I begin Wordsmith Wednesdays with one of my favourite writers, but I immediately hit a brick wall. What can I possibly say about Neil Gaiman that hasn’t already been said?
Neil Gaiman has won numerous awards for his works, which span from the novel, through comics, all the way to screenwriting. If a form of writing exists, Neil Gaiman has at least dabbled in it. Even his blog posts and tweets have received critical acclaim.
I have seen Neil Gaiman in person before, speaking at the British Library in London. It’s a weird thing to do, watch people have a conversation. I imagine it must be a weird thing to have a conversation in front of a large audience too, but Neil Gaiman (and Tori Amos) seem to do it effortlessly. After the conversation, he did a few readings: The Day The Saucers Came, and if I recall correctly, a few stories from his Calendar of Tales. It was a really enjoyable experience, and I think all too often we forget that the roots of storytelling lie in speech, that we began with the sagely storyteller gathering people around a campfire. Neil Gaiman is a great writer, but I think he’s an even better storyteller.
Honestly, I’m not sure what Neil Gaiman is most loved for. I’m tempted to say The Sandman, his DC comic series about Morpheus, the personification of Dream, one of the seven Endless (which you should absolutely read if you haven’t already: imagine running from demons in the dark, clutching onto slivers of hopeful light that penetrate the darkness every now and then, and then finally understanding that maybe demons are people too, that everybody in the universe has a story – that’s my experience of reading The Sandman). But I don’t think that’s what he’s most loved for.
Perhaps it’s his novels, particularly American Gods which is in the process of being filmed for a TV show (something I am really looking forward to). His ability to manipulate pre-existing stories and mythos to complement his own is an asset to so many of his works, and American Gods was a great endeavour that was enjoyable throughout. If you have not read American Gods, it isn’t immediately clear to me how I should describe it because it is so unique. It’s about an ex-convict who ends up working for a mysterious man, a god in fact. It’s about the preparations that must be made before the battle for the ‘soul of America’. It’s about faith and belief, and about the value of humanity in a world of gods. American Gods is a wonderful novel and one I thoroughly recommend, but I don’t think that’s what he’s most loved for.
I’m also tempted to say he is most loved for his extensive social media presence, and it’s all a big marketing ploy. But that would be both a disservice to his writing and to him as a person.
How can I know him as a person? You’re right, I can’t and I don’t. I have read many of his works (though importantly, not all), and I check some of his social media sites at semi-regular intervals. I don’t think that qualifies me to make any statements about his personality. Which of course means I’m about to do just that.
Whenever I read something Neil Gaiman has written, I always feel a kind of comfort. Which is not to say I feel comfortable; Neil Gaiman inspires stress and trauma in his writing regularly, and challenges anyone who might think the world is a kind and nice place where everyone lives happily ever after. But his narrative voice, in my opinion, never changes. And it’s this voice that inspires comfort.
“I began to climb. The man’s cries followed me as I stepped and crawled and squeezed and hauled myself up the side of that mountain, mingling with the cries of the great raptors; and they followed me back from the Misty Isle, with nothing to show for my pains and my time, and I will hear him screaming, at the edge of my mind, as I fall asleep or in the moments before I wake, until I die.”
– The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, Neil Gaiman
Whenever I read something by Neil Gaiman, I feel like I’m not entirely alone when I stumble into the dark depths of his stories. I feel like there is an honest, kind person guiding me from afar, someone who wants to help because they have a personal interest in me, and in my growth as a person.
And I think it’s this voice that Neil Gaiman is most loved for. There can be no doubt that Neil Gaiman has told countless good stories, and I’m sure there are countless more he will tell, but I don’t think it’s the stories themselves that set him apart from other writers and make him a household name.
In other words, making this post entirely redundant, I think Neil Gaiman is most loved for being Neil Gaiman.