Monday, May 18, 2015

Teetering on the Edge of Reality- The Novel Worlds of Neil Gaiman

Author Neil Gaiman, courtesy of
The New Yorker

“Everybody has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world, I mean everybody — no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they've all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds... Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe.”

It is hard to describe English author, Neil Gaiman. He knew he would be an author when he was a child; he fanboys over Ray Bradbury; he is a beekeeper.  He is also is an award winning author (I lost count after 75) and has had several books conquer the bestseller list.  Gaiman cannot be pigeonholed into a single genre; he has written fantasy (Stardust), comedy (Good Omens, with late author, Terry Pratchett), graphic novels, collections of short stories (Trigger Warnings is his newest book, published February 2015), children's books (some of the books lovingly referred to as "Kid Goth"), screenplays, music, general fiction... you get the idea. He has become an almost cult-like figure in the literary world; fans wait for hours, in any weather conditions to meet Gaiman, who will sign autographs and chat with fans for hours on end; his books are wildly and highly anticipated; and he makes an effort to reach out to his audience through social media, book talks, and countless interviews. He has become a major champion of libraries, leading the crusade to stress importance of libraries to our society. He loves the arts and encourages people to explore their creative side; he is not afraid to discuss and embrace his own failures. He has become the poster boy for weird. And it is magnificent.

The thought above, taken from Gaiman's comic book series The Sandman, encapsulates the overall
Courtesy of
thread that pervades all of his works . His books, his comics, his screenplays, all of them revealing the secret worlds of Gaiman, worlds that teeter on the edge of reality and blur the lines between what is real and what is purely in our imagination. There is rarely a full blown mythical fantasy land in Gaiman's works. Yet, Gaiman writes of worlds that a reader can easily relate to. These are worlds that we live in day to day, but somehow, are twisted. People have magic, places are blurred between the here and other dimensions, animals are not what they seem, the dead are more alive than we think. Gaiman's classic style is to lull the reader into a sense of normalcy and then... the big reveal: things are not what they seem. Gaiman has the gift of making the seemingly ordinary- whether it be places, people, or things- become eerily otherworldly. This was perhaps best demonstrated in 2001's American Gods, which won both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award for Science Fiction. However, American Gods is not like any science fiction that you have ever read. In a nutshell, American Gods is a story about a recently released inmate, who continues to get slapped by life even after he gets out of prison. Shadow, the former inmate, stumbles into a conflict that has been raging for centuries on the borderline of reality. Surrounded by gods of old and new, Shadow (and the reader!) will wade through thousands of years of egos, battles, and the ultimate struggle to stay relevant. American Gods is arguably Gaiman's best novels. The research on mythology is intense and well-done; readers will be constantly Googling who is who (his sneaky way of making readers learn!). As with all his work, the prose is excellent; Gaiman truly has mastered the balance between dialogue (witty, subtle, and colorful) and description (thorough, elegant, and sparse.) American Gods was and is an instant classic. It's thought provoking premise is timeless and will make the reader reflect on modern society and the things we tend to leave behind in the name of progress.

Gaiman's children's books are also beautifully crafted and equally thought-provoking (even for an adult reader.) Winner of British Carnegie Medal and the American Newbery Medal for children's literature, The Graveyard Book is about an orphan who is raised by spirits that live in a nearby cemetery. Their powers keep him safe. Yet, there are forces at hand which are working
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against them, working to try to lure Nobody Owens out of his 'home' to attack him and finish the job that started with his murdered parents.  Coupled with stark illustrations that reminiscent of graphic novels, The Graveyard Book is children's storytelling in its best form.  It harks back to the Grimm's Fairy Tales, with darkish story lines; yet, Gaiman manages to keep the actions, dialogue and characters light, developing a sense of family and love in the cemetery and humor in the strange situation.  There is still action, which keeps the story going.  It is written beautifully, with the descriptions being succinct and the dialogue witty and filled with the heightened vocabulary readers have come to expect from Gaiman.

No matter your favorite genre, you cannot deny the exemplary vocabulary and prose that permeates Gaiman's work.  One of the best parts about reading his stories is that you are guaranteed to learn a word you did not previously know.  Gaiman makes writing seem easy.  The flow of the diction in his stories is lyrical and spell-binding.  Throughout all of his novels, comics, short stories, screenplays, etc., there is a sense of consistency.  One knows that when reading Gaiman, you are guaranteed a story that will be sharp witted, tight, informative descriptions, and excellent dialogue.  I have never read a Gaiman work that wandered or seemed lost in thought.  Every word he writes has a purpose and plays a part in the overall scheme of the story.  Whether the ending leaves you hanging or not, Gaiman's intended ending is always achieved.  If you are still thinking about the story days after you finished it, then the goal was achieved.

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What exactly does Gaiman mean to the literary world?  For starters, he is just the hero the book world needs.  He embraces change: this is evident in the dabbling in different genres, different audiences, different media, and embracing the social media world as a way to connect with his readers.  However, Gaiman also embodies what the book world also holds dear: a good story that will take you away from your world and into his.  He continues to write intoxicating books that transport readers into worlds of magic, morals, and the never ending fight between good and evil.  There is always a strange sense of justice in his stories- there is never a character who meets a fate that either the universe bestowed them with from their actions or a fate that they themselves purposely created. Gaiman believes in the power of words.  For evidence of this, you need not look any further than his own books.  Words are power, destiny, and a form of magic that a reader can make be whatever they want or need them to be.  This, in the end, is Gaiman's world: a world where words are power and can impact you in more ways than you know.

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