24 January 2010

Neil Gaiman

The New Yorker has a profile of Neil Gaiman, one of Carmen's favorite authors. I've liked everything of his I've read (or seen), but don't want to have favorite authors. The profile is fascinating if you are familiar with him, and odd enough to make you read something of his if you aren't. Here's my favorite quote, combining several authors who would be my favorite authors if I had any.
The writer Gene Wolfe says that “Sunbird,” Gaiman’s story about an epicurean club that eats the mythical phoenix, “is so much in the style of R. A. Lafferty it’s almost as if Lafferty were dictating it from Heaven.”

He was a kid I can relate to:
As a child, he was bookish and broody; for his tenth birthday, he asked for a shed and got a kit of pine boards, which his parents assembled at the bottom of the garden. It was where he read: the Narnia books; Roger Lancelyn Green; a neighbor’s father’s “Dracula”; Chesterton, borrowed from the library. Instead of studying for his bar mitzvah, he persuaded his instructor to teach him Bible stories—the Behemoth, the Leviathan—and the secret teachings, about Lilith and the Lilim, which he used in “The Sandman.” To his father’s dismay, he spent his bar-mitzvah money on American comics—a good investment, as he sees it now.

He started out writing the comic book "Sandman" ... and has an arresting way to describe its success:

“Sandman,” Gaiman says, is sexually transmitted. “Guys who wanted their girlfriends to read comics would give them ‘Sandman.’ They’d break up, and the girl would take the ‘Sandman’s and infect the next guy. It grew on a vector.”

A strange fellow. Maybe I should read more of him.

he could become my favorite author with an English accent who wears black.

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At 25 January, 2010 01:04, Blogger jack perry said...

I have a lot of the original Sandman comics lying around somewhere. I bought them, but I wasn't a vector along which they propagated. I was fascinated by them, but…

…but what? I've read (& watched) a lot of Gaiman's work, and by now I can say that while it's always imaginative and always enjoyable, it's also always deeply unsatisfying. Something's always missing.

I don't know how exactly to explain it, but I have yet to read or watch an original Gaiman work that didn't deeply disappoint me in the end. Even Coraline. There's always something… empty about it.

For some reason I thought Elliot had a good explication of problems he had with Gaiman on his weblog, but I can't for the life of me find that post right now. Maybe I've gone and confused things.

At 25 January, 2010 14:40, Blogger Clemens said...

Carmen, as so often (she made me write that) has figured it out. She thinks you are a very moral person, as is Elliot (I remember his post), as is Carmen for that matter.

Gaiman is not. At least, not in that way, the way Terry Pratchard is, eg.

I'm not either. Carmen gets carried past this lack (in Gaiman, I mean)by his sheer skill as a storyteller. But she seems to know exactly what you are talking about.

At 25 January, 2010 17:52, Blogger jack perry said...

Okay, you remember Elliot's post; I remember Elliot's post; but where is it on his weblog?!?

This has happened with my weblog, too. I'm losing faith in Blogger.

At 25 January, 2010 17:52, Blogger jack perry said...

BTW I think Carmen may be on to something.

At 25 January, 2010 20:49, Anonymous Maire said...

I don't know; I find Gaiman very moral. I'm not as familiar with Sandman, but in his novels, his most interesting characters have to find ways to redeem themsleves (even if just from failing to live up to their potential). Good and evil are usually very easy to spot, and good wins. In that sense, Gaiman's morality is very conventional. Neverwhere, Coraline, the Graveyard Book, Aerican Gods -- all share these basic traits.

At 26 January, 2010 21:34, Blogger jack perry said...

Just speculating: Maybe being a moral person means that you don't like stories with "easy" moralities. :-P You want a morality, but not one that's so obvious?

…probably not. To be honest (and no less vague) I always felt as if Gaiman's protagonists were not especially moral. To get less vague, I don't especially like his tendency to kill off the more affecting minor characters in his stories, nor the grotesque ways they tend to die, while the protagonists go on to "live happily for ever" as it were.

But even that woudln't bother me that much—there's something more, but I can't put my finger on it. Time to give up, I guess.

At 28 January, 2010 23:08, Blogger Clemens said...

I think it is more subtle than that, which is why we have trouble identifying it. I don't mind the lack of *whatever, but I feel its lack. It is a certain type of morality, one I don't particularly need (I think).

But I know its importance.

At 28 January, 2010 23:10, Blogger Clemens said...

Perhaps that is the beginning of wisdom.

At 02 February, 2010 10:23, Blogger Elliot said...

Hey folks,
Wow, it's nice to be cited! Thanks! :-) I can't find old posts either - I think the blogger search function has gone kaput. Ian's been telling me I should switch to WordPress, and he's probably right.

I do generally find Gaiman's work unsatisfying. I don't know if it has to do with morality but it might.

I recall having an interesting conversation about Gaiman with a friend at work who comes from a very different socio-economic background than I, and in many ways has a very different view on life, morality, metaphysics, etc; and he strongly dislikes Gaiman's work, more than I do. I think he said there was no "there" there, that it was somehow very shallow. If I remember correctly he said Gaiman didn't use myths and fairy tales to dig into reality the way some authors do- he was just playing around with the stories themselves. Maybe the analogy would be with a film-maker who just bases his films on clever reinterpretations of other movies, as opposed to real human experience. Which is my impression of Quentin Tarantino, but that's another story.

At 05 February, 2010 11:58, Blogger Clemens said...

That could be it Elliot though there is something to be said for brilliant storytelling even if it is only surface. And I am not so sure it is: Carmen certainly doesn't, though she seems to know what you all are talking about.

For me, my favorite Gaimen story so far is "Neverwhen" which may have been a bit deeper than some of his other work.

Or not.


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