Okay, But Tell Me Why: Neil Gaiman

I’m being stalked. By Neil Gaiman readers. They make a point of sidling up at times carefully chosen to appear random, then raise their voices ever so slightly: “Yada yada Neil Gaiman etc.,” they say to one another, carefully avoiding my eyes and pretending not to see me there, minding my own biblical-studies, higher-ed busyness.

I harbor no skepticism about Gaiman: I know absolutely nothing about him, and am wholly willing to be persuaded. But help me:

In you opinion, why must this barely-post-boomer sci-fi/fantasy-reading professor of higher education in Old Testament studies drop what he’s doing (after grading) and pick up Neil Gaiman? Also, where should I begin, and why?

(No spoilers, please!)

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8 Responses

  1. If you have seen Coraline or Stardust, you may know more about Gaiman than you think. He also co-authored the screenplay for the 2007 version of Beowulf.

    Bryan got me hooked by describing a scene and the theme from American Gods, but you commanded me to give no spoilers.

    I would start with American Gods, The Graveyard Book, or drop a few $$ on the Absolute Sandman.

    • Oh, and as for why — I love his play in the world of liminality — borders between life and death and the natural and the supernatural. As a kid, I was also fascinated by myth and love his inclusion of mythological references from several cultures.

      I also love the way he plays with the characters of Cain and Abel in the Sandman.

  2. I’m gonna get the hate for this, but personally, I think he’s overrated. I liked “American Gods” a lot–a LOT–but have found much of his stuff to be a mishmash of out-of-control tropes. He’s cleverer than he is good, in my opinion. (Be good, sweet Gaiman, and let who will be clever!)

    What you want to read is Stephen King’s “Under the Dome.” It’s the most fast-paced 1,000-page book since “Gone with the Wind,” and it’s also a SCATHING indictment of the Bush/CHENEY administration, without being a one-to-one political parallel a la “Animal Farm.”

    • Neil said as much last night. He said he had the idea for Graveyard Book in 1985 or so. He wrote the first scene off and on again for about 10 years, but always resolved that he wasn’t good enough to write it. Finally, he sat down and said, “I’m never going to be good enough and wrote it anyway.

      I see your point about clever, but I think there is a lot to be said for clever — it can be very entertaining.

  3. Well, Robin is fired from liking books, if for no other reason than he recommended Stephen King over Neil Gaiman.

    I agree that liminality is a good reason, and so is his effective play in the world of myth. He does myth better than most because he actually understands the use and purpose of myth. He is also exceptional with a phrase, a quality that is one of the things that divides good from great for me. Finally he plays well in the borderland between cynicism and hope, which makes his writing both encouraging and powerfully real.

    American Gods is an excellent starting point, but also be sure to read Anansi Boys, which I think might be the better of the two.

  4. I got into Gaiman through his collaborative venture with Terry Pratchett: Good Omens. I’d recommend that piece to any biblical scholar because the authors did their homework and not only nail every note on ancient apocalyptic lit but manage to highlight the history of apocalyptic interpretations as well. Very nice.

  5. I found American Gods absolutely gripping. The basic premise is that the old gods of America’s inhabitants still live among us, albeit with very little divine power (since nobody acknowledges them anymore). He does fascinating things with it–I found myself chewing on it for months after I finished reading it.

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