Peter Beagle: The Line Between

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A quick review of his 2006 book of short stories, The Line Between:

Introduction

Some of his thoughts about fantasy.  Worth reading.  “What’s important to me here, as a writer, is that I’ve grounded the single fantastic element of the tail in the most realistic atmosphere I could manage… Possessed cat or no, mystery or no, magic or no, the rent still has to be paid…  My wizards are mostly out there in the rain, trying to light a fire, never mind summoning a genie.”

Gordon, the Self-Made Cat

This may be my favorite story in this book, and the only straight-out comedy other than the fables.  It’s really a fable extended to be more funny than moralizing.  Gordon is a mouse who decides it’s better to be a cat.  So he goes to cat school, and gradually wins over the cats there to accept him as one of them with his dedication and skill.  Then, disaster strikes.

Two Hearts

I’m sure the title is some kind of double-meaning, but I can only figure out the literal one:  The gryphon terrorizing a village has two hearts.  King Lir, now old, goes to fight it.  It’s a sequel to The Last Unicorn, so why bother describing it more?  You must read it anyway!

(You have read The Last Unicorn, right?  If you haven’t you really should.)

Four Fables

Spotty.  These are short-short comedies.  Even as short as they are, some are a little too long.  “The fable of the moth” and “The fable of the octopus” are the only ones that count as fables, in the sense of having something worthwhile to say.  They are beautiful, subtle, and interesting; but aren’t really of any consequence as (I don’t think) they are not funny enough.

El Regalo

This is a first-person story – in fact, all the stories in this book are first-person except “Gordon” and the fables, which is odd because in the introduction Beagle speaks of writing in the first-person as if it’s something he seldom does – told from the point of view of the older sister of a little boy who discovers he’s a witch.  You think she’s a Watson, but she isn’t.  I don’t know why I like this story so much – perhaps because it nails the older sister-younger brother dynamic.  Weird witchy stuff happens, but it’s a story about a sister and her brother, who happens to be a witch, not a story about a witch, who has a sister.

Quarry

This is the only story I didn’t read, because it begins with a little boy being pursued by inhuman, nightmarish assassins.  I should trust Beagle and read it, but I just don’t want to read about a child being hunted by assassins.

Salt Wine

The story itself – the plot, I mean – doesn’t deliver a lot.  I appreciated this one mostly for its ability to get into the head of this genuine-feeling 19th-century old salt.  Beagle’s mastery of obscure and obsolete 19th-century nautical slang is impressive.  He must have done a lot of research for this short story.

Mr. Sigerson

A Sherlock Holmes story.  I used it as one of the models for the style in one of my own short stories.  It is a beautiful Holmes story, better than the originals stylistically and in its portrayal of Holmes and of the odd orchestra conductor who dislikes him and yet has much in common with him.  It would be perfect, but is ruined as a mystery, because it has only two scenes that are crucial to the plot, the first establishing the mystery, and the second resolving it – and the second scene directly contradicts everything in the first scene, not in a subtle way but in a gigantic “Oops, did I forget to replace that chapter with the new draft?” way.  So read it, but don’t bother trying to solve the mystery; you can’t.

A Dance for Emilia

This one was of course brilliantly written, but was too sentimental for me.  A man who longed to be a dancer but could not, because he just wasn’t physically gifted enough, dies and comes back as his cat, and discovers among other things that as a cat he can dance with inhuman grace.  Sweet, but, my God, the length!  Beagle stretches this sweet idea out over 38 pages.  It’s a testament to his skill that he can almost do it.  Almost.