Sunday, January 25, 2009

LitRec: At The Apocalypse, I'll Have Neil In My Hands by Smellyia

At the time that I am actually writing this Rec, I have deleted and restarted three times. I don't know why. Neil Gaiman should be easy for me to sum up, but putting this multi-dimensional story-teller in one neat little package complete with shiny bow is just not that simple. At least for me it isn't.

The funny thing is, that while I'm familiar with much of his work, I'm probably nowhere near as schooled as some of his more rabid fans. Although, I am willing to have him to my left when I am buried with a copy of, that may make me a little more enthused than the next.

The idea of featuring Gaiman came from a Tori/Neil conversation I had at my last Society of Erudite Enlightenment meeting. Okay, that's just a fancy name for Book Club, but it gives me a false sense of intelligence, so stop laughing. My friend, siDEADde, and I share this deep love of all things Tori Amos and Neil Gaiman. Neil is a frequent subject we discuss and I look forward to dissecting his short pieces frequently. Add gchat Tori kareoke to the mix and well, somehow you get an idea from all that. I popped on over to emibella the same night and proposed what we have concocted for you today: Tori Amos love on Music Sundays and the divine Neil Gaiman here.

"Smoke & Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions" By Author Neil Gaiman is an anthology of shorts.
And divine he is. He is as diverse as any writer I have ever seen. I hold him in the regard of Stephen King or even Norman Mailer, both of which are common comparisons by the Literati. He has transitioned from his earlier career in journalism to short story mastery to poet to comic icon to lyricist to novelist to screen writer. I am fairly sure he has dabbled in about every major written genre available in this day and age. I would count the majority of published authors having this sort of esteem very limited indeed.

Within his chosen subject matter, Science Fiction/Fantasy, he has crossed boundaries. He does angst, suspense, mystery, comedy, drama...I have read all of it in the words he shares with the world. Sure, at the book store you will most likely find him in the SciFi or YA section, but he is Literature to me and if that was my bookstore, well, I'd have to go against convention and file him where he wasn't so pigeon holed.

Gaiman's anthology of shorts, Smoke & Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions, is a compilation showcasing his command of the written word. The short piece of fiction is a conundrum to me. I find it to be one of the most difficult things to possess a mastery of. To give any reader a complete picture of a slice of life in twelve thousand words or less is no small task. To leave someone satisfied, yet willing to indulge in more, is no mean feat. In each of the stories Gaiman has provided in this compilation, he has achieved those heights spectacularly. Murder Mysteries, Chivalry and Snow, Glass, Apples (a personal favorite) are each examples of a brilliant mind so infused with a creative capacity most aspiring authors can only dream of.

Snow, Glass, Apples (first published in 1998) in particular, is something of a study on the possibility of what the human brain is capable of. It is presumptuous enough to take the traditional Snow White fairytale and provide a fresh perspective on it. For all of you vampire fans, this is a must read. There is a dark layer added and we see Snow White as villain rather than simpering heroine. The Queen is portrayed as a woman of her people, dealing with the “dark” stepdaughter with some very curious teeth and a creepy demeanor. This story is not for the flowery, but for the ones who want to challenge conventional assumptions.

"Stardust" By Author Neil Gaiman is a collaboration with Terry Pratchett.
In his novel repertoire, Stardust owns my heart. Not to say that American Gods, Anansi Boys, Good Omens (a collaboration with the great Terry Pratchett) or any of his other full length pieces are any less worthy, but oh my, Stardust. This is the story of Wall. A town called Wall, but also an actual stone wall. A wall that for six hundred years has separated the everyday inhabitants of Wall from the “scary” magical possibilities in the realm of Faerie. There is one small breach where two sentries stand guard constantly, but once every nine years, there is a market that comes to the meadow beyond the wall. At this time, the two worlds collide and many moons ago an enslaved princess met a young boy. They had one evening together and when their son, Tristan, was born, he was delivered to his unsuspecting father in the town of Wall. Tristan grows up there without any inkling of his true parentage until one day, his unrequited love for a very undeserving girl sends him on a quest to find a fallen star beyond the stone wall. An adventure commences that includes swashbuckling air pirates, immortal murderous witches, ambitious madmen and true love. Through all this, Tristan finds himself and who he is destined to be. This is a story written in the vein of classic English lore and is astounding in it's styling technique, which is unique amongst his other work.

