Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor
I found out that Neil Gaiman will be doing a special event in my home town of Pittsburgh on November 14. Tickets are on sale now. Normally, I’d take this opportunity to buy tickets, drive the 4 1/2 hours to Pittsburgh, and spend a few days there chilling with my friends and family while basking in all the awesomeness that is Neil Gaiman. Except I’m going to be leaving for vacation the same day.
I guess I can’t be too upset. I am going to Europe, after all. But nonetheless, in honor of the Neil Gaiman event in my home town that I won’t be going to, I’m revisiting this 2009 article in which I declare my love for the legendary fantasy author.
I have a confession to make, and I hope you don’t respect me less when I tell you this. I’ve been hiding something from you for awhile now. Something has been happening to me, and my pulse starts racing just thinking about it. I hardly know how to express what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling. It’s overwhelming, to say the least. I am in love.
His name is Neil Gaiman.
How did this happen, you ask? Well, I guess I should thank CC2K’s own Mike Leader for introducing us. You see, it was his incisive review of The Graveyard Book that first piqued my curiosity. So one evening, while I was stranded in Houston on a training that was going horribly awry, I wandered into a local Borders and picked it up. “Okay,” I thought, “this will be good to keep me company on a lonely night.” But at this point, I thought it would be just a fling, a one night stand, so to speak. Sort of a “What happens in Houston, stays in Houston,” kind of thing.
Little did I know that by the time I was midway through the book, I would be hooked. Gaiman’s direct prose stood in direct contrast to the magical world that his characters inhabited. The premise is deceptively simple: after the family of a young boy is murdered, he is taken in and raised by the ghosts of the graveyard. I was expecting a ghost story. What I got was a witty, touching coming-of-age story with a supernatural twist. It was one of the best books I had read in a long time, and apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought so: it was awarded the Newberry Medal earlier this year.
At this point, I thought I could still distance myself, still pretend that our time in Houston had never happened. But then came Coraline. The movie was coming out soon, and I was intrigued enough by the concept to read the book. Although it was obviously targeted at a younger audience—Coraline, the heroine, is about 10 or so—there was still something familiar and resonant about it. Coraline was lonely and often at odds with her parents, but she was also clever and spunky. Then I realized: the book could have been written about me fifteen years ago…or at least, the girl I would have wanted to be fifteen years ago.
By the time I finished Stardust, I realized that this was no longer just a fling, but a full-blown affair. Stardust followed the adventures of Tristran Thorne, a not-so-ordinary shop clerk who wanders off in search of a fallen star. The characters here are a little older, so the themes felt a little more relatable: finding love, and the quest to be something more than what you already are. Tristran lives in Wall—an ordinary English village of the 19th century, with one exception: it is surrounded by a wall that divides it from the magical realm just beyond. Oddly, the wall itself was one of the things that struck me the most about this story. Something about the idea of living in a world where something as simple as a stone wall separated you from the ordinary and the extraordinary really intrigued me.
My latest rendezvous was with Neverwhere, in which a young man named Richard is inadvertently pulled into another world—known as “London Below” because it exists primarily beneath London—when he rescues a girl named Door from attackers. London Below is a dangerous place, filled with everyone’s worst fears and nightmares. Yet despite that, there’s something fascinating about it. London Below is inhabited by the people we often overlook: poor, dirty, and homeless. They are literally invisible; the people in the world above literally won’t see them, even when they’re looking right at them. It’s a sly critique of the way we treat the homeless in this society, but it’s also just a compelling idea: What if there really are whole words beneath us that we don’t know about. (As an aside, I am a big fan of the television show Beauty and the Beast, which explores a similar concept—albeit with 80s hair and cheesy special effects.)
So what is it about Neil Gaiman that made me love him so? I think, honestly, it all comes back to the wall. All of the Gaiman books I’ve read feature our own normal world coexisting with an extraordinary one, and a thin dividing line—a wall, a door, a graveyard—between the two. And many of his characters live on our side of the wall. Most of them aren’t aware that this other world exists, but if they are they don’t seem to care. There they are, going on with their humdrum lives, and these amazing things are happening right underneath their noses.
Gaiman imagines a universe where magic exists, where things that we cannot explain or understand are happening all around us. And I suspect Gaiman may be right about that. I also think that most people don’t care one way or another. Most get so caught up with going to work and paying bills and mowing the lawn that they don’t think about those things.
I suspect that many people lose their imaginations when they become adults.
But not Neil Gaiman. He sees a world where rainbows are not merely diffused light, where shooting stars are not merely rocks, and where our own walls are the only things separating us from what we know and what we imagine.
I’ve got American Gods waiting for me right now. I don’t know when I’ll have a chance to read it—maybe it’ll be a series of brief trysts on the Metro, or a cozy Sunday afternoon snuggled under a blanket. But whenever it happens, I know the experience will be fulfilling and—as always—extraordinary.