October 31, 2016: “The Lunar Labyrinth” by Neil Gaiman

Happy Halloween, Story366! Today is a travel/off day for the Cubs in the World Series, and as you probably know by now, they won Game 5 at home yesterday, forcing the Series back to Cleveland for Game 6 tomorrow. Another do-or-die day for the Cubs, but really, we feel pretty good. Before yesterday’s win, I posted some mock confidence, but as things get further along, that mock confidence is becoming real confidence, more and more as the next game approaches. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but the traditional Cub fan feeling of dread and woe has dissipated and I believe we’re going to win this whole thing. We’ll have to wait until tomorrow (and then Wednesday) to see, so let’s do that.

Today I got up early and drove back to Chicago so I could make it in time to trick or treat with the boys. Mission accomplished there, tons of fun had by all, followed by Mexican food and some Neil Gaiman. I bought Gaiman’s collection Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, out from William Morrow, today at a Barnes and Noble outside St. Louis, stopping on my way back to Springfield. Honestly, I thought I as going to pick up a Stephen King collection today—as it’s Halloween and, well …—and even had a copy of Nightmares and Dreamscapes in my hand, but then thought of how predictable that was, to do a horror story by the horror master on Halloween. On the other hand, so what? There’s only one Halloween in Story366 and I’ll want to cover King eventually. And if you’ve been paying attention, you know I like to do something holiday-related on the holidays. Such a dilemma.

I ended up compromising and buying Gaiman’s book. Last fall, a student shared a story with the class by Gaiman featuring a werewolf protagonist named Talbot, as in Larry Talbot from the original 1941 Wolf Man movie, which I just trounced in my post this past Saturday. When I went to the B&N today, I was looking for the collection with that story in it, as I’ve heard that there’s more stories featuring the Talbot character. No luck in finding that book, but I walked away with Trigger Warning instead, a collection of Gaiman’s stories and poems, which includes a Dr. Who story, a Sherlock Holmes story, and one featuring his character Shadow Moon, from a novel of his I haven’t read (American Gods).

I haven’t read any Gaiman, actually, except for that werewolf story, not even his Sandman comics, which everyone seems to love—they got popular right after I stop reading and collecting comics when I went off to college. But I figured there’s be something fitting in this collection for today’s theme, anyway, and I was right. “The Lunar Labyrinth” is a horror story, but a subtle one, as the suspense builds the story toward horror as it moves along. In the beginning, it’s just about this guy traveling about the world, looking for tourist traps, things like giant plastic cheeses and other quirky roadside attractions. His journeys eventually lead him to the Lunar Labyrinth, which used to be a hedge maze, but a pretty famous and difficult one. He even employs a guide from the local town to show him around. The story is told in first person past tense, but it feels like we have two narrators, as this guide does most of the talking, telling our narrator everything about this odd little maze.

Sadly, the guide informs our guy that the maze has been burned down—why he doesn’t say—that it no longer exists in its state of grandeur. As the pair makes their way up a hill toward the labyrinth’s former site, we find out that it was more of a place for lovers to convene, lovers looking for a place to be amorous, to get lost in the maze, under the light of the full moon, that he himself had often heard “animal noises” just through the hedge walls. Still, the story grows more and more ominous—a torturer, who used to roam the maze—is mentioned, but only in passing. All in all, all of the metaphors and themes and symbols and references to mazes, from the Minotaur to Borges, are mentioned here, and we can only guess at what this maze, made of rosemary (that’s mentioned a lot), means—besides what it means, what it is.

I won’t go any further into the plot, just to say the guide and our narrator/protagonist make it to the top of the hill, to the site of the Lunar Labyrinth, which has not only been burned down, but has started to regrow, already a foot tall. The narrator can see the entire top of the maze from his vantage point, meaning its entire swirled pattern, in all its glory and splendor and mystery. Then some other things happen, but again, I won’t spoil it for you. It’s a lot of fun.

I liked “The Lunar Labyrinth,” as I’ve liked everything I’ve read by Gaiman so far. His stories stretch genre, are exciting, sometimes border on fan fiction, but are easy to consume, one after another—I read a bunch (“Orange” is another favorite). I really need to read more of his major works. But in any case, great stuff, especially on All Hallow’s Eve.