by Peter S. Beagle
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Strange Roads is a chapbook of three stories by Peter S. Beagle, each of which were inspired by Lisa Snellings-Clark's artwork. The book was published by DreamHaven, whose all-too-rare publications already include the anthology Shelf Life, the Gene Wolfe chapbook also inspired by Snellings-Clark, and several works by Neil Gaiman. This volume includes black and white reproductions off the three dimensional art for which Snellings-Clark is justifiably well known.
The opening story is a fairy tale of "King Pelles the Sure," the monarch of a infinitesimal kingdom who yearns for the glory that he sees warrior kings attaining. Despite the protestations of his Grand Vizier, who has already seen what war really does, as opposed to the glorification of war that is the stuff of bards and legend, King Pelles insists that they arrange to be invaded by one of their neighbors. In this strangely manufactured war, Beagle's story recalls the 1955 Leonard Wibberly novel The Mouse That Roared, although Beagle's story is much less satirical than Wibberly's tale. After the war begins, King Pelles finds that no matter what his intentions, once the dogs of war have been loosed, they can not be effectively reined in. The tale could have been a trite fairy tale, but the manner in which Beagle teaches Pelles a variety of lessons makes the story a memorable fable.
In "Spook," Beagle presents Joe Farrell, a young man whose apartment is haunted by the ghost of a man murdered 170 years earlier. When Farrell and his friend, Ben, call in an acquaintance, Andy Mac, to perform an exorcism, or at least confirm the ghost's presence, they discover that not only does the ghost believe that Farrell murdered him, but the ghost, who was once Walter Smith, has fallen in love with Farrell's girlfriend, Julie Tanikawa. Beagle sets up a strange situation in which Farrell and Smith, with Ben and Andy Mac serving as their seconds, have a duel for the right to the apartment and, by extension, to Julie, who does not appear in the story. The story is an interesting take on the idea of a challenge and although there is a certain amount of subjectivity to the outcome, the story still works in that the characters all agree on the outcome.
"Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel" continues the supernatural idea. Told from David's point of view as an adult reminiscing of his childhood hiding in his Uncle Chaim's art studio. David remembers the day that one of his uncle's sessions was interrupted by an angel, who was only visible to Chaim and David. From that moment on, at the angel's insistence, Chaim only painted the angel, trying to capture its very essence. "Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel" is a look at obsession as Chaim keeps trying to get everything just right. Although Chaim claims that he can quit painting the angel at any time, and doesn't actually appear to be obsessed with his depictions of it, David's Aunt Rifke and Chaim's friends see him changing before their eyes and they take action to intercede. Beagle portrays their concern in a realistic manner and Chaim's insistence that it isn't necessary rings true, as well. In the end, the angel is revealed to be a little less, and more, than it claims to be.
Each of the stories opens with a reproduction of one of Snellings-Clark's sculptures. Unfortunately, the black and white details can't fully capture the glory of Snellings-Clark's work. Nevertheless it gives a hint of the beauty and quality of her work, and Beagle's stories clearly demonstrate how evocative her sculpture is.
|King Pelles the Sure||Spook|
|Uncle Chaim & Aunt Rifke & the Angel|