How to read Neil Gaiman

neilgaiman

Even if you’re not a huge fan of fantasy and science fiction, you may have heard the name Neil Gaiman floating around in the stratosphere. Often lauded as the rockstar of modern fantasy, Gaiman has become something of a cult phenomenon. His works include the acclaimed Sandman series of graphic novels; Hugo Award-winning novels American Gods, Coraline and The Graveyard Book; and Stardust, which has been adapted into a Hollywood movie. He has also collaborated with Alan Moore, Stephen Moffat, Terry Pratchett and other artistic masterminds.

For someone who wants to start reading Gaiman, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Short story anthology, graphic novel or a chunky 500 page book? Of course, a large part of it depends on your personal preference. But just in case you need a little guidance, here’s my how-to of reading Neil Gaiman.

There are three ways you can start off. Firstly, if you’re a fan of adventure, grab a copy of Neverwhere. It’s about on ordinary Scotsman named Richard Mayhew who stumbles into the bizarre, magical world of London Below–where there really is an Angel Islington, an Earl’s Court and a whole monastery of Black Friars.

If you’re a bit more of a romantic, I recommend beginning with Stardust. It’s a fairytale type story with witches, conniving princes, Babylon candles and true love. Probably Gaiman’s sweetest and least threatening novel, and a good way to get a first taste of his writing style.

Finally, if you’re already an avid graphic novel consumer, by all means go and find a charitable friend who owns all ten volumes of Sandman. Unfortunately graphic novels burn a real hole in your hip pocket: I actually managed to get the entire Sandman series through my local library–an under-regarded resource. Although Sandman was first published in 1989, it remains highly recommended in the graphic novel world. The protagonist of the series is a powerful being named Morpheus, the ruler of dreams. But numerous other stories and characters, ordinary and mythological, intertwine with his adventures (the Egyptian goddess, Bast, Cain and Abel, Loki and Odin, Beelzebub, Lucifer and a host of Shakespearean characters, just to name a few). Sandman is a remarkable venture into a dark, fantastical wonderland.

From here, get a copy of Good Omens, a collaboration between Gaiman and Terry Pratchett of Discworld fame: an imaginative, humorous romp into the Apocalypse, told from the point of view of two unlikely friends: a demon named Crowley, and a an angel named Aziraphale, who have both taken an unforgiveable liking to humanity. A dramatic series of events is set in motion when it comes time for the rise of the Antichrist…who, unexpectedly, turns out to be a boy named Adam Young.

Then try Gaiman’s children’s offerings. Coraline (which has been made into an animated movie) and The Graveyard Book are easy-to-tackle novellas with quirky, interesting storylines.

Now you can finally open that brick of a book, American Gods. Tackling American Gods from the first may be difficult: some find it meandering, collapsing and slow. Others however find themselves completely immersed in the American mythos that Gaiman creates…a battle between the “old” American gods brought over from other continents (Odin, Eostre/Easter, Thoth and Anubis, Horus and Bast, the Zorya, Anansi), and the “new” gods now rising to power on the tide of modernity (Media, Internet, technology and transport).

Anansi Boys is a spin-off from American Gods. The death of the flamboyant Mr. Nancy brings together his two estranged sons, Fat Charlie and Spider, who then embark on their own bizarre adventures.

Finally, his short story anthologies are a gem. Read Smoke & Mirrors, and then Fragile Things. Gaiman’s mind is a strange place, and his “short fictions and wonders” are often dark, curious and unexpectedly twisted. Often they require a second or third reading. Nevertheless, his offerings are always acutely challenging and unique. A delight and surprise to read, like peeking behind a curtain into a creepy other world.

After all that, if you still can’t get enough of Neil, go watch the recent Doctor Who episode entitled The Doctor’s Wife…or hunt down an ancient VHS tape of BBC’s Neverwhere. If anything, it’ll make you chuckle.

That’s it! I hope you enjoyed this guide (: It wasn’t supposed to be a complete bibliography of Gaiman’s works; only a degustation. Let me know what you think of my recommendations, or if you tackled his books in a different order and it really worked for you!

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9 comments

  1. I cheated. I read Sandman when it was being published as individual comic books. ;-)

    It’s a good place to start, except that I would caution that at the beginning of that series, Gaiman was still experimenting with genre, and a few issues were outright horror stories — the type to curl Stephen King’s hair. A friend of mine refuses to read any more Gaiman after encountering the story “24 Hours” in the first Sandman collection, “Preludes and Nocturnes”; which is a shame, really, because there is a lot in that series she would like.

    Stardust is a very good starting recommendation for anyone of a more sensitive type. The text is lovely, but I would further recommend reading the illustrated version if you can find it. (Startdust, too, was released as comic books first, though they’re more illustrated storybook and not “panel comics”.

    Good Omens is hysterical and wonderful.

    One last bit — I’m a fan of Doctor Who, having started with the old series when I was around ten or twelve (lo many years ago). I think The Doctor’s Wife is probably my favorite Doctor Who story I’ve ever encountered. Absolutely wonderful — Neil at the top of his form.

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    1. Ah, Stephen…that sounds like the most fantastic way to have devoured Sandman. I’m envious!

      Thank you for your added advice – I actually didn’t know Stardust was originally released as an illustrated book.

      I hear another Neil Gaiman Doctor Who episode is in the works.

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  2. Yes, I knew about the new DW story he’s working on. FYI — I found this page because Neil himself linked to it from his Tumblr blog. ;-)

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  3. The order I read mr. Gaiman’s books came out randomly, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.
    Firstly I read “Coraline” and “American Gods”, mostly by friends’ recommendation. After a while saw the movie versions of “Stardust” and “Coraline”. Some time later, mostly for sir Pratchett’s brand of humor, I got to Good Omens.
    Then, after seeing synopsis of one of Neil’s short stories I took interest in renting “Smoke & Mirrors”. Actually this was the point at which I started to see and respect Gaiman’s unique style and thought to myself “Yeah, I can take a look at some of his other stuff next time”. And after much shorter brake then before I acquainted myself with “Neverwhere” and “American Gods”, one after the other. A really good choice, as bit bored by the former one, I could appreciate the latter one, a heavier read, much more. Then I got to read “Fragile Things” and. “M is for Magic” with it’s excerpt from “The Graveyard Book” made me rent the whole novel right away.
    Currently I’m almost halfway through “Stardust” and I’m afraid that I’ll run out of reading material in short time.
    I took a vastly different approach and have no regrets about it, except the fact that my local library doesn’t have “Preludes and Nocturnes” despite the fact that all the other volumes are available.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your reading experience, Natalia! :) I actually still haven’t seen the Coraline movie yet – I have to get around to that. Also, you should definitely try to get your hands on the Sandman series by any means possible (barring some extremes).

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