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Instructions In the Event You Find Yourself In a Neil Gaiman Story

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Ten years ago (I had to take a legit moment to grapple with how impossible that seems), I picked up my copy of Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things. It’s a collection of…well, a little of everything, I suppose. There are some short stories, a little poetry, a spooky personal essay ghost story thing. It’s atypical collection fare but perhaps the typical Gaiman fare–beautiful odds and ends.

One of my favorite pieces is “Instructions,” which went on to become a stand alone book, aptly named Instructions and aptly illustrated by the masterful Charles Vess, who also illustrated Stardust (which I have written about here) and lots of other great things. I’m not sure if it’s an odd or if it’s an end, but it’s a lovely poem that lays out just what one should do should one find oneself suddenly inside a fairy tale.

Can you imagine? If you’re a frequent visitor to this here Book Riot site, you probably can.

I’m sure I’m not the only one here who has ever wondered (see also: hoped so, so hard) that we might someday wake up in some other world–especially a world from literature.

I still daydream about this. And for today’s daydream, I present “Instructions In the Event You Find Yourself In a Neil Gaiman Story”:

Your world is grey, your job is boring, and the people around you are too literal. Leave them. Leave them all behind, and go on a strange, wonderful journey to a different world. Do not bother to pack your things—everything you need will be provided, and if it’s not there will be help to get it later. If there is no help, you’ll figure something out.

There is an Other You, probably from a family of your Other Family members. They will be nice to you at first, but they are probably evil unless you are the Other You already, in which case they will be nice, though possibly a little grey and boring. Either way, leave them be.

Expect angels, but expect nothing of them. They have their own jobs to do.

Find yourself a place of power—somewhere that connects you right the battery of whatever makes you strong—and respect the place of power of others. Actually, avoid going to someone’s place of power, especially if you are mad at them and double especially if vice versa.

Keep your name a secret. Your name—your true name—has its own magic, and it’s best not to hand that kind of authority over to just anyone. You’ll see what I mean.

You will probably not really know the rules of how magic works, and you won’t be the only one. Learn what you can, and believe everything. Belief is often enough.

There is nothing worse than being forgotten, so do not forget.

If you are given the opportunity to change, take it. The alternative is not so good.

You will meet someone with a burdensome job that they seem to have been doing forever. Don’t get too close, because they will switch places with you so fast you won’t even know what’s happened until you’ve been doing that burdensome job for a hundred years and you start eyeing a replacement of your own.

Say hello to anyone with last name Hempstock. They are innumerable, well connected, and it never hurts to get on their good side.

Pay attention to cats, because they definitely have power. But don’t pay them too much attention, because they will definitely bite you. Pay them just the right amount of attention. In fact, treat them like normal cats and you’ll probably do fine.

See the gods.

If you wake up to find that it has all been a dream, be comforted. Dreams are the realest stuff of them all.

And when you return to your own world, you will recognize it, though it will seem less grey, less boring, less literal. Go back to it, and tell everybody what you have seen. They will believe you. And belief is enough.