, Harlan Ellison, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Mikal Gilmore, and Samuel R. Delany."

"I have a big old Addams Family house, with -- in the summertime -- a vegetable garden, and I love growing exotic pumpkins. As a boy in England I used to dream about Ray Bradbury Hallowe'ens, and am thrilled that I get them these days. Unless I'm on the road signing people's books, of course."

"According to my daughters, my most irritating habit is asking for cups of tea."

"I love radio -- and love the availability of things like the Jack Benny radio shows in MP3 format. I'm addicted to BBC radio 7, and keep buying boxed CD sets of old UK radio programs, things like Round the Horne and Hancock's Half Hour. Every now and again I'll write a radio play."

"I love thunderstorms, old houses, and dreams."

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    1. Hometown:
      Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 10, 1960
    2. Place of Birth:
      Portchester, England
    1. Education:
      Attended Ardingly College Junior School, 1970-74, and Whitgift School, 1974-77
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Chivalry



Mrs. Whitaker found the Holy Grail; it was under a fur coat. Every Thursday afternoon Mrs. Whitaker walked down to the post office to collect her pension, even though her legs were no longer what they were, and on the way back home she would stop in at the Oxfam Shop and buy herself a little something.

The Oxfam Shop sold old clothes, knickknacks, oddments, bits and bobs, and large quantities of old paperbacks, all of them donations: secondhand flotsam, often the house clearances of the dead. All the profits went to charity.

The shop was staffed by volunteers. The volunteer on duty this afternoon was Marie, seventeen, slightly overweight, and dressed in a baggy mauve jumper that looked like she had bought it from the shop.

Marie sat by the till with a copy of Modern Woman magazine, filling out a "Reveal Your Hidden Personality" questionnaire. Every now and then, she'd flip to the back of the magazine and check the relative points assigned to an A), B), or C) answer before making up her mind how she'd respond to the question.

Mrs. Whitaker puttered around the shop.

They still hadn't sold the stuffed cobra, she noted. It had been there for six months now, gathering dust, glass eyes gazing balefully at the clothes racks and the cabinet filled with chipped porcelain and chewed toys.

Mrs. Whitaker patted its head as she went past.

She picked out a couple of Mills & Boon novels from a bookshelf — Her Thundering Soul and Her Turbulent Heart, ashilling each — and gave careful consideration to the empty bottle of Mateus Rosé with a decorative lampshade on it before deciding she really didn't have anywhere to put it.

She moved a rather threadbare fur coat, which smelled badly of mothballs. Underneath it was a walking stick and a water-stained copy of Romance and Legend of Chivalry by A. R. Hope Moncrieff, priced at five pence. Next to the book, on its side, was the Holy Grail. It had a little round paper sticker on the base, and written on it, in felt pen, was the price: 30p.

Mrs. Whitaker picked up the dusty silver goblet and appraised it through her thick spectacles.

"This is nice," she called to Marie.

Marie shrugged.

"It'd look nice on the mantelpiece."

Marie shrugged again.

Mrs. Whitaker gave fifty pence to Marie, who gave her ten pence change and a brown paper bag to put the books and the Holy Grail in. Then she went next door to the butcher's and bought herself a nice piece of liver. Then she went home.

The inside of the goblet was thickly coated with a brownish-red dust. Mrs. Whitaker washed it out with great care, then left it to soak for an hour in warm water with a dash of vinegar added.

Then she polished it with metal polish until it gleamed, and she put it on the mantelpiece in her parlor, where it sat between a small soulful china basset hound and a photograph of her late husband, Henry, on the beach at Frinton in 1953.

She had been right: It did look nice.

For dinner that evening she had the liver fried in breadcrumbs with onions. It was very nice.

The next morning was Friday; on alternate Fridays Mrs. Whitaker and Mrs. Greenberg would visit each other. Today it was Mrs. Greenberg's turn to visit Mrs. Whitaker. They sat in the parlor and ate macaroons and drank tea. Mrs. Whitaker took one sugar in her tea, but Mrs. Greenberg took sweetener, which she always carried in her handbag in a small plastic container.

"That's nice " said Mrs. Greenberg, pointing to the Grail. "What is it?"

"It's the Holy Grail," said Mrs. Whitaker. "It's the cup that Jesus drunk out of at the Last Supper. Later, at the Crucifixion, it caught His precious blood when the centurion's spear pierced His side."

