The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains
by Neil Gaiman
2014 • 80 pages • William Morrow
Somewhere along the way, through no fault of his own, I lost Neil Gaiman.
Good Omens was one of the first non-Harry Potter novel I read under my own steam. (I was not a big reader as a kid; I was a repetitive reader. It was one of my first coping mechanisms for my then unfathomable anxiety.) It was a favorite of webcomic creator Stan Stanley, whose Boy Meets Boy I read religiously—and secretively—as a preteen, and therefore the first recommendation I ever came across from a source I trusted. My faith was rewarded: I devoured Good Omens and moved onto American Gods, Coraline, and Anansi Boys in short order. It was all part of what I think of fondly as my brief kindergoth phase. Despite lacking the resources, chutzpah, or basic understanding of how clothes worked to commit to the baby goth, punk, or emo (kids, ask your parents) looks my childhood friends took to, I happily lingered on the periphery, dreaming dark, Romantic thoughts of dying my hair blue and writing urban fantasy.
So for me, Neil Gaiman is intrinsically linked with a very particular time in my life—being a preteen with vague, foggy aspirations towards being a whole person. But, as I’ve become that whole person, I’ve left a lot of that kid behind. I’m rarely reminded of that, because the media I consumed then was of such narrow focus that I rarely bump into it as an adult unless it’s on purpose. And even then, given how little media I truly consumed, it’s usually basically for the first time—witness my current obsessions with Sailor Moon, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Saturday Night Live. (I have no idea how they all ended up starting with S. Is that lucky? I feel like that might be lucky.) Short of eating so much guacamole over the course of the first week I moved to New York that I can no longer stomach it, I’ve never really encountered something from my childhood that I feel I’ve lost.
Until The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains. I have, since preadolescence, revisited Good Omens, but that holds up the way The Lion King holds up—well. (Albeit not exactly in that audiobook version I listened to. Well, at least the upcoming radio play is going to be amazing. I also read Neverwhere, Fragile Things, and Fortunately the Milk in the last five years, but they all disappointed me slightly. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I got to the end of The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, which I snatched up on a whim from the new fiction shelf at the library, and was left feeling oddly but numbly bereft.
The way I feel about Neil Gaiman is similar to the way I feel about Tim Burton (keeping fully in mind that I will be watching Batman and Batman Returns for the first time next month, which will undoubtedly change my opinion on him). As artists, they both have appealing and very strong personal styles that earn them both strong fan bases and critics. Those styles have stayed strong throughout their careers, not particularly changing much, which is why I tend to think of the both of them as the tastemakers for the particular brand of alternative kids I shyly and almost invisibly ran with as a kid. Now, at the height of their powers, they’re able to do whatever they want. For Burton, that seems to be some underwhelming output, although Big Eyes looks like it’ll change that. (Yay!) For Neil Gaiman, that seems to be exploring new ways of storytelling.
Originally an award-winning novelette in Stories, The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains became performance art for Gaiman in 2010, when he presented it at the Sydney Opera House alongside illustrations by Eddie Campbell and musical accompaniment by FourPlay String Quartet and FourPlay String Quartet. This volume collects the text of the story and Campbell’s illustrations; FourPlay’s music is available on a deluxe limited edition, as is the presentation itself. Like most of the stories collected in Stories, it’s a dark story with the unique and intriguing flatness of fairy tales. It follows a father seeking revenge for the death of his daughter by turning the tables on the man who killed her. It’s simple. It’s classic. It’s well-told. And it’s a narrative that I am simply so bored with these days that it’s slipped off my brain like so much water off a duck’s back.
So it’s not Neil Gaiman’s fault I lost him. There are some things I can’t travel back to, at least at this moment—acting, guacamole, and Neil Gaiman. Maybe later. But not now.
I rented this book from the public library.