|Now||2019||Previous||Articles||Road Essays||Road Reviews||Author||Title||Source||Age||Genre||Series||Format||Inclusivity||LGBTA||Portfolio|
Instructions by Neil Gaiman with illustrations by Charles Vess is a free form poem transformed into a "there and back again" urban fantasy road narrative picture book.
The "instructions" are one part itinerary and one part survival guide for a journey from the "wooden gate in the wall you never saw before" to a "castle the twelve months sit about a fire, warming their feet, exchanging tales."
Though the ride home can involve an eagle and a fish, to make it home safely, one must make a round trip. One must trace one's steps. For if you do, "Favors will be returned, debts will be repaid."
Though my research in the road narrative has been primarily with American road trip stories, and primarily the ones where the road trip either never ends or is a one way trip, Gaiman and Vess's book provide a beautifully condensed example of how the British road narrative differs from the American road narrative.
Although the text covers things one would see on a fantasy journey and although Vess draws the main character as an animal person, there is one moment in this book that nudges the it into the urban fantasy — though from a fae point of view. The illustration that accompanies the passage: "The deep well you walk past leads to Winter's realm; there is another land at the bottom of it" shows the hero looking down through a circle in the sky above a grouping of skyscrapers.
The quiet takeaway from Instructions, and something that's seen in The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again, is that the journey is transformative. Even if you follow the same route home, you are not the same person who pushed through the gate all those weeks ago. Your home, your town, the world that you know "will seem much smaller than you remember."
In contrast, the American road narrative is often one of an extended or one way journey. People are moving to a new place. Or people are dreaming of escaping their situation. Or people are watching travelers pass through their towns and either can't understand what all the fuss is about, or are put at risk by unwanted strangers who must either be assimilated or destroyed (see the road not taken and crossing the cornfield).