Neil Gaiman chose a variety of stories all of which have in common their focus on creatures said not to exist – the most wonderful and the scariest beings living in our imagination, and so living on the pages of our books, in our cinema, computer, and television screens. And he has chosen a fine menagerie indeed, with the help of fellow writer Maria Dahvana Headley, and the beautiful illustrations of Briony Morrow-Cribbs. The title page, posted here on the left, is similar in style to early printed books (see further down this post for an example of same), and as such was a great start, as I have a particular fondness for these pages, with their mixes of fonts and illustrations. If further encouragement to read the stories were required, Gaiman provides it in his introduction, opening with his reminiscences of the magical Natural History Museum, before acquainting us with the existence of the Unnatural History Museum (Viktor Wynd, do you know about this?!). For yes, this is real, which for all of us who have, like Gaiman, spent our lives yearning for such a place, is delightful news. 826 DC is, as they say on their official website,
a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. Our services are structured around our understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.
So if you’re going to read this book, I would ask that you buy it, to support children’s literacy and creativity. If you don’t tend to keep your books, or don’t find it to your taste, why not then donate it to your local library, to improve literacy and creativity at a local (to you) level?The contents are as follows: (picture of weird line), by Gahan Wilson ; The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees, by E. Lily Yu ; The Griffin and the Minor Canon, by Frank R. Stockton ; Ozioma the Wicked, by Nnedi Okorofor ; Sunbird, by Neil Gaiman ; The Song of Theare, by Diana Wynne Jones ; Gabriel-Ernest, by Saki ; The Cockatoucan; or, Great-Aunt Willoughby, by E. Nesbit ; Moveable Beast, by Maria Dahvana Headley ; The Flight of the Horse, by Larry Niven ; Prismatica, by Samuel Delany ; The Manticore, the Mermaid, and Me, by Megan Kurashige ; The Compleat Werewolf, by Anthony Boucher ; The Smile on the Face, by Nalo Hopkinson ; Or All the Seas with Oysters, by Avram Davidson ; Come Lady Death, by Peter S. Beagle. The only story I had read previously was my beloved Saki’s werewolf story, which I cannot recommend highly enough. It’s not quite the usual kind of werewolf story. The book is definitely a successful compilation, on the basis that I cannot choose a favourite story. They all include at least one strange character who stands out; in some of the stories, like Gaiman’s own “Sunbird”, there were so many unusual characters that I did not know until near the end exactly what would happen. Some I have re-read immediately, such as Yu’s story of the enmity between wasps and bees, and others I have re-read later, particularly “Prismatica” and “Come Lady Death”. E. Nesbit’s The Cockatoucan; or, Great-Aunt Willoughby is the only work of hers that I have read besides The Railway Children (1906), and although more fantastical, taking its protagonist to an entirely new world, instead of to Streatham (I can’t be the only person who saw the sense in Nesbit’s diversion), this shares her longer work’s theme of modes of transport changing children’s lives, even if the short story’s ending was bittersweet. Structurally, the decision to close the volume with Come Lady Death is perfect. Not just because that is how every person’s story ends; it is a wonderful, suspenseful story, which reminded me a little of Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death (1842). As we come to the end of the book, Death is coming to life, to live, and it’s very interesting to watch the character’s metamorphosis. I’ve never read anything by Peter Beagle before, but will definitely be looking out for his work now. Unnatural Creatures is a real bestiary of delights with something in it for everyone; you may or may not see a moralising aspect to each tale, in line with medieval examples of the genre. But read it, and find out.
I wrote this unsolicited review based on a copy of the book borrowed from my local library.