Top 5 and Why: Neil Gaiman’s Best
“The purpose of a writer is to tell it new. Tell your story.”
Neil Gaiman has written for comics, novels, television, and film. Regardless of his storytelling medium (and this Top 5 takes them into account), he is a gifted and talented writer and has produced a rich body of work. It’s a tough choice but if you had to choose, which are your Top 5? Here’s mine and why.
1. The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Maybe it actually is the ocean. And maybe Lettie’s grandmother really can make the moon full every night, maybe she has been alive long enough to have witnessed the Big Bang. It’s a deceptively simple tale that feels like escapism—until you realize that it isn’t. This book reads like a breeze but is multi-layered. I love it–and not just because it’s “the latest.”
Childhood memories are sometimes covered and obscured beneath the things that come later, like childhood toys forgotten at the bottom of a crammed adult closet, but they are never lost for good.”
By contrast, it was the Sandman graphic novels that put Gaiman’s work on the world stage. Sandman tells the story of Dream of the Endless, a personification figure, also known as Morpheus. The series of eight begins with Morpheus’s capture by a human magician who imprisons him for 70 years. Morpheus escapes and must regain his lost strength and put his kingdom back. It’s often been said that he’s an unrelatable protagonist, but we definitely cheer for him, and develop empathy for him as the series moves on.
Sandman rewards multiple reads and you’ll likely pick up connections that you didn’t make the first time if you go back to it. It blends characters from history and from myth, and draws something new and vital from its mix of influences. A top choice for those interested at all in comics, fantasy, or displays of graphic narrative.
But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?“
3. American Gods
For many others, American Gods is the top choice. No doubt, this it makes #3 as this is a serious novel (and seriously long!) that puts Gaiman on the badass novelist map. Combining a clear and effective prose style, and an ability–sometimes even humorous–to tackle large themes. American Gods Combines mythology, alternate worlds, and realist techniques to create, you could argue, one of the richest and most imaginative books published in the 21st century.
Oh, and with our constant pursuit of books-as-games, it has not one, but two endings. Okay, it’s not a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, but it does feature gods, demigods, I Love Lucy, zombies, leprechauns, and an awkward-weird sex scene. Will it change the way you look at mythology, storytelling, history, magic? No. Well, I can’t speak for you, but it is a wild joyride.
I can believe things that are true and things that aren’t true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they’re true or not.”
Narrative is one of most rewarding experiments that authors can make. I see so many inspiring and clever approaches. Coraline is one of them. Rather than a vague narrator, this one pretty clearly is focused on feeling-thoughts. An ideal POV to tell a story about a child: an adult’s to observe things a child would not while maintaining the child sympathy. Gaiman brings it off with a skill that you wouldn’t notice unless you were looking for it.
And the matter-of-fact tone is important, because this is a strange and scary book. When Coraline finds a door that opens into another flat strangely like her own, but subtly different (thus making the classic transition from here, where we live, to there, where the mysteries begin), we believe what we’re told. And when she discovers a sinister woman there, who looks a little like her mother but has eyes that are big black buttons, the matter-of-factness of the woman’s response when Coraline says “Who are you?” is both disarming and terrifying.
And so begins a struggle for Coraline’s soul. Gaiman is too intelligent and subtle to invoke the supernatural–this is much more mysterious than that–and too wise to let Coraline face the horrors alone. And wouldn’t you know it, she has an ally in a sardonic and feline cat. Feeling shades of ‘Alice‘ and ‘Jabberwocky‘.
I’m your other mother.”
In this Victorian England the little town of Wall has a guarded gap in a wall, and on the other side of the gap is Faerie. Most of the time nobody is allowed to cross, but every nine years there is a faerie market, and people come to Wall from all over both worlds to visit there.
Stardust is a clever postmodern fairytale with enough understanding of what a fairytale is and enough contemporary sensibility to make it work. It’s delightful, and it believes in itself despite its absurdity. What it isn’t is fantasy—at least in the modern sense.
You have to believe. Otherwise, it will never happen.”