fragile things

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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Now baby don’t you stop it, stop it

I arrived home late last night (with, I might add, a very happy stomach; Victor’s mum should be on Iron Chef!) to find a package waiting for me. A cardboard package that bore the marks of a long and dangerous journey, halfway across the known world, across oceans charted and uncharted. I tore into its brown, sticky-taped shell with ferocious glee to unwrap the following four glossy, crisp items. I inhaled their glorious scent like a mad woman…

Thanks to Mister Christopher, I have been seduced by the Book Depository. One more delivery on the way! It was a nice surprise to end a long and somewhat frustrating day, anyway…=)

A quick rundown:

Stardust – A bumbling London country boy goes to retrieve a fallen star in order to win the love of the village hottie. Things became complicated when the star turns out to have a life of her own. Also insert three witches who want to eat the heart of the star in order to remain immortal. This has been made into a movie adaptation starring Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Ben Barnes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sienna Miller, Ricky Gervais, Rupert Everett and Robert De Niro. It is slightly inferior to the book.

Neverwhere – Richard Mayhew is an English businessman with a truly horrid fiancée, whose reality blurs when he is dragged into the adventures of London Below: a realm beneath the city populated by strange characters including the Angel Islington, a sly Marquis, a little girl with powers called Door, a female Hunter, and a menagerie of rat-people. This is a great read. Not to be confused with Michael Jackson’s Neverland.

Fragile Things – Another short story collection by the a concocter of the twisted and unpredictable. Haven’t read this yet!

Never Let Me Go – Ishiguro is a Japanese-born, English-educated writer. I’ve heard that his novels are more British than Japanese in style, whatever that means to you. Never Let Me Go was recently made into a film starring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield. This will be the first of his works I’ve read.

In terms of real life, exam preparation is progressing slowly but surely, and I have another day off from the hospital tomorrow, so expect plenty of studious productivity another blog post! All the best to those of you who also have exams. I feel your pain. Let this ridiculous picture pull you out of your funk:

And finally, a little something for the fanboys/girls out there. I’m not a gamer, given that I lack the skills and coordination required to press buttons in the correct sequence (that also precludes a career as a forklift driver, accordion player and intimate lover) but I can appreciate an AWESOME TRAILER. Thanks Victor for keeping me up to date with everything in the galaxy far, far away…even though you don’t understand my jedi knight fetish.

Until tomorrow!

Squishes and kisses,

Grace

UPCOMING POSTS:
A SPOT OF SELF-DISCOVERY
WHY NICE GUYS FINISH LAST