A short story, a graphic novel and a children’s picture book had a threesome in Neil Gaiman’s head and The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains is the result. By that I mean that this story heavily relies upon prose and pictures to get its point across, but occasionally these will join together in minicomics where the characters interact through speech bubbles. It’s an effective and arresting mix.
You may remember Eddie Campbell from Alan Moore’s historically dense comic From Hell. Happily for him The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains is far more cheery, although admittedly it does get extremely dark at times. Just no gore or murderous psychopaths. These pictures are either drawn with watercolours or some sort of pencil. (I’m not an artist.)
This story is set on one of those enigmatic islands north of England. You know, like the Isle of Man. For Neil Gaiman this means kilts and sheep. Could well be like that, for all I know.
The story of The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains itself is intricately coiled upon itself like a tiny clock. (Or one of those spring-loaded toy snakes in a can). A dwarf hires a reticent farmer to help him find a mythical cave filled with magical gold, with which he intends to help a foreign king invade his island home. Of course, with this sort of scenario nothing is as it seems at first glance.
Sometimes I suspect that Neil Gaiman rests on his laurels, although he has one hell of a set of laurels, and releasing an illustrated short story like this supports my suspicion. (I probably just haven’t forgiven him for not focusing purely on comics, going down the Grant Morrison route of becoming a bigwig over at DC Comics.) But The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains‘s innovative mixture of prose, illustration and comics may just be what it takes to foster public interest in picture books aimed at adults.
Usually at this point in a review I cheap out and describe the sort of people I’d recommend it to. Besides the scores of adults with too little time to enjoy a short novel, yet are reluctant to buy a short story anthology, and also really like watercolours, The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains would make a good present for a young person stuck between complex picture books and simple novels, especially if they have a ghoulish bent.