“It was as if some people believed there was a divide between the books that you were permitted to enjoy and the books that were good for you, and I was expected to choose sides. We were all expected to choose sides. And I didn’t believe it, and I still don’t.
I was, and still am, on the side of books you love.”
—Neil Gaiman, in his Newbery Medal acceptance speech for The Graveyard Book
Alright. I admit it: after twenty-five days I was looking for a shortcut. (Note to self: use previous sentence as beginning of a short story.) I am talking, of course, about my thirty-day challenge to read one short story a day and write about it in long-term efforts to improve my own writing and get published.
In scanning the table of contents in Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors, an anthology I picked up in December, a number of titles caught my eye, but there was one selection in particular: “Nicolas was…”.
It was one page.
Perhaps more intrigued than relieved to find that short a story, I flipped to it. I’m not sure what my expectations were; I’m not sure that I had any. Actually, if I expected anything it was probably to find that the story was so short that I could not possibly glean anything from it, it would not be worth reporting (I should have known better: this is Neil Gaiman we’re talking about), and, ultimately having to read another, I would have spent my thirty seconds in vain.
Today, in salute to the perfect brevity that is “Nicolas was…” I am not providing an excerpt or a synopsis. Instead, I encourage you to invest thirty seconds and read
“Nicolas was…” by Neil Gaiman
yourself, and then (if you so please), come back and read my observations. Note my observations contain spoilers, so if you’re going to read them, read the story first!
HOLY CRAP Neil Gaiman is a GENIUS.
I think, him being the accomplished author of Stardust and Coraline and several other books as well as another short story of his I recently enjoyed, “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains,” I already knew as much.
And yet here I stand, dazzled and envious of the simplicity of the feat he achieved in “Nicolas was…”: how, using a few concise details, a little modification, and just enough of the familiar—“Ho. Ho. Ho.”—that we recognize it beyond doubt, Gaiman takes a (pretty much) universally-understood concept, Santa Claus, and completely recasts the story behind it.
I stand in awe.
It’s an easy recipe. A forehead slapper: a why didn’t I think of that? revelation. I think, after reading this, I will keep my own eyes trained for anything else that might make such a subject matter—something universally recognized—and one day attempt to do the same.
Until then—well, and probably always—hats off, Mr. Gaiman.
No new words this time.
Only four (five, if I round up to the end up of the month) stories remain. Let us see what they will bring.