Posted by: kshayes513 | March 2, 2009

Reading: Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman, Coraline. coraline-cover

This post should really be titled, “What I’m Watching,” as I haven’t actually gotten around to reading Coraline. I did go see the movie this weekend, which I wouldn’t have done without Neil’s name attached. It’s  great fun, and well worth seeing on a big screen in 3D, because the visuals are truly groundbreaking in their realism, and eyepopping in their artistry. I had no idea 3D animation could look so three dimensional! Especially the tunnel; it looks like we could get right out of our seats and crawl in. And like everything Neil* writes for kids, the story is good enough to hold the attention of adults as well. But really, I’m using Coraline the movie as the occasion for me to talk about one of my  favorite writers.

Neil Gaiman is quite prolific, and there’s a lot of his work I haven’t caught up with; but what I have read is among my favorites. He’s one of the few writers whose books I often buy without knowing anything about them; it’s enough that his name is on them. I bought American Gods in hardcover (something I rarely do, because of shelf space as much as expense), I love the movie version of Stardust as much as the sweet and gorgeous book, and Good Omens, written by Neil and Terry Pratchett,  ranks as the funniest book I have ever read. I still laugh out loud (very loud, sometimes) whenever I read it.

What makes Neil such a terrific storyteller is not just he’s good at all the important stuff (which he is): story, character, plot, originality, voice, imagery, clarity, humor, and blah blah blah. That’s only part of it.

He’s a remarkable writer of fantasy because of a rarer quality he shares with all my favorite writers. He really understands the mythological material he’s using. He gets it intuitively and intellectually and emotionally and linguistically. In Neil’s hands a piece of folklore is more than a rich source of plot and character and atmosphere. It’s a needle that probes deep into our cultural unconscious, pricking folkloric nerve clusters we’d forgotten we have. Here’s a tiny example (Coraline spoiler ahead):

The ghosts in Coraline refer to the other mother as “the beldame.” It’s an old, old word, and Neil could probably tell you its whole history, and what specific characters and archetypes are attached to it.  I associate it with queens and crones and other women of great power in medieval tales and epics, women for whom the Queen in Snow White and the witch in Hansel and Gretel and even Morgan le Fay are only the palest residual shadows.  Such a little thing, yet it tells me exactly who the other mother is.

Neil also has one of the most entertaining blogs I’ve ever seen (which is why I have a link to it, right over there to the right of this page).  And just last month, his new children’s story,  The Graveyard Book, won the Newbery Medal.  Nice going, Neil!

*Disclaimer: I say “Neil” because it just doesn’t sit right to refer to him formally as “Gaiman” or “Mr Gaiman.” I’ve met him at 2 conventions, and he’s the friendliest and most generous man in the world.  I don’t claim to be a pal, or anyone that he would even remember having met at the end of a long autograph line.



  1. Ah, the Beldame Sans Merci! Sounds like fun — and I, too, loved Good Omens!

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