Posts Tagged ‘chapbook’

Strange Roads by Peter S. Beagle

April 28, 2010 1 comment

First a word in support of Greg Ketter at DreamHaven. Greg has been running an independent and specialist bookstore for some thirty-three years. More importantly, he also puts his money where his bookseller’s mouth is and publishes books by the authors he likes. We are currently running through a chapbook series with stories from Gene Wolfe, Neil Gaiman, Larry Niven and Strange Roads by Peter S. Beagle based on the artwork of Lisa Snellings-Clark. Everyone who values knowledge, expertise and high-quality service should support DreamHaven in all its incarnations.

I am also a life-long fan of Peter Beagle. There is a magical simplicity about his writing. When you start, the premise can look inauspicious, but he always seems to come up with stories of such humanity that you end up beguiled. In this instance, we have three short stories inspired by the work of Lisa Snellings-Clark. I confess to having a strong preference for representational art, finding more abstract forms less engaging. In this instance, it’s actually quite interesting to see how Beagle reacted to the three pieces.

The first represents the game jacks and a kind of obviously childish but perhaps slightly militaristic rocking horse. The result is called “King Pelles The Sure”, another example of the fairy story as a morality tale. It’s when, “boring is good” meets, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. If you are a citizen in a small state where you have peace and stability, the chance to earn your living and a loving family, you live in a good place. There are times when predictability is to be embraced even though, once the routines are in place, life just runs itself, i.e. this may not be a place for the ambitious or greedy who always want more. As the King of such a country, you might feel almost completely redundant. Looking out of your castle windows, all you see are contented folk. Where’s the challenge in that. Kings are remembered because they rule. History may not be kind if you garnered the reputation as the hands-off king. So in this story, the King selfishly elects to introduce a little uncertainty. This proves a catastrophic misjudgement and then we are into the question of accountability. Can a King ever atone for the losses he causes?

The second piece of art appears on the wrapper and looks not unlike three sea cucumbers at play. Beagle prefers to see one “Spook” bent on asserting his right to revenge. This  is the least successful of the three. It’s on the edge of failure because Beagle wants to showcase bad writing rather than produce his own high-quality prose throughout. Which brings us to the sculpture of the angel. In “Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel”, we are into semi-autobiographical territory with a young boy spending significant amounts of his time watching his Uncle paint. The resulting story is an interesting variation on the dybbuk theme. In the past, I have tended to associate the dybbuk with possession of the living. This story enables redemption and a rise to Heaven through sacrifice. Young boys can acknowledge and confront their fears. Artists can grow obsessive when they cannot quite capture what they see on canvas, and angels are there to help relieve our fears. This is an elegant story in which all the characters are actually trying to do the right things and, for the most part, succeeding albeit not quite in the way we might have thought.

If you enjoy Peter Beagle’s writing, these three stories will make a satisfying addition to your collection. Obviously, as a chapbook, it’s slightly more expensive than the conventional “book” but, for me, it’s good value.

As an added note, this slim volume was shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award 2009 for Best Collection.

For reviews of other collections by Peter S. Beagle, see Sleight of Hand and We Never Talk About My Brother. There’s also Return: An Innkeeper’s World Story.

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