I’m going to tell you precisely why I love Neil Gaiman’s work, and I’ll do it by breaking down one of my favorite short stories.
The story is called THE PRICE, and it can be found in SMOKE AND MIRRORS.
Someone even did a fantastic animation, with Gaiman himself narrating. In case you don’t have time to listen, here’s a brief summary.
The father and narrator of this tale prides himself on taking in and caring for vagabond cats. One in particular, however, is causing trouble; it shows up every morning wounded in wild ways, requiring more trips to the vet and more money spent.
For those four days, life goes to hell. Children trouble, job trouble, health trouble – things are simply going wrong, and though he sees no causation, the father decides to let the cat back out.
The next morning, the cat is once again torn up, but all the calamity stops. Finally, the father decides to follow the cat and see what on earth it’s been getting up to.
And on the path to the house, coming at a run toward the house, is the devil.
There is no pretense. This is the devil, a evil thing old when Babylon was young. The black cat attacks it. They have a horrible fight. The cat wins, but oh, it is so wounded, and oh, the father is so scared. And I will let Gaiman’s final words in this tale stand for themselves:
The thing that comes to my house does not come every night. But it comes most nights: we know it by the wounds on the cat, and the pain I can see in those leonine eyes. He has lost the use of his front left paw, and his right eye has closed for good.– Neil Gaiman, “The Price”, SMOKE AND MIRRORS
I wonder what we did to deserve the Black Cat. I wonder who sent him. And, selfish and scared, I wonder how much more he has to give.
This story moves me deeply, and here is why.
- This story speaks to the human experience for all of us; the pressures of life and bills and stress, the love of a family and the choice to be a good person, the fears and frustrations we all know well. It’s all too easy to feel one’s self in the place of this father.
- This story takes a trope – unlucky black cats – and does more than turn it on its head. This cat, though far from immortal, is clearly some kind of protector, without which the father may lose everything he loves.
- The last line is gut-wrenching because of the question it places before the reader. It is clear the cat cannot defend the family forever – someday, it will fail and die and the devil will come – and in this clench, we are reminded of the most important things in life: Sacrifice. Love. Death. Bravery. Sorrow. Loss.
- In the father’s shoes, we must ask, what do I do now?
It is no exaggeration to say that when we look inside ourselves for the answer to that question, we may not like what we find. “The Price” is just a tiny piece of fiction, a short story about a cat and a fantastical devil, and yet it is very true. What is the price of safety? What would we pay to protect those we love? How would we repay the love of a creature so selfless?
Would we let the cat die for us?
Would we dare to do otherwise?
So this is why I love Neil Gaiman. His fiction is extraordinarily true, true to life and the madness of being human, and that’s why his stories about ghosts and gods carry such power.
I highly suggest you read more. Gaiman’s books are usually in libraries, and you can purchase than anywhere. If you can, take his writing masterclass. It’s absolutely invigorated my own writing to learn just how he crafts such things, and I think it’ll do the same for you.
Man, that story got me all over again. I’m gonna go hug my cat.
So who are your favorite authors and why? Let me know in the comments!