Friday, October 19, 2018

Neil Gaiman, mon amour.

by Lasher (writer), Paris, October 11, 2006


I like to read. A lot. And there used to be a time when I would read ANYTHING just to keep my mind busy ... well, reading.

That's how Neil Gaimans's books happened to me. I stumbled upon "Good Omens" (written with Terry Pratchett), and God did I laugh ! I read it, and read it again a few more times, then passed on to read other books.

A few years later, I noticed Gaiman was mentionned a few times in several magazines or websites I happened to read at the time. Thus began my Quest for Neal Gaiman's Books.

There's Neverwhere, Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, Anansi Boys ...

What's so interesting about this author, you ask ? Well. He's one of the few I know I'll always love what he tells. Because he writes True Fairy Tales. Not the fairy tales Disney factories would like you to believe are True, mind you. I kinda like Disney's movies, from time to time, but hey, let's face it : they tend to consider kids to be totally clueless. Most of their characters are either black or white, and when a few tend to get a little more colorful, parents get all upset ("Lilo and Stitch" is hilarious, if a bit too teary from time to time, but Stitch is one of the best characters that Disney has spawned in years). Anyway, back to Mr Gaiman.

What's a good fairy tale, then ? Well, it must have a real bad guy, something quite evil, 'cause otherwise it's worthless fighting against it. But the hero doesn't have to know what's he's fighting against. Really. He may even understand it when it's far too late, it's OK. You must have "magic moments" too, with some melancholic moments, some really frightening ones, some really funny ones and some moments which are just happy ones.

OK, Neal Gaiman does just that in "Neverwhere" and "Stardust", for instance. In "Neverwhere", we discover the London Below, where everything stands true to its name : there IS a knight preventing unwanted people from crossing a bridge where above there's Knightsbridge. Earl's Court station does host a real Earl, etc. And there are dangers. Sadistic killers. And a poor hero who never asked for any of this, and finds himself brought Below, with some kind of endangered princess. Oh boy. This is what I would call a modern, but True Fairy Tale.

Stardust is more classical : it is some kind of 19th century "heroic fantasy" True Fairy Tale, where a boy, son of a fairy and a man, goes beyond the wall which separates the world of the men and Faerie in order to retrieve a falling star to please the girl he's fallen in love with. And thus begins a fantastic journey, full of witches, warriors, fairies, and other magical creatures, but always with ambivalent moments, where the reader doesn't necessarily know whether to laugh, cry, or be angry... Maybe everything at once ?

Then follows "American Gods", which won LOTS and LOTS of prizes : the Hugo Award, the Nebula one, the Bram Stoker one, the ... Shall I continue ? OK, this one is special. All novels he wrote have a kind of dark shade embedded inside each and every page. This one is much darker. It still has its funny moments, but overall, it is a much darker book than the preceding ones. But it is also quite an achievement : the story line is very, very clever, and the characters are colorful, in their own darkish ways. I need to read it again, though. A lot of Gaiman's fans don't know what to think about this book, because in their mind, the book lacks some kind of "lightness" the other books used to have. I don't know what to think about it. I know I liked the book, and as with every novel Gaiman has written, I'm bound to read it again. Is it my favorite ? Not for now.

Finally, there's "Anansi Boys", which tells the tale of two brothers, who are the sons of Anansi, the Spider God, who owns every single story. One has been growing up feeling quite helpless and desperately human (he never knew who his father was), the other one knowing that he had godly gifts. Both meet once their father is dead. Both are going to learn about their human or godly side.

Every book by Neil Gaiman talks about magic, not as a good or bad thing, but as something that simply is. There are truly evil characters in every story he wrote, but these are evil characters you secretly want to meet again in the next book. The heroes aren't G.I. Joes nor Rambos. Most of the time they're simple chaps (OK, so one or two happen to be demi-gods, or half-fae, or ... What can I say, nobody's perfect !). A book by Gaiman is like a good and True Fairy Tale : it just works. You're given facts, very unlikely to happen, but everything's so real you just believe them.

Far from spawning black or white characters or - even worse ! - grey ones, Neil Gaiman understands how to paint them in different colors, with shades. They all have striking personalities.

This my friends, are what I call True Fairy Tales.

Enough of this. Go and find a book by Gaiman. Read it - you'll see, you won't be able to take off your eyes from the book until you're done with it.

By the way, did I tell you about the Sandman, his comic book ? Or about the other comics he wrote scenarios for ? OK, I've been ranting for too long, so I'll talk about them another time.

About the Writer

Lasher is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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