Author Love Letter: Neil Gaiman

Dear Neil,

You’re the first of these authors I feel comfortable addressing by first name. Is that weird? I think it’s because you’re a geek superhero. Anyway. They say opposites attract, but the first time we met, it was like looking into a mirror. Neverwhere was full of sentences written precisely as I’d have written them myself. I thought it was a little creepy, and I was worried that people might think I was aping your style if I ever got any of my own work out into the world. I didn’t really need to worry about that, because I didn’t stay 19 and the more I wrote the more things felt like me. Neverwhere was cool, though. Really cool.

I kept hanging out with you, a bit at a time. I heard you on the radio. I was blown away by American Gods. You manage to touch so many stories with that one, manage to make a story about stories without slipping into self-indulgent metafiction. One of the things I love about spending time with you is that it’s not just spending time with you. You fill your stories with so many interesting characters—and not the euphemistic “interesting” of your adopted Upper Midwest. American Gods is chock full of characters I wouldn’t have minded following after Shadow walked out of their lives. You put your cipher in the central position in the story, and give us just enough of his personality to hold everything together. That’s well into “easier said than done” territory.

Anansi Boys…that one is good, too. It’s light without being fluffy. You also—again—fill the story with interesting characters, but this time you set them around a thoroughly individual protagonist. It’s like in the Odyssey: Fat Charlie proclaims himself and is proclaimed by his world a “nobody.” He might not be a Homeric hero, but Charlie’s cathartic assertion of somebody-ness is awesome (in the undiluted sense of the word). Anansi Boys a great example of how easy you make storytelling look. It’s only when I start to dig in that I see the elegant lines are strings of exquisitely balanced asymmetric nuggets of plot and character.

If Shadow is a cipher, and Fat Charlie is a nobody growing into a somebody, The Sandman’s Dream is a teflon mirror. Reflections slide off him. Utterly himself, Morpheus embodies his estate in ways that seem as incredibly obvious as they are original. Good teachers and good storytellers tell us what we knew all along. That’s what reading your work is like for me.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a brilliant little gem of a book. It devoured me for an afternoon with its mix of wonder and confusion. You capture the bravery of a child (which is half not knowing to be afraid) right along with the muddle of middle age in your bracketing scenes. It’s a gorgeous work that moved me well beyond its slim proportions.

All that, and you’re a Geek Superhero. A Geek Superhero who manages his public life with surprising aplomb and humility. (Batman would not give a talk explaining that you need to get at least two-thirds of the “excellent-timely-nice” triad to get ahead in making Good Art.)

So, um. Thanks. For all of it.

Yours,

J.D.J.

You can start just about anywhere with Mr. Gaiman’s work. His children’s books are pretty wonderful. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, his latest work for grown-ups, might also be his best. American Gods is as close as Gaiman comes to epic in the usual sense; it features a particularly cool Odin. If you have disposable income and for some reason haven’t read Sandman, Vertigo has recently published leather-bound omnibuses that will get you all of the books much more easily than haunting used bookstores hoping somebody has given up their treasured trades.

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2 comments

  1. Loved sandman and discovered it embarrassingly late in my academic pursuits. Glad you liked the most recent. Will pick it up on your recommendation.

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