Best Neil Gaiman Short Stories

Black and white sketch of fantasy author Neil Gaiman in profile.

Image Credit: Newburgart on Deviant Art.

Whether writing short stories or full-length novels, Neil Gaiman mixes the best elements of fantasy with the relatable, grounded feelings of everyday life. His interesting take on magical realism makes for some spellbinding tales, for people of all ages.

True, some of his stories are aimed specifically at children, but even adults find plenty to laugh about—or shudder over—when Gaiman puts pen to paper in these unforgettable short stories.

 

 

How to Sell the Ponti Bridge (1985)

Cover for Coraline and Other Stories collection, cat and a rat holding a skeleton key in its mouth.

Collection: M is for Magic

Most Americans are familiar with the phrase “If you believe that, then I have a bridge to sell you,” meaning that the other person is extremely gullible.

In this short story, Gaiman uses that phrase to weave a fun narrative about an exclusive club of swindlers and crooks. They’re incredulously amazed when a new member reveals that he actually managed to sell the Ponti Bridge.

 

We Can Get Them For You Wholesale (1989)

Cover for We Can Get Them For You Wholesale by Neil Gaiman, plain black type on a parchment colored background.

Collections: Angels and Visitations: A Miscellany, Smoke and Mirrors

Widely considered Gaiman’s best short story, this tale dives into the life of a normally gentle and compliant man who has just learned that his fiancée cheated on him.

In the spirit of revenge, he calls an assassin conveniently located in the phone book. Once there, he is offered the best deal he’s ever heard. And Pinter is a man who never turns a good deal down.

 

Troll Bridge (1993)

Cover for Troll Bridge featuring a boy with a hideous troll under a bridge behind him.

Collections: Angels and Visitations: A Miscellany, M is for Magic

“Troll Bridge” is a delightful retelling of the Norwegian fairy tale, The Three Billy Goats Gruff.

A young boy is captured by a troll who desperately wants to eat him up. However, the boy convinces the troll that he will taste much better once he’s experienced the richness of life.

The story follows the boy as he grows older and learns more about the world, as well as the troll who still waits for him.

 

The Sweeper of Dreams (1996)

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman, gray, white, and goldenrod.

Collection: Smoke and Mirrors

Some people have found this story scary, while others see it as sad or darkly relatable.

The sweeper comes in when people wake up, and gently cleans away the wreckage of their ruined dreams.

Those who send him away, clinging to their dreamscapes, are doomed to be trapped in a world between awake and dreaming forever. Once you have told the sweeper “no,” they will never come back.

 

 

The Facts in the Case of the Departures of Miss Finch (1998)

Cover for The Facts in the Case in the Departures of Miss Finch by Neil Gaiman.

Collection: Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders

Narrated by a self-proclaimed author, this mysterious story tells the tale of when he visited a zoo with no animals.

Alongside his wife and an acquaintance, a scientist named Miss Finch, the narrator tours the zoo. The scientist becomes disenchanted with the supposedly magical residents until the final room, featuring a cabinet that will supposedly fulfill her greatest wish.

 

Instructions (2000)

Cover for Instructions by Neil Gaiman, illustration of a giant looking down on an animal.

Collections: Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders, M is for Magic

Although technically a poem, “Instructions” is long enough to read like any of Gaiman’s short stories. It lays out basic instructions for adventurous children and adults who find themselves in magical or extraordinary situations.

Gaiman includes obvious nods to well-known folklore, like feeding fey creatures for good luck. It also references his own stories, like with the months of the year sitting around a fire telling stories.

 

October in the Chair (2002)

Cover for M is for Magic, a collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman. Blue background with a moon and black cat silhouette.

Collections: Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders, M is for Magic

“October in the Chair” tells the story of the months’ annual get-together, and how they all take turns telling stories to the other months.

When October sits in the chair, the months all strive to tell intriguing and creepy stories, hoping to impress their colleagues. However, it is October who dominates with a chilly tale of a young boy not-so-affectionately called Runt.

 

A Study in Emerald (2003)

Cover for A Study in Emerald, suited man wiping green slime or blood off a knife.

Collections: Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders

In a fantastic tribute to Arthur Conan Doyle and the Sherlock Holmes stories, Gaiman gives the beloved detective his own unique spin—a taste of H.P. Lovecraft.

Early on, it is revealed that Queen Victoria is actually an eldritch being that had conquered England 700 years before the story’s beginning. The murder of another member of the “royal” family causes the detective and his trusty friend to become involved. The game is afoot!

 

Sunbird (2005)

Cover for Sunbird by Neil Gaiman, illustration of a beautiful long-tailed bird taking flight against the sun.

Collections: Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders, M is for Magic

This tongue-in-cheek story explores the Epicurean Club, an exclusive club for people who want to eat only the rarest and most endangered animals in the world. For them, no animal is considered too precious not to ingest.

They set their sights on the mysterious and rare sunbird, hoping that it will be the epitome of everything they have ever tasted. In fact, their desire becomes all-consuming.

 

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains… (2010)

Cover for The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains, black mountain landscape with trees and a skull in the face of the mountain.

Collection: Trigger Warning: Short Stories and Disturbances

One of Gaiman’s longer stories, “The Truth” follows a self-described “wee man” as he hires a guide to find a cave beyond the mountains.

The guide alludes to the fact that marvelous treasure waits inside, but he is wary of the trip. Nonetheless, they journey through the highlands in search of the mysterious Misty Isle, in the hopes it will be there when they arrive.

 

The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury (2012)

Cover for Trigger Warning, a collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman. Yellow with abstract black wolf.

Collection: Trigger Warning: Short Stories and Disturbances

This short story, written by Gaiman as a tribute to Ray Bradbury, cleverly works many of Bradbury’s titles and themes into a sad look of a man’s mind.

The narrator tries desperately to talk around the words he is seemingly missing, and occasionally arrives at his thoughts. However, he often loses them entirely, delving into another tangent about losing his memory.

Illustrative artwork of Neil Gaiman holding a sewing needle and button a la his famous novel Coraline, with a pattern of repeating skeleton keys as an overlay.
Image Credit: CoalRye on Deviant Art.

Neil Gaiman blends the magical and unbelievable with universal realism in his short stories, just as he does in his novels. The results are humorous, scary, sad—or sometimes, a bit of all three—and always memorable.

For more reading recommendations, check out the greatest short stories by Ray Bradbury or Stephen King, or these unputdownable science fiction novels.

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