“I wouldn’t be who I am without libraries. I was the sort of kid who devoured books, and my happiest times as a boy were when I persuaded my parents to drop me off in the local library on their way to work, and I spent the day there.” Neil Gaiman
If I were to ask you to name an author who has written newspaper articles, novels, graphic novels, short stories, picture books, comic books and screen plays; someone who can create song lyrics, a daily blog and hysterically funny tweets, what name would you come up with? The answer, of course, is Neil Gaiman. He was born in 1964 in the UK, and learned to read by the age of four. Some of his earliest favourite books were Alice in Wonderland and the Narnia Chronicles – is it any wonder he grew up to write fantasy?
Before he started down his path as a fiction writer, Neil was a journalist. His first two books were biographies. But once he teamed up with illustrator Dave McKean his new career as a comic book author was born. Gaiman and McKean have worked together on many projects, but the one that really stands out for me is The Sandman. The first comic book of the series was published in November 1988, with a cover date of January 1989. The series begins with a magician’s attempt to capture Death, in order to achieve immortality. The attempt fails. Instead of Death, Death’s brother Dream, aka Morpheus, is imprisoned and kept in a bottle. Time passes, and Dream eventually escapes from his prison. Once free, Dream goes in search for his items of power, which were lost during his long time in captivity. The story carries on from there, and over several volumes the reader meets Dream’s siblings – Death, Delirium, Desire, Destiny, Despair, and Destruction, as well as a host of other unforgettable characters from myth, history, the DC comic book universe, and the unique mind of Neil Gaiman.
Stardust is one of my favourite Neil Gaiman books. To me, it’s the ultimate fairy tale for adults. It starts off in the village of Wall, so named for the high stone wall that is guarded night and day to keep people from crossing into the land that lies beyond. The hero of the story is Tristan, a young man of mysterious origins. He falls in love with the most beautiful girl in Wall, and in order to win her over, pledges to bring her a star that has fallen to earth beyond the Wall. Meanwhile, in that land, the fallen star (who takes the form of a woman on earth) is also being pursued by a power-hungry band of brothers and a witch who wants to cut out the star’s heart. In true fairy tale fashion, all of these storylines eventually come to a most satisfactory conclusion, but not until great dangers and temptations have been met and overcome.
According to the author, the inspiration for The Graveyard Book came from watching his little boy pedal his tricycle in a graveyard near their home. This book about a child is also a compelling read for adults. Each chapter is a short story, recounting events in the life of Nobody Owens. The timeline is set so that each chapter takes place two years apart, culminating with Bod, as he’s also known, leaving his childhood behind him. This book has also been published as a graphic novel, and as an audio title. In order to fully appreciate Gaiman’s genius, I’d suggest all three formats, especially if you’ve never read one of his books.
Considering what I do for a living, it’s inevitable that I’ll have a bias towards an author who has admitted to loving libraries as much as I do. That being said, Neil Gaiman is a source of continual surprise and delight to me in whatever he does, and I recommend that everyone should discover the eerie, unforgettable worlds he has created for themselves.