Neil Gaiman's "The Graveyard Book".
Gaiman, most recently, is riding the success of his YA release of The Graveyard Book. It's the story of Bod, short for Nobody, whose parents were brutally murdered. As an infant, the oddly unique boy escapes the diabolical machinations of his would-be murderer and finds himself in a graveyard. The inhabitants of the graveyard, while not in unanimous agreement, take him in and raise Bod as their own. Over the years he grows and is limited to just his Graveyard surroundings. A girl finally finds him and they strike up a friendship until she is forced to leave by her parent's relocation. I'm not going to tell you the rest, because although it's considered YA, this book is a phenomenal read for any adult and I want you to find out for yourself.

In addition to The Graveyard, the impending release of the silver screen adaption of Gaiman's other noted YA piece, Coraline, is upon us. It's the story of a girl who, as most younglings do, feel the grass is greener on the other side. She is pulled into a fantastical world where she learns a lesson or two about loving what she has. This horror novella is a lesson we could all stand to learn once and for all or at least be reminded of.

"Coraline" is another noted YA piece of Gaiman's.
I would be remiss if I ignored one of Neil's most prolific pieces of work, The Sandman. The comic series is the tale of Morpheus, the ruler of the land of Dreams. His story unfolds throughout the series and is a fine example of mythological themes. This tragic hero's story was followed up in the anthology, The Sandman: Book of Dreams. This collection included contributions from many of the author's devout friends, the most noted being Tori Amos, the female piano artist and prodigy.

The relationship between Neil and Tori is something that has always inspired me. The creative meeting of minds between them must be a thing to behold. They constantly work off of each other in their respective art and references to the other is rife throughout each of their singular work. Neil is constantly popping up in Tori's lyrics and Neil has written stories for much of Tori's work as well as putting the woman into his own pieces. Neil is the godfather of Tori's daughter and penned a poem, Blueberry Girl, just for her. The poem has since been turned into a book illustrated by Charles Vess. The only event for the Blueberry Girl will be held on Saturday, March 7th at Books of Wonder in New York. If I was anywhere within a two hundred mile radius of this, I would be there with my sleeping bag.

The Blueberry Girl is illustrated by Charles Vess.
Now, before any of you hardcore Gaiman fans blast me for this short and inadequate appraisal of the artist that is Neil, please understand that in no way could I completely or coherently dissect this man or his career. My devout adoration for him won't let me. There is too much to say and some feelings cannot be summed up in a thousand words. How do I wax perfectly rhapsodic on the man who has achieved Hugos, Bram Stokers or Nebulas amongst many others in his award's cache? He has inspired a generation through so many mediums that in no way, shape or form could I touch on each without this being a full blown biography. So I touched on what has cemented my love for him and I hope any of you who have not entered the world of Neil, you do so immediately. For the one's of you who have been on this adventure, I'll see you around. You can find me hanging with The Dream King, I'll be on his left singing Tori songs off key.

Neil Gaiman's Website

Please venture on over to the Music Sundays blog to read the companion piece to this rec on Tori Amos.

Smellyia is an administrator for this blog and has written three stories for the Twilight fandom. She has a taste for palatable vodka and udon noodle soup. When she is not reading Severus/Hermione fic, she is working on this blog and wishing people would stand up for what they believe in more often...preferably with a name attached to the mask.
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  1. So Smellyia made me read Snow, Glass, and Apples, and... it was AWESOME. Also, well, Stardust is like one of my favorite books/movies ever. So do her bidding, and you will be well pleased.

  2. Sigh...I had to abandon my Firefox to leave this comment. Apparently it doesn't like the blog.

    I love Neil...hard.
    What I love about him most is that he explains nothing. He makes the assumption that his readers are intelligent and well-read. And while I've been told to never make assumptions...I think that it is one of his biggest draws for me. I don't like shit explained. If I don't get it, then I shouldn't be reading it. His references to pop culture, mythology, classic literature, and historical figures are amazing and so well researched. I finish each book enlightened and challenged.

    Thank you for this rec Melia. There can never be too many Neil fans. Perhaps the dearth of Neil fans is the reason why I despise the general public.
    Go Neil, keep on smartening the world, one reader at a time.


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