Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Few Words About Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman has recently won the Newbery Medal for his latest work The Graveyard Book, and in a few days the movie of his story Coraline will be hitting the theaters. I thought it would be timely to say a few things about him and his career.

He was born in England in 1960, which makes him only a few years my senior. While growing up his favorite reading was many of the classics of fantasy and science fiction, including J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Ursula K. LeGuin, Lord Dunsany, G. K. Chesterton, James Branch Cabell, H. P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Michael Moorcock, and Thorne Smith, among many others. He began his writing career with journalism and interviews in these genres; one of his earliest books was Don't Panic!, about Douglas Adams and his Hitchhiker books.

Gaiman's work notably developed in collaboration: his first published novel was Good Omens, written with Terry Pratchett. He wrote story arcs for already existing comic books; he made up the character of Cagliostro for Tod Macfarlane's Spawn. These can be considered essays in already developed examples of mythos, as are his scripts for shows like Babylon 5 and Dr. Who, of which he is a great fan.

But the work that really established his fame and voice was The Sandman. At the request of Vertigo Comics, he revamped a moribund old DC Comics title into the story of Morpheus, King of Dreams, one of the seven Endless, anthropomorphic personifications more powerful than gods but less free than humans. For nine years Gaiman spun out the story about stories and their power, from Morpheus' imprisonment and escape to his final doom, in the meantime wandering over the DC comics continuum, time, space, Heaven, Hell, and the depths of human hearts. All the while he developed a mythos so characteristic and personalities so recognizable, and yet both so flexible, that other writers can work them almost seamlessly.

His novels and short story collections followed; Stardust, which began as a graphic novel and has become a movie; Neverwhere, which became a BBC mini-series; American Gods and Anansi Boys, which deal with lingering mythologies trying to make a life in modern America; and the short story collections Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things. All these works deal with the marvelous intruding into the mundane, but there is little airy-fairy about it; Gaiman's characters, even gods, love, bleed, and suffer, and on the whole exist in a gritty, sensuous world that carries with it an air of conviction and mystery.

Much of Gaiman's work has been, as mentioned, collaborative. He works with other writers, illustrators, and film makers to help embody his visions, and it is the mongrel strength that comes with these alliances that helps propel his work. Tropes, ideas and images from all the great fantasists that have gone before him are part of his palette, but it is the selection and personal twist with which he presents them that makes him the core and key element of the presentation of the same, and mediates them to the modern audience.

Gaiman moved to the United States some years ago, lives in Minnesota, and has three children. He has won just about every award possible in his various fields of writing. To learn more about him, there is an excellent site, which includes his own personal blog.

1 comment:

Babel said...

I understand he is very talented, but how did he score those collaborations to begin with?