Aldrin's Reviews > Instructions
by Neil Gaiman (Goodreads Author), Charles Vess
In Instructions, Gaiman's verses and Vess's drawings come together so pleasantly that you, the reader, is compelled either to adopt a voice that is at least half as mellifluously authoritative as Liam Neeson's or Cate Blanchett's if you have to read audibly (as to your cute little nephew) or to simply speak in your mind (as you would when talking to yourself) with such voice if you choose to read in silence. Either way leads to your being susceptible to suggestion as you are given (By whom? Yourself, technically.) step-by-step instructions on how to get to a faraway place, as strange a world to you as any, and back whence you came.
In Instructions, you are yourself, never explicitly described by Gaiman but visualized by Vess as a kindly anthropomorphic cat. Upon touching the never-before-seen wooden gate, saying "please," and going through it, you enter a world inhabited by a bevy of familiar creatures and characters, encounters with whom evoke matching pieces of advice and references to classic fairy tales--an imp posing as a door knocker ("Do not touch it; it will bite your fingers," A Christmas Carol), a giant eagle ("Ride [it:]; you shall not fall," The Lord of the Rings), a pack of wolves ("Do not tell them where you are going," The Little Red Riding Hood), and three princesses trapped in the highest room of the tallest tower of a castle ("Do not trust the youngest," any fairy tale where the youngest sibling proves smartest), among many others.
You are guided by an all-knowing presence that you yourself have given voice to. Is it just you reading simple words on a glossy children's book with pretty pictures inspired by old Aesop's Fables illustrations? Or is that--dare I say it--your conscience, your old friend, talking?
The deep well you walk past leads to Winter's realm;
there is another land at the bottom of it.
If you turn around here,
you can walk back safely;
you will lose no face.
I will think no less of you.
These are not instructions for children to follow as they imagine themselves as a heroic and morally upright feline fellow in medieval clothing so much as reminders for adults, young and old alike.
Remember your name.
Do not lose hope — what you seek will be found.
Trust ghosts. Trust those that you have helped
to help you in their turn.
Trust your heart, and trust your story.
When you come back, return the way you came.
Favors will be returned, debts will be repaid.
Do not forget your manners.
Do not look back.
You realize that Gaiman and Vess's Instructions is a map, with directions towards home.
Finally, you wake up.
Cross-posted on The Polysyllabic Spree.