This is a review of the book and the performance which took place on 6th July 2014 in the Usher Hall in Edinburgh.
When I was a little girl I loved dark stories – like fairy tales by the Grimm Brothers or ghost stories for example. Either read in the darkness of my bedroom with a torch under my duvet, so I would not wake up my younger brother, or told during camping trips with everyone sitting around the fire. It did not matter if they were read or told, but I swear all of a sudden curtains would cast strange shadows or trees would assume ghoulish shapes. I’m not entirely sure if I was terrified, to a certain degree perhaps, or if I loved the supernatural, as that was something which was supposed to be out of this world. My imagination was alive with stories I read and listened to, and that’s the experience I always welcomed. I still do.
The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman is a story about two men who embark on a journey through the murky Scottish landscape. Both of them carry darkness in their hearts and this journey will test them even further. It’s not a simple journey to claim a legendary treasure but one of discovery of the darkest truth.
This picture novelette is poignant and rich – it grasps the reader’s attention from the very first line. The melancholy of the main protagonist is palpable and captivating like the raw beauty of Scotland depicted by Eddie Campbell’s illustrations. Neil Gaiman set the story on the Isle of Skye – one of the most breathtaking places in Scotland. The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains touches on Jacobite times and the friction between the clans – though being in the background of the book, they add the evocative character to it.
The book contains everything I love about dark stories. The craggy, stormy and windy Scottish countryside is as unpredictable and treacherous as the morals and intentions of the main characters. It’s a superbly told story of loss, greed, love and fate and has all the things of an enchanting folklore story. The storytelling language it is written in and the stunning illustrations create an unforgettably haunting book, which is only a very short story, but will stay with you for a long time. Shakespeare’s Macbethcomes to mind here – another Scottish tale filled with darkness to the very core, and as much as there might be an element of fate, it all unfolds in an unpredictable way and that is how a great and thought-provoking story stays with the reader to trick their mind with shadows.
The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains is a picture book, but it’s not how the story began. It was initially read on the stage of The Sydney Opera House in 2010 with the accompaniment of paintings by Eddie Campbell and the music by the FourPlay String Quartet. As it was a huge success, it was decided that the story would go on tour. As it happens, one of the performances, the very last one, was in Scotland. On 6th July 2014 The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains was performed in Edinburgh in the Usher Hall.
The event started with the music set by the very talented FourPlay String Quartet and then Neil Gaiman walked on stage and started his part of the performance with something he is simply the best at. He read stories to us. Neil started with the “October Tale” from the Calendar of Tales – the story of how a Djinn struggles to do what they are meant to do – grant wishes. It is a short and sweet tale of love and happiness in unexpected circumstances. “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” was read next. It is a very moving tribute to one of the best writers. What could possibly top the storytelling? Well…Neil started singing and let me tell you, you just have to hear that for yourself one day – the song “I Googled You” was really funny.
After the brief interval, the thing that every one of us was waiting for commenced: The Truth is a Cave in the Back Mountains. As the FourPlay String Quartet started playing and the Usher Hall filled with music, Neil started reading the story and on the screen there were pictures of the paintings by Eddie Campbell. The combination of the music, storytelling and the art was magical. The compelling story of the formidable darkness of human hearts and the coarse, yet so irresistibly alluring setting created a tale of lurking shadows and apprehensible gloom.
The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains presented in this audio-visual way gripped the audience and made us a part of this fairytale. It is a proper grim tale, where it might not be easy to see who is the real hero or a villain. Neil Gaiman produced another terrific story to haunt and bewitch us. The illustrations by Eddie Campbell are marvellous and reflect the Scottish landscape and give it such an astonishing character in a way that only someone familiar with it could.
The whole performance, by which I mean Neil, Eddie and the FourPlay, was magnificent. It was finished with Neil singing “Psycho” (originally by Leon Payne).
This is the magic of the dark tales I mentioned at the beginning. I fell in love with such tales when I was a child and I can honestly say that it doesn’t matter how old anyone is – these stories are for everyone. There is something irresistible about dark folklore stories – I think it might be the unusual way of blending reality and fantasy together. The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains is a book which can be read and re-read many times – not only for the story, but also for the pictures.
Author: Neil Gaiman
Title: The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains
Publisher: Headline (UK)
Published: June 17, 2014 (UK)
Review originally published on Fantasy-Faction website.