The last time Neil Gaiman came to Seattle was in the summer of 2011. I was interviewing an author at Town Hall Seattle downstairs – Gaiman was scheduled to speak upstairs. Thirty minutes before his arrival, the upstairs chamber overflowed and his fans were simultaneously stomping the floor and calling his name. The author I was interviewing appeared a little rattled. She asked – was a rock star upstairs?
No, just another author. Which says a lot about the power of storytelling. Gaiman, a master of fantasy and fiction, horror and suspense, has legions of fans in Seattle – his base extends from young children who love his board books to comic book devotees, who still remember his comic book series “The Sandman” from the late 1980s-early 1990s, to someone like me, a “pearl and twin-set” (Gaiman’s words) lady who still believes in magic.
Gaiman, who has a new book out (see below), comes through Seattle in July – my interview with him runs this coming Sunday, June 2. In the meantime, here’s a short list of Gaiman stories that have kept me up at night:
- “The Graveyard Book” by Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean. This graphic novel won Gaiman the Newbery Award for best children’s book in 2009. It has a terrifying premise – a man slaughters a family, and everyone but the son, a toddler, dies. He escapes and wanders up a road to a cemetery, where a band of ghosts takes over his care, creating a home and a family for the boy. This “village” is peopled with unforgettable characters, a bunch of eccentric Brits from different historical periods, starting with the Romans. Of course the child, named Bod (for Nobody) by the ghosts, can’t stay in the graveyard forever, and his friends gradually help him rejoin the land of the living and do battle with an enduring enemy (Bod has learned a lot of crafty ghost tricks that help him survive). If you’re asking; isn’t this a terrible premise for a children’s book? Well, maybe, but kids know that terrible things happen. Gaiman creates a cozy, safe world for Bod in the cemetery, and his humor and understanding of how children think and feel enliven this unforgettable book.
- “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.” This novel, at booksellers June 18, is the story of a man who returns to a place in the British countryside where he faced a shape-shifting monster when he was seven years old. A sort of bittersweet fairytale for adults, you can read it in an afternoon. In fact, you may have to, because it’s very hard to put down.
- “American Gods.” This spectacularly inventive, hard-boiled story is the story of a man named Shadow, who has just been released from prison after three years. He learns that his wife and best friend are both dead in a car accident. At this low point an older gentleman shows up and offers Shadow a job as a bodyguard. Shadow has “stumbled into a kind of underground, a loosely connected network of burned-out, down-on-their-luck deities, the remnants of every god, godling or other supernatural being that any person who ever set foot in America has ever believed in,” wrote critic Laura Miller in Salon. This motley crew is engaged in doing battle with another band of sinister gods, created by the modern world’s preoccupations – credit cards, freeways, the Internet. This book has just been re-released in a ten-year anniversary edition (Morrow), which I am leaving the office to start re-reading as soon as I finish this post. An HBO series is planned.
- “The Doctor’s Wife.” Gaiman wrote this worlds-within-worlds episode of the latest incarnation of Doctor Who, starring Matt Smith. The Doctor meets the soul of the Tardis, the call box that whips him around the universe. But that is just scratching the surface of this complicated story. One critic said that Gaiman and Doctor Who are Britain’s greatest contributions to the world of fantasy – an ideal marriage.