Neil Gaiman's adult fiction is a little too whimsical for my taste, but since I expect a picture book to contain its fair share of whimsy, his newest juvenile fiction gets a thumbs up from me.
Instructions: Everything You'll Need To Know on Your Journey is about a bipedal cat who must follow a set of instructions if he is to exit back through the wooden gate where his journey began.
Beyond the wall the garden looks tranquil at first glance. Cinderella's pumpkin carriage is parked behind some trees. The Three Little Pigs are having a picnic. The Frog Prince rests on the lawn. But here's the question: do these old friends from fairy tale lore serve to calm with their familiarity or warn against the perils to come?
When the cat is instructed not to touch a metal imp doorknocker because it will bite, the journey takes a deliciously dark turn. Within the wood glowing eyes peer from gnarled trees, an old woman waits to barter, strawberries grow in December's frost, a ferryman gives a ride, trolls and giants must be passed and haints outrun.
And, as with any journey's end, the place you started from seems a lot smaller.
Like the great Aesop’s fables and Grimms' fairy tales, there are lessons learned by the end of Instructions that would serve one well throughout life: kindness (“…if any creature tells you that it hungers, feed it. / If it tells you that it is dirty, clean it.”); prudence (“The deep well you walk past leads to Winter’s realm; / there is another land at the bottom of it. / If you turn around here, / you can walk back, safely; / you will lose no face. /I will think no less of you.”); the folly of presumption (“Do not be jealous of your sister: / know that diamonds and roses / are as uncomfortable when they tumble from / one’s lips as toads and frogs: / colder, too, and sharper, and they cut.”)
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