With Tucked Away in Aragon, author Rhys Hughes leads us to a place that both always has been and never quite was. The picturesque town of Albarracín, hidden “in the most obscure and depopulated corner of Spain” inspired the aforementioned collection. In the Author’s Foreword, Hughes says, “Almost as soon as I arrived I guessed I would write a cycle of stories set here, and I knew those stories would be very strange, fey and infused with the otherworldly character of old Albarracín.” Suffice to say, Hughes was right on both counts. "Tucked Away" tells the history of Albarracín as only Rhys Hughes can. It is a strange history filled with the warmth of wonder and magic, infused with character – perhaps the character of old Albarracín, as Hughes suggests – but also the character of a gifted Welsh storyteller who transports his readers to worlds unknown with charm, intelligence and unmitigated wit.
In the first tale, “The Shapes Down There” Hughes provides a glimpse of Albarracín from above, and an opinion of our world through the curious conversing of Cumulus humilis and Altocumulus clouds. “Clouds always have work to do…at least that’s the impression they like to give each other. The truth is that idle souls come in all shapes and sizes and can even be found in the heavens.” One particular Cumulus cloud, for example, prefers gazing at the ground. When asked what it is he sees, the young cloud replies, “Many shapes. I sometimes wonder if humanity possesses some sort of conscious will and arranges itself deliberately into startling representations of celestial objects,” to which the condescending Altocumulus replies, “Humanity is not really an integrated phenomenon but is composed of thousands or even millions of individual particles called ‘citizens.’ I don’t enjoy spoiling the poetry of your imagination with science but I studied sociology at college and know what I’m talking about.” The beauty of this story is in its ability to place the reader firmly in the clouds, allowing an objective view of the world below. It serves as an apology for the idle soul of the dreamer. Humanity, more often than not, takes itself far too seriously. We would be wise to take a moment to look for shapes in the clouds above.
The second tale, “The Spare Hermit” is a metaphysical masterpiece. It would be difficult to review it here without tainting the experience for future readers. It would be impossible to do this story the justice it deserves in a brief blurb. “The Spare Hermit” is a rare breed of story in that it invites interpretation. It opens the floor for debate and discussion. It would be easy to attach elucidation to this review, to provide one opinion of the author’s intent or the tale’s meaning, but doing so would detract from the magic meant for each new reader, and each new reader alone. “The Spare Hermit” is a treasure meant to be discovered, a luminous tale that in roughly thirteen pages reveals the sheer brilliance of its author.
"Tucked Away in Aragon" contains ten such stories, each one as important to the whole as the next. From the Author’s Foreword, through “Sangria in the Sangraal” to “Knossos in Its Glory” "Tucked Away" encapsulates everything extraordinary about the talented Rhys Hughes. Far from being a review of his book, one should consider this an invitation to enter the author’s boundless imagination. Having extolled the virtues of the first two tales, rest assured that the ensuing eight build upon the author’s faultless foundation creating a collection worthy of the term ‘literary gem.’ Anyone familiar with Hughes’ work will discover here a writer at the very peak of his power. Those of you who have never read Hughes before will be amazed and undoubtedly hooked.
Rhys Hughes has always flouted convention. With "The Grin of the Doll Who Ate His Mother's Face in the Dark and Other Dreadful Tales" he brazenly mocks it, tackling the types and tropes of horror fiction with the tactical wit we've come to expect from the mad genius. As Hughes points out in the forward, "a writer worth his salt and also his pepper and also his mustard is never satisfied to stand still with the topics and themes that have made him famous." These topics and themes are the target of the author's wit in this clever collection. But don't mistake this mayhem for malice. Hughes has dedicated "The Grin of the Doll" to "all horror fans with a sense of humour" and has graciously donated all proceeds to Animal Aid. The book is not meant to offend, it simply illustrates the author's well-established absurdist outlook and should come as no surprise (having said that, Hughes never ceases to surprise, so you might actually be surprised, or would have been had I not just spoiled it by telling you that you might be) to those familiar with his work. Fans of Rhys Hughes will find this collection typically “Hughsian” (which is to say witty, absurd and utterly delightful). Fans of horror fiction will find (good, healthy) reasons to laugh at themselves.