THE TRUTH IS A CAVE IN THE BLACK MOUNTAINS
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In 2010, Neil Gaiman published the short story "The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains" in the anthology Stories, edited by Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. Gaiman went on to commission Eddie Campbell to illustrate the story for a multi-media reading accompanied by FourPlay Strong Quartet at the Sydney Opera House. While the live version of the story is an ephemeral event, occasionally performed when the principals are able to get together, Campbell has provided additional illustrations to turn the story into a combination picture book/graphic novel, in which the illustrations help increase the meaning and mood of Gaiman's work.
Gaiman's narrator, a dwarf of a Scotsman, seeks out Calum MacInnes to guide him to a mythical cave located in the Black Mountains, which is said to be filled with gold. The narrator is seeking the gold in an effort to finance an invasion from the "King Across the Sea." Although MacInnes is not particularly keen to make the journey, he allows himself to be convinced and the two begin the trek to the Misty Island, where the cave is located. Although the two men rely upon each other for the journey, there is a clear sense of mistrust between them, with MacInnes attempting, at one point to lose his employer and the dwarf demonstrating almost supernatural abilities.
The two characters also begin to bond with each other, sharing secrets of their past, with MacInnes telling his employer about his deepest secret, a cruelty he once did to a young woman when she came upon him while he was stealing her cattle. The dwarf’s secrets are also revealed to MacInnes, beginning with his amazing physical abilities, but other secrets about his past as well. Both men’s secrets are also ties, at least loosely, to the potential curse on the gold in the cave. MacInnes claims that he became a victim of the curse when he took gold from the cave on a prior expedition, while his employer wonders how serious the curse may be, or if it even exists.
Although only a short story, "The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains" is full of atmosphere, bringing to life the misty Scottish islands and mountains the action moves through. It provides the perfect backdrop for the tales of regrets and vengeance which the two characters share. Campbell's illustrations, which occasionally include the text of the story, complement Gaiman's works making this illustrated version of the story more effective than the original text-only version.
For all the moodiness, illustration, and production of the book, the main reason "The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains" works is because Gaiman's story is well written and carries the reader along, from its innocuous opening with the narrator seeking out Colum MacInnes, through the two men's journey to Misty Island, to the revelations and ultimate conclusion. While everything else is essentially window dressing, it is decoration that heightens the story's strengths.
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