Unnatural Creatures: Stories Selected by Neil Gaiman
Published April 2013
Synopsis: Unnatural Creatures is a collection of short stories about the fantastical things that exist only in our minds—collected and introduced by beloved New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman. The sixteen stories gathered by Gaiman, winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards, range from the whimsical to the terrifying. The magical creatures range from werewolves to sunbirds to beings never before classified. E. Nesbit, Diana Wynne Jones, Gahan Wilson, and other literary luminaries contribute to the anthology. Sales of Unnatural Creatures benefit 826DC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students in their creative and expository writing, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.
Our Thoughts: Neil Gaiman has created magic collecting these 16 short stories into one volume. No doubt about it. In his introduction to the book, Gaiman relays that all the creatures with its pages, all the words that flow from line to line, exist “to help take care of the current Museum of Unnatural History.” I love that idea and everything it hints at. Gaiman goes on to say that The Museum of Unnatural History is indeed a real place, and there are ways in which you can visit it. This book is a doorway.
To give you just a taste of some of the stories within this volume…
THE GRIFFIN AND THE MINOR CANON by Frank R. Stockton tells the story of a Griffin who travels to village in search of a statue made in his likeness. The townspeople, afraid the Griffin has come to eat them, send for the Minor Canon, a young man who fills a subordinate position within their church, to greet the Griffin, show him the statue within the town, and then send him away. The Minor Canon is often chosen for the more difficult tasks since no one else in the town is willing to attend to them. The Griffin shows no signs of leaving after viewing this magnificent statue. He, in fact, has taken a fancy to the Minor Canon and follows along as he does his daily routines and duties. After a time, the townspeople decide to force the Minor Canon to leave the boundaries of their village and banish him into the wild with nothing to aide him on his journey, simply hoping the Griffin will follow. He does not follow. In the end, the townspeople learn a valuable lesson.
OZIOMA THE WICKED by Nnedi Okorafor is a wonderful tale about a girl that can speak to snakes. She’s ostracized for her talent until lives are at stake, and she’s the only one that can save them. SUNBIRD is a story by Neil Gaiman I’ve already read a time or two, but one that never gets old. It’s a new tale of the Phoenix, and it’s quite a delicious one at that.
THE SAGE OF THEARE by Diana Wynne Jones speaks of the folly of gods and the amazingness of humankind. Pride and order and the banishment of free will will always be cause for a downfall. THE COCKATOUCAN; OR, GREAT-AUNT WILLOUGHBY by E. Nesbit is a tale of magic and the places in between the places we already know. It’s the story of how a bird’s laughter can change anything and anyone with one little guffaw. One little girl, who happens upon this space in between, is clever enough to figure out a way to stop it all.
PRISMATICA HOMMAGE A JAMES THURBER by Samuel R. Delany was one of my favorites of the sixteen. It reminded me of the Terry Pratchett Discworld Series, as in it’s clever and wonderful and mysterious and funny. Amos’s whit will bring him all the treasures of the world, provided he doesn’t fall into the trunk first. THE MANTICORE, THE MERMAID, AND ME by Megan Kurashige leads us to believe those taxidermy hoaxes of Barnum’s Age may not be fake at all.
THE COMPLEAT WEREWOLF is my favorite story in the collection. It’s hysterical and brilliant. What happens when a man comes to find out he’s a werewolf and decides he can make a living changing into that mythical four-legged creature? Oh, and he also thinks he can get the girl that got away with his magical transformation. Let me know how that works out for you, Mr. Wolfe Wolf.
THE SMILE ON MY FACE by Nalo Hopkinson is a devilish woman warrior story. It describes how something can just take root inside a girl one day and give her the confidence she needs to grown into the woman she is destined to become, disposing and possibly devouring any who might try to take advantage of her favors. Lastly, COME LADY DEATH by the wonderful Peter S. Beagle is a beautifully written story of that time when Death was invited to a party and became the belle of the ball.
Unnatural Creatures is not strictly horror. There are elements of sci-fi and fantasy within its pages as well. Still, I highly recommend it for any and all who love a good mythical monster story. It’s one of the best collections of its kind on the market right now, one you can pick up and read again and again.