I have “met” Neil Gaiman so many different times, it’s beginning to be a thing with us. Of course I don’t mean Neil Gaiman, the person – I’m talking about my introduction to Neil, the writer. Neil, the mythical creature running through so many threads of pop culture. Neil, the legend.
I met Neil Gaiman for the second time (or maybe it was the third?) before I realized I had met him before. I knew he was not just a writer, but one of The Writers in fantasy, SciFi, and generally all things happily mad and imaginative. He had written Coraline. Sandman. American Gods. Anansi Boys. I knew these things, but I hadn’t read any of the stories, so it’s safe to say I knew of Neil Gaiman, but hadn’t yet had the pleasure.
Fast-forward a few years, to the time just after one of my friends had beaten me about the head until I gave in and started using Twitter (to keep her entertained, natch). I started following some of my other favorite people, including an incredibly talented (and chatty) young author by the name of Joe Hill. Who tweeted back and forth, quite often, with one Mr. Neil Gaiman.
I find that when I get to know an author’s personality, it’s very hard not to immediately devour his or her books. Given, of course, that their personality doesn’t immediately make you want to scourge them from the earth. Ahem. Such was not the case with Neil Gaiman – it seemed like everything I learned about him made me feel like I already knew him. And so, I took to his books.
I devoured Coraline in a single sitting, and then promptly handed it to my nine-year-old. (It’s possible she loved it even more than I.) I started in on American Gods, and it was then, as I was meeting Mr. Gaiman for the fourth time, through his written words, that I realized when I had first been introduced to my new favorite guy… (Sing it with me every teenaged girl of the 90s!) I met him first through the references in Tori Amos’ songs. “Neil says hi by the way…” “If you need me, Neil and me’ll be hanging out with the dream king…” “Seems I keep getting this story twisted, where’s Neil when you need him?” “And if there’s a way to find you, I’ll find you, but will you find me if Neil makes me a tree?” And so many more. Finding out – later than everyone else, I’m sure – that one of my favorite artists and one of my new favorite authors were so intimately linked was like finding a secret door in a my favorite treehouse. An escape hatch. A rabbit hole to tumble down. The stories didn’t change, but new layers – new reading lenses – were laid over them.
A rather long backstory, isn’t it? But that was my reading map that had brought me to the door of Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman’s newest release. It’s markets as a book for grown-ups, though I don’t actually know why. Perhaps it’s not meant for very young children, but upper elementary children who are somewhat advanced, middle schoolers…I don’t know why they wouldn’t enjoy the story. It’s about a boy at the very magical age of 10 or 11. Well, really, it’s about a grown-man come back to his childhood home who remembers and then tells the book-length story of something amazing that happened to him when he was 10 or 11. It’s a story of magic and mythology and the fear a boy has over his changing world and how love and faith in our friends really change change everything. I loved how intimate the story felt, so different from the gritty voice I hear in Gaiman’s other world. The prose was gorgeously laid down and so easy to fall into. The entire time I was reading, I wanted to read each passage out loud because it sounded so true (and beautifully stated), I wanted to copy nearly the entire thing into my quote book, and I damn near cried when it was over. Haunting. And easily my favorite Gaiman novel.
Almost immediately after I’d finished Ocean, I dove into Neverwhere, which I had picked up a while back but had passed over when the new release showed up on my doorstep. Neverwhere sounded more traditionally Gaiman, with grit and heart and bravery and an entire mythology to revel and roll around in. It was like the Low Men from Stephen King’s fictionverse have invaded Alice in Wonderland, only in London. With a dash of Tuesday Next. And keys, of course. Who doesn’t love a story with all of that?! Aside from Oceans, Neverwhere now resides at the very top of my Gaiman tower. Such a happy tower it is, too.
I can’t wait to see where I’m going to tumble into Mr. Gaiman next. All reading adventures should be so twisty-turny…