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The Books of Magic

Title: The Books of Magic
Author: Neil Gaiman
Artist: John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess, Paul Johnson
Year: 1990-1991

Trying to read as much by Neil Gaiman as possible, I have at last taken time to read The Books of Magic. Perhaps I make it sound like that was a major challenge, but in fact, the opposite is true. The four volumes are fairly slim and did not require much time to read. As usual, the quality of the narrative is high (although not as high as in many other works by Gaiman, The Sandman comes to mind). However, The Books of Magic are superior to other graphic novels I have read by Gaiman in that the illustrations themselves are much better.

Reading the first volume, it is not difficult to see why there has been a certain amount of fuss about the fact that Harry Potter seems to be very similar to Timothy Hunter (the main character in The Books of Magic, published long before Harry Potter). He is a teenager with a somewhat troublesome family situation, he has a scar on his forehead, an owl and he is introduced to magic. Sounds familiar? Well, it is not, really. As Gaiman himself has said, there might be superficial similarities, but deeper down, little likeness remains, if any.

The Books of Magic is subdivided into four parts, three of them introducing a separate realm through which Timothy travels with a guide (the first volume is used for introductory purposes), his quest being to discover magic and choose whether he wants part of it or not. His visits to the past, to The Land of Summer’s Twilight (Faerie) and the future are all excellently narrated and illustrated. The concepts and ideas they present are marvellous and original in many ways and this is indeed the focus of the story.

What I find a bit disappointing is that the story is relatively weak. Rather than containing a brilliant plot, this is a tour de force of weird graphics and wonderful narration. This is sufficient to reach a level of “excellent” (four snails), but I have come to expect true masterpieces whenever I come across something touched by Gaiman, so therefore, I am still not quite as enthusiastic about The Books of Magic as I could have been.

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