Mrs. Greenberg sniffed. She was small and Jewish and didn't hold with unsanitary things. "I wouldn't know about that," she said, "but it's very nice. Our Myron got one just like that when he won the swimming tournament, only it's got his name on the side."

"Is he still with that nice girl? The hairdresser?"

"Bernice? Oh yes. They're thinking of getting engaged," said Mrs. Greenberg.

"That's nice," said Mrs. Whitaker. She took another macaroon.

Mrs. Greenberg baked her own macaroons and brought them over every alternate Friday: small sweet light brown biscuits with almonds on top.

They talked about Myron and Bernice, and Mrs. Whitaker's nephew Ronald (she had had no children), and about their friend Mrs. Perkins who was in hospital with her hip, poor dear.

At midday Mrs. Greenberg went home, and Mrs. Whitaker made herself cheese on toast for lunch, and after lunch Mrs. Whitaker took her pills; the white and the red and two little orange ones.

The doorbell rang.

Mrs. Whitaker answered the door. It was a young man with shoulder-length hair so fair it was almost white, wearing gleaming silver armor, with a white surcoat.

"Hello," he said.

"Hello," said Mrs. Whitaker.

"I'm on a quest," he said.

"That's nice," said Mrs. Whitaker, noncommittally.

"Can I come in?" he asked.

Mrs. Whitaker shook her head. "I'm sorry, I don't think so," she said.

"I'm on a quest for the Holy Grail," the young man said. "Is it here?"

"Have you got any identification?" Mrs. Whitaker asked. She knew that it was unwise to let unidentified strangers into your home when you were elderly and living on your own. Handbags get emptied, and worse than that.

The young man went back down the garden path. His horse, a huge gray charger, big as a shire-horse, its head high and its eyes intelligent, was tethered to Mrs. Whitaker's garden gate. The knight fumbled in the saddlebag and returned with a scroll...

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 64 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 64 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Aspiring authors, do not read this book!

    If you're a writer and you're feeling a bit down about your writing, do not read this book. Gaiman is one of those authors whose skill with language is such that you'll despair of ever being a tenth as good as he is. Some of these stories also appeared in his Angels and Visitations collection, but there is enough variety that it's worth owning both collections.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 21, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Before I read this book, I was under the impression that I just

    Before I read this book, I was under the impression that I just wasn’t really a fan of short stories. This book made me realize that I like short stories just fine, I just have to be a fan of who is writing them. I find Neil Gaiman’s style to be dark, gritty and masterful. Smoke and Mirrors is an eclectic collection of stories and poetry about everything from the holy grail to trolls. I think there’s a little something for just about anyone that likes fiction. If you like short stories, Neil Gaiman, fantasy, or just want something a little different, you should take a look.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 13, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Great variety of content

    I first ran across Neil Gaiman in an anthology Living Dead and then a few other stories here and there. He would always be one of the authors that seemed, to me anyway, to rise to the top. One of the great story tellers of our time. What a take on the Snow White fable!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2007

    Get it, get it, get it!

    If you've never read Neil Gaiman's short fiction, this is the PERFECT book to start with. It is filled with stories that will stick with you long after the last page has been turned. After you read SMOKE AND MIRRORS, read FRAGILE THINGS. Or read FRAGILE THINGS first. Whatever order you choose, you can't go wrong. 5 stars for the master...

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2011

    Wonderful

    I adore this collection and think anyone who reads it will at least appreciate Gaiman as a writer.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 24, 2013

    Compilation of peculiar short stories told in the typical ¿Neil

    Compilation of peculiar short stories told in the typical “Neil Gaiman” style, these two are the same as that of Fragile Things. 




    I love it. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2010

    great intro to Gaiman

    I have never read Neil Gaiman before and I loved this collection of short stories!!! What a great intro to his writings. The collection offers a variety of really interesting and freshly original stories. Several of these stories are very adult in nature and I would not recommend this for children or even teens!A couple of the stories were a little "dark" for me but overall the book was really entertaining and worth many re-reads.

    I LOVED "Chivalry", "Sweeper of Dreams", "Murder Mysteries", "The Price" and "Troll Bridge". Also, don't miss the treasure hidden in the Introduction!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2009

    Gaiman is cool

    I liked this book because it was sort of like exploring the mind of Neil Gaiman. I only recommend it to true lovers of his work. Don't read it just because you thought Stardust or Corraline were "cute".

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2006

    Not Bad

    Some stories are decent, others are not so engaging..

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted November 4, 2011

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