In his stories of horror, humanity and uncomfortable truths, Neil Gaiman is never afraid to go to dark places in search of light.
But while he gained an early reputation as a dark fantasy author, Gaiman can’t be pigeonholed into any genre. Her writing explores a recurring theme: the past is never dead, no matter how old it is. As he once said, “You know, myths and legends still have power; they are buried and forgotten, but they are like landmines.
Wade Gaiman’s Extensive Bibliography – over four dozen books – can be daunting, to say the least. Since reading his local library as a child, skipping college, and going straight into professional writing some 40 years ago, Gaiman has written biographies, comics, graphic novels, screenplays, novels and essays. His work for young readers — picture books, middle-aged, and young adult novels — could fill an entirely separate guide, so we’ll stick to his books for adults here. (If you venture into the kids’ section, check out “Coraline” And “The Cemetery Book” First of all.)
“What we read as adults should be read, I think, without warning beyond, perhaps: Enter at your own risk,” Gaiman wrote in “Trigger Warning,” a collection of stories. “We have to find out what fiction is, what it means, for us, an experience that will be like no other experience in history.”
With that in mind, here’s a highlight tour through the work of Neil Gaiman.
What should I read if I’m totally new to his work?
start with “American Gods” (2001). The novel was published the same year as the final fizzle of the original dot-com boom and the arrival of the iPod, sticking the landing in tune with the times as consumer technology became entrenched in the mainstream. . Gaiman places the book in a world in which the gods brought by true believers from the old countries are challenged by the new gods of technology, media, and other contemporary concerns. The book follows Shadow Moon, a low-key ex-con who takes a job as a bodyguard with an enigmatic employer. The colorful cast of characters includes Shadow’s dead ex-wife, whom he accidentally resuscitates after throwing a rowdy leprechaun’s gold coin into the open grave during her funeral.
The novel is Gaiman’s Americana fantasy of a road trip novel, written with the eye of a modern immigrant less than a decade after moving from England to Minneapolis-St. Paul district. And if you like what he’s doing with the gods here, try “Anansi Boys” (2005) and “Nordic mythology” (2017).
I need a sharp shock to my literary senses.
“Adults are content to walk the same path, hundreds of times, even thousands of times”, testifies the narrator of “The ocean at the end of the road” (2013). “Perhaps it never occurs to adults to get off the trails, to slip under the rhododendrons, to find the spaces between the fences.” The discovery of new and unexpected spaces animates this surreal fantasy – as do the confrontations with deeply rooted memories on the uneven terrain of childhood through adulthood. The book is one of Gaiman’s shortest adult novels and it can be consumed in one sitting if no one bothers you. However, there may be several things In the novel that bugs you, as common childhood fears (parental rejection, bullying at school, a grim housekeeper, intrusive worms) are mixed together in a tense plot about a lonely boy in rural England who finds himself befriends the girl next door as evil entities encroach on their world.
Nothing scary, please.
Gaiman’s reworking of myths and legends has resulted in many sweeter stories. Take “Stardust” (1999), which had earlier permutations as a comic strip and picture book with artist Charles Vess before its release as a single novel.
Set in the mid-19th century, the book’s airy narrative is reminiscent of William Goldman’s “The Princess Bride,” but is buried in rural English folklore. The story is set in the village of Wall, a border town that straddles the human world and the fairy realm, and follows a dopey young man named Tristran Thorn, who promises to retrieve a fallen star to impress a woman. As with most quests to strange lands, there are complications along the way, but compared to some of Gaiman’s other work, “Stardust” is a lighthearted adventure.
Give me an epic and mind-blowing adventure.
How about immersing yourself in 75 issues of a moody whimsical/horror comic? Gaiman’s run as an author of “The Sandman” from 1989 to 1996 shows his storytelling chops as he reboots a mostly forgettable character from the DC Comics universe in the Ethereal Dream (also known as Morpheus), a brooding divine being who rules the sleepy realm fantasies and fears.
Dream is part of a family called Endless which also includes Death, her older brother who is usually depicted as a goth girl dressed in black wearing Doc Martens boots, a silver ankh necklace and strong sibling opinions (she told him a day: “You are absolutely the dumbest, most self-absorbed, most appalling excuse for anthropomorphic impersonation on this plane or any other!”).
The series can be dark at times, but its sharp dialogue and deeply woven story arcs tie it all together.
How about some cheeky fiends and jokes
on the tapes?
“Good omens: the beautiful and precise prophecies of Agnès Nutter, witch” (1990) is Gaiman’s first published novel, and arguably his funniest, and was written with Terry Pratchett, the creator of the Discworld series of British fantasy novels. In the book, a wrench is thrown into the well-rehearsed Armageddon storyline after a mix-up with the baby Antichrist. The main characters are Aziraphale, an angel and part-time rare book dealer, and the elegant demon Crowley, described as “an angel who has not so fallen as Saunter Vaguely Downwards”. The two have become friends over millennia and are quite comfortable with the ongoing clash between good and evil. The tone of the book is very Monty Python-meets-“The Omen”, with sarcastic footnotes – a nice escape from the current state of the world.
I am immersed in urban fantasy.
Many Gaiman books have been adapted for stage and screen, but “Nowhere” (1996) began as a television script, becoming a novel after Gaiman discovered that the limitations of television production did not allow him to tell the story he had envisioned. Richard, a somewhat unhappy Scotsman, has been transplanted to the British capital, where he discovers a parallel world beneath the city called London Below. Its inhabitants ? The forgotten of history, the homeless and “people who slip through the cracks”. Richard’s adventures with a girl named Door as they dodge assassins in London below look like a gritty mix of Alice’s Wonderland and the London Underground map.
I’m undecided and I would like a literary sampler.
Gaiman has published several collections of stories and poetry since the 1990s, but for the crème de la crème, choose “Neil Gaiman’s Reader: Selected Fiction” (2020). It’s an overflowing buffet that collects its best stories (voted by its fans) into one chunky but practical volume, complete with an introduction by Marlon James. Highlights include “Chivalry,” a mischievous story about an elderly woman who finds the Holy Grail in a thrift store; ‘Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains’, about an ominous legend from Scotland’s Isle of Skye; and “The Case of Death and Honey”, a Sherlock Holmes riff with bees.