With the Starz television adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods coming out at the end of April, hype surrounding the fantasy author has never been higher. Recent radio adaptations of Good Omens (co-authored with the late Terry Pratchett), Neverwhere and Stardust have brought these cult novels to new audiences. Gaiman has guest starred on The Simpsons, written for Doctor Who and Babylon 5 and has campaigned extensively for the rights of creators and distributors of graphic novels with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF). The life and works of this eclectic author continue to be as strange as the stories he writes, so dive in and learn more about the weird world of the Dream King.
Gaiman’s odd-job career before he became a cult hit included journalism, short runs of mainstream comics, a biography of Duran Duran and Don’t Panic: The Official Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Companion, but the real breakthrough came when he was offered the chance to take an old DC Comics’ character, the Sandman, and resurrect him with a new version. What we ended up with is a very far cry from Wesley Dodds, gas-mask-wearing 1930’s vigilante. The Sandman graphic novel series is the story of Morpheus, the god of Dreams and his weird family, the Endless (Destiny, Death, Destruction, Delirium, Desire, Dream and Despair). Along the way, Gaiman brings in a wide array of characters including Lucifer, Cain, Abel and Eve, Titania and Auberon, Orpheus and even brief cameos from DC heroes like Batman and Green Lantern. It is also one of the series often cited when defending the concept of comics as on a par with great literary classics, mixing together fairy tales and mythology with 80’s and 90’s culture and original concepts of gods, angels and monsters. A word of warning, though: Sandman isn’t for the faint of heart, with a strong vein of horror running alongside the fantasy, and its content may upset sensitive readers.
Find Dream Country and The Wake (volumes 3 and 10 respectively) in our Quick Reads Graphic Novels section.
In 1990, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (who was already a well-established fantasy writer by this point) published their collaborative novel, Good Omens, a comedy about the end of the world. We’ve reviewed Good Omens elsewhere, but the combination of Gaiman’s wry whimsy and Pratchett’s smart satirical sense of humour is utterly perfect and brought Gaiman to the attention of a wider fantasy audience. He followed this up with some of his greatest novels: Neverwhere, (a novel adaptation of his own BBC television series) about a fantastical version of London that an ordinary person falls into; Stardust, a romantic fantasy romp about a man called Tristran who sets out into fairyland to retrieve a fallen star for his beloved; and American Gods, a brilliant novel about Shadow Moon, a prisoner who gets caught up in a world-spanning battle between the old gods and the new. Good Omens, Neverwhere and Stardust have recently been adapted as radio plays by the BBC, Neverwhere was originally a TV series and Stardust was made into a film in 2007 starring Claire Danes and Charlie Cox (partly filmed in Norwich!)
Find the film adaptation of Stardust in the DVD Lobby at 791.43 and see if you can spot Elm Hill, the cathedral gate and Britons Arms (under the guide of ‘The Slaughtered Prince’ tavern)!
Until this point, Gaiman’s work had largely been aimed at mature audiences, not shying away from dark themes and violent content (though Good Omens and Stardust are slightly lighter, and he had collaborated with Dave McKean on a picture book in 1997). However, Gaiman created an instant children’s classic with his 2002 twisted fantasy novel Coraline. Coraline is a young girl who moves with her parents into a strange old house divided into flats. She is angry at her parents for moving her so far from her friends and when she discovers a tunnel into another world, with an ‘Other Mother’ and versions of her friends and family with black buttons for eyes, she thinks it is much better than her real home. But the Other Mother wants her to stay forever…and there’s a lot more to this creepy world than meets the eye.
Find Coraline in Quick Reads at 823.91.
In 2003, Gaiman published The Wolves in the Walls, a picture book about a girl called Lucy who is convinced she hears wolves in the walls, inspired by a nightmare one of Gaiman’s children had. It was illustrated by Dave McKean, someone who has collaborated with Gaiman a number of times over the years, his creepy asymmetrical art perfectly matching Gaiman’s weird stories, most notably in the 2005 film Mirrormask, which McKean designed and directed.
Find The Wolves in the Walls in our picture books section, next to Quick Reads, at 649.58.
Gaiman revisited the American Gods character of Mr Nancy (Anansi the Spider) in Anansi Boys in 2005 (here’s hoping that gets an adaptation when American Gods is finished!) and then released The Graveyard Book in 2008, heavily inspired by The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, about a boy who grows up in a graveyard and is raised by ghosts and various other spooky creatures. He also collaborated on a big-budget film script for the CGI Beowulf adaptation by Robert Zemeckis in 2007, and most recently he has written a book retelling tales from Norse Mythology, showing that his fascination with epic mythological tales continues undaunted.
Find The Graveyard Book in Quick Reads at 823.91, either to read as a book or listen to as an audiobook. Find Beowulf in the DVD Lobby at 791.43.
Fans of Neil Gaiman are holding our breath for 30th April when the first episode of Bryan Fuller’s television adaptation of American Gods, which will expand the story beyond Shadow Moon – the trailers look incredible. And maybe, with Gaiman’s work getting a higher profile, we’ll see that long-awaited adaptation of Sandman or Good Omens.
To find out more about Neil Gaiman and his work, read Neil Gaiman: Rock Star Writer by Charlotte Guillain in the Book Zone at 781.66.
Cassidy, K. (2013) Neil Gaiman. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Gaiman (Accessed: 30 March 2017).
Gessner, J. (2010) Dream sketch in my Brief Lives hardcover. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/plural/ (Accessed: 30 March 2017)
Jasenlee (2007) House On The Rock Carousel. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_on_the_Rock (Accessed: 30 March 2017).