The Books of Magic: 05/14/09
Despite my geekiness, I'm a relatively new reader of graphic novels and manga. This means I missed most of Neil Gaiman's early works and I'm only now catching up. I've read a few reviews of The Books of Magic that suggest reading the Sandman series first but I didn't and that choice didn't seem to inhibit my enjoyment of this four part miniseries.
The Books of Magic is a four part miniseries all written by Neil Gaiman with each volume illustrated by a different artist. They are a tour of the magic characters from the DC universe. Being given this tour is young Timothy Hunter, a British boy with an unhappy family life who wears glasses and has yet to be discovered magical powers. He's basically cut from the same cloth as Harry Potter except that he's likeable and believable. Oh yeah, and he has an owl, made from his yo-yo. Before you think I'm pointing fingers at Rowling (I've read reviews where that happens), I'm not. The ten year old boy with a big destiny is an old story. Harry and Timothy can both give nods to young Arthur Pendragon.
Book I: The Invisible Labyrinth
Illustrated by John Bolton, The Invisible Labyrinth introduces Timothy Hunter and the characters who will help him on his journey to decide between magic or the non-magical world. This book sets the foundations. It defines the rules to magic, introduces Timothy as an understandably skeptic protagonist, and gives a hint at the dangers Timothy will face if he decides to embrace his magical ability.
The best part of this section is how quickly we get a sense of how important Timothy will be. I enjoyed getting to know Timothy and I fell for Yo-Yo the owl. The downside for me was the sheer amount of info-dumping. I know that's part of DC way of doing things but I kept wanting the plot to get started. The Invisible Labyrinth felt more like an extended introduction than the first book.
Book II: The Shadow World
The Shadow World is illustrated by Scott Hampton is a present day (1990) tour of the world as led by John Constantine. This section had a bit of a Neverwhere feel to it with Timothy Hunter and Constantine traveling through the world going from place to place as needed with many short cuts. Timothy begins to see that the magical world while set in places recognizable from the non magical world exist in parallel to the world Timothy has just left.
My favorite part in The Shadow World is the trip to San Francisco. It was the best glimpse at how the people and creatures of the magical world live. Of course living in the Bay Area, I have to be partial to the inclusion of "The City."
Book III: The Land of Summer's Twilight
Charles Vess illustrated the third (and my favorite) book. Here Constantine hands off Timothy to Doctor Occult. Together they cross into Faerie and other fantasy realms. I read this book at the same time I was reading "The Spiral Briar" by Sean McMullen. The two complement each other beautifully. Timothy here learns the importance of knowing the laws of the different magical worlds and the dangers of not following them.
Book IV: The Road to Nowhere
The final book, illustrated by Paul Johnson takes Timothy to the end of time. Unfortunately he's taken there by Mister E who is unstable and dangerous. The ends of days scene has been done many times and it's a logical conclusion to the miniseries. It's also unfortunately tiresome.
I enjoyed reading The Books of Magic. As an omnibus it's a quick read. I chose to read only one book per day, thus spreading out the experience over four days. It's not my favorite graphic novel that I've read but it's certainly one that will stick with me.
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