The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains - Neil Gaiman and Eddie Campbell (2014)
The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains is a vivid and textural short story from a writer well versed in mythology that blends the boundaries between prose and artwork.
Originally written for a live performance with projected artwork, The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountainsis a novella bolstered by artwork in a variety of forms, and a story fit for a stormy night around a campfire.
A stranger turns up at a man’s house and requests his services as a guide to a semi-mythical island hidden by mist and it’s cursed hidden treasure, burrowed away in a cave. A substantial amount of money is exchanged, and the two head off on their journey across Scotland, distrustful of each other and the personal secrets they keep close to their chests.
Gaiman does not waste words on overly flowery descriptions, instead posing everything down to its basest form, like the wild and bleak landscapes the two men travel through. There is a sense of inevitably about the whole affair, a fate that seems predetermined from the start, and this only builds as the two men reveal who they really are to each other. Gaiman has always had a good voice for myth making, understanding what made older tales last and worm their way into our cultural memory, and this is no exception. It feels very much like an authentic Old English story, and the dark and chunky artwork helps lend it a menacing air.
The artwork by Eddie Campbell (of From Hell fame) is unusual and gestural, utilizing different styles and mediums with quick strokes and digital manipulation. It’s not as stark as From Hell, as instead of being meticulously scribbled, it instead feels like sketches drawn on a journey in a notebook with rough colours and lines capturing the mood rather than the detail. The most effective sections of the book have the text bleed into the artwork, as the story passes from paragraph to comic strip to full-page painting in one fluid movement.
While the novella is ostensibly a tale about a journey to a cave full of gold on a mysterious island, it’s really soaked in loss, greed and revenge. It has a charming word of mouth feel to it, a story passed around the fire as the embers crackle away and the fire flickers on the faces of those around you. It’s precise, and like all good short stories, has a dark karmic punchline at the end to savour.
If you are in the UK, and you are a member of the Barbican you can buy tickets tomorrow morning for the reading of my story, THE TRUTH IS A CAVE IN THE BLACK MOUNTAINS on the 4th and 5th of July 2014. If you aren’t a member of the Barbican, you must wait until Friday morning to buy tickets.
THE TRUTH IS A CAVE… won the Locus Award for best Novelette, and the Shirley Jackson Award for best Novelette as well. Eddie Campbell is an amazing artist (and he co-hosts the evening with dry Scottishness) and the Four Play String Quartet are the most wonderful musicians.
I’ll read the story, while Eddie Campbell’s paintings are projected above me and the astonishing Four Play string quartet plays underscore music. We’ve done it twice before now, at a very sold out Sydney Opera House, where it was originally performed, and in Hobart to about 3,000 people at the MONA FOMA festival. Each time to very happy audiences.
(Photo of the rehearsal from Eddie Campbell’s blog, here.)
There will be the reading of the story (and paintings and music). There will be a Q and A. There’s other things that get read as well…
This will be its first ever performance in Europe. Two performances, I should say, as we are doing the Friday night and then the Saturday too.
Tickets go on sale to the general public (not Barbican members) on Friday morning at 10 am UK time. If the Fortunately The Milk* reading (which wound up like this) was anything to go by, the tickets will sell fast, so do not put off buying tickets until May.
Created and performed for a sell out crowd at Sydney Opera House’s world-renowned Graphic Festival, then repeated a year later for cutting edge festival Mona Foma in Tasmania, this haunting tale of adventure, revenge and treasure, told as a hybrid between a storyteller, an artist and a string quartet comes by popular demand to London for these two performances only. Tickets on sale to the public at 10am Friday 31 January What’s that you say? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could also perform it somewhere like San Francisco or New York…? Hmm. Let me think about that one.
Whenever I’m stuck, I return to books. Usually I’m stuck because there’s a piece missing, without which the other pieces don’t make sense. I have a mighty mulch-pile of books and art and music in my head, but there’s always room for more. Around about that time, FROM HELL was running in TABOO from Tundra Publishing. In it, Moore and Campbell’s ghastly killer has his first victim recite “Salutations to Ganesha.” This is because, as he says, the Hindu god Ganesha is to be acknowledged at the outset of any endeavor, as he is called “The Lord of Obstacles.” He puts ‘em down, he picks 'em up.