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A Beginner’s Guide to Neil Gaiman
Empress Eve   |  

Don’t ask me why, but I’ve been working all day under the assumption that today was November 9, 2008. It’s only now in the evening that I realize that it’s actually November 10, hence the reason why this Neil Gaiman feature celebrating the author’s 48th birthday today is coming so late (sorry Neil!).

For those of you who don’t know about Neil Gaiman’s contributions to the geek world, I both pity and envy you — pity because of the deprivation you’ve experienced thus far; envy because if you follow the advice I’m about to give you, a whole new world is going to open up to you — and it’s a truly exhilarating experience.

One thing you’ll learn pretty quickly is that Gaiman is versatile enough to dabble in various literary categories, so there’s something out there for everyone — even the kids. Since Neil’s been writing for a such long time, you might not know where to begin. So, to help you out on your impending magical, eye-opening, life-changing journey, here’s a list of Neil Gaiman writings you need familiarize yourself with immediately (trust me, you’ll be thankful you did).

[Happy Birthday, Neil!]

Comic Books

Sandman

SandmanYou dig comic books? Then you’ll love Vertigo’s Sandman comic book series, especially if you like the idea of words with pictures, but perhaps not so much the capes and cowls of superhero tales. Go ahead and start with Book 1 The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes of this fantasy series about the Dream king Morpheus who we meet after his decades-long imprisonment. It won’t be long before you’re plowing through the rest of the volumes to find out what happens to Dream and his siblings in the Endless, including his big sister Death. (If you have a few extra bucks, spring for the Absolute editions).

1602

Oh, so you like the capes and cowls, eh? What if your favorite Marvel characters were transported to Elizabethan England? Gaiman’s Marvel 1602 does just that. The 8-issue comic book series sees the superheroes and mutants of the Marvel universe in the 17th century where their super powers aren’t as easy to hide as it is in modern times. You’ll have a knowing smile when you come across Queen Elizabeth I’s trusted adviser Sir Nicholas Fury and his apprentice Peter Parquagh, as well as Carlos Javier and his special students.

Novels

Neverwhere

Not so into comic books, but still like a bit of fantasy? Then grab a copy of Neverwhere, the novelization by Neil Gaiman of his British television miniseries. While I didn’t go for the TV series all that much, the novel was thoroughly enjoyable and reminiscent of Doctor Who. The story sees the very average Richard Mayhew have a supernatural experience that changes his entire life, taking him on a magical, yet dangerous adventure through a parallel London underground.

American Gods

While Neverwhere was overwhelmingly British, the New York Times bestseller American Gods is ultra American, but in a way you’ve never experienced or expected. The novel blends fantasy and mythology with modern-day American scenery, as its main character Shadow travels across the country as a bodyguard for his new boss Mr. Wednesday, a mysterious figure who has the strangest acquaintances. If you’re into audio books, then definitely pick up the American Gods Unabridged Audiobook, read by Guidall George, who does a wonderful job verbally portraying the various unique characters [I mistakenly had that Gaiman read this one; thanks to QHMotU for reminding me that he didn't]. Once you’re done with American Gods, you can move on to its spin-off Anansi Boys.

Stardust

You may have seen the movie Stardust and maybe didn’t think it was all that great; while I enjoyed it, I can honestly say that it didn’t move me the way the book did. The Stardust novel is a true fairytale about a young naive boy on a quest to find a fallen star to present to the girl he loves in an effort to win her heart. But once the boy leaves home for the first time and crosses into the magical Faerie realm, he comes up against dangers he couldn’t possibly imagine and people who are nothing like those he’s known his whole life. The Stardust Audiobook, read by Gaiman, is definitely worth a purchase if find yourself really taken by this fairytale. As bluestockingchic comments here below “I think that the Stardust graphic novel is worth noting. The Charles Vess illustrations are spectacular, and really enhance the story” and I totally agree, this is a great way to experience this story (it’s illustrated novel, not a ‘comic book’). I had trouble searching for Amazon, since there’s several versions of the book, but here’s the direct link: Stardust: Being A Romance Within the Realms of Faerie. [Thanks bluestockingchic!]

For The Kids

The Graveyard Book

Graveyard BooksWhile The Graveyard Book, Gaiman’s latest offering, is considered a young adult novel, with “graveyard” in the title, you know it’s going to be creepy — and it is. The book is about a boy named Nobody who is orphaned as an infant, so the inhabitants of a nearby graveyard take him in and raise him. Cute, right? It would be if only Nobody didn’t have to stay in hiding in his deathly abode from the knife-wielding killer who murdered his entire family. Once again, The Graveyard Book Audiobook is recommended; you can sample it at the HarperCollins site and you can even watch Gaiman read the entire book in a series of videos from his Graveyard Book tour.

Coraline

You might have heard about Henry Selick’s upcoming stop-motion 3D animated film Coraline, which is sure to be a family favorite. But did you know that it’s based on Neil Gaiman’s children’s book CoralineCoraline? Yup. But if you’ve seen any previews of the movie, I have to tell you that Gaiman’s tale is much a much darker one. The young Coraline is bored in the new home she’s moved to with her family, so she goes exploring and finds a parallel home to her own, complete with an Other Mother and Other Father. Everything in the Other home seems so much more enticing, perhaps a bit too good to be true … because it is. See? Pretty scary for the kids, I’d say. But you don’t have to be a child to read this one, it definitely crosses over for adults.

For the Little Kids

The Wolves in the Walls

There’s even some for the littler ones: Following in Gaiman’s spooky story tradition, The Wolves in the Walls is the author’s storybook tale about — you guessed it — wolves that come out of the walls at night. Only the young Lucy believes that there’s wolves there, but when she tries to tell her family, they don’t believe her, of course. They come up with several explanations as to what the sounds in the walls could be, some just as frightening, but there’s a reason why they refuse to believe it could be wolves. A plus for this book is that it has illustrations by long-time collaborator Dave McKean, who did a lot of the Sandman covers, and also directed MirrorMask, which had a screenplay by Gaiman.

[UPDATED]

For The Real Little Kids

The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish

The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two GoldfishBy popular suggestion, I’m adding The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, a storybook about a little boy who decides to swap items with his friend — his dad for his friend’s two goldfish. What makes this story so adorable and hilarious is that the dad actually gets swapped! This is a fun tale for the very little ones, who might otherwise be frightened by the thought of wolves in their walls. When my niece was 10, she graduated to Wolves and began reading Goldfish to her then 6-year-old brother, and they just laughed and laughed. The storybook comes with a CD of Neil reading the story — always a major bonus. The kids will love to read along with Neil (and so do I!). [Thanks to all for suggesting I add this title.]

Now all we need is a Neil Gaiman nursery rhymes book, and we’ll be all set.

[/UPDATE]

Like I mentioned in the introduction to this feature, Neil has a lot of works under his belt, so this is just a primer to the world of Neil Gaiman. To all my fellow Gaimanites, what do you recommend for the beginner?

  • https://tapenoisediary.wordpress.com JayCruz

    I always had an interest in Neil Gaiman’s stuff, but never got around to do the research, so this guide did the job for me. Thanks for writing this. I’m bookmarking and using it as a wishlist.

  • http://aeandsometimesa.blogspot.com/ Kaethe

    Actually, I always recommend Good Omens as the best place to start, particularly for those who haven’t read any Pratchett yet. It’s so funny and so accessible and everyone loves it.

  • Raphi

    I agree with Kaethe–start with Good Omens. It introduces to you Pratchett and Gaiman, and it’s extremely funny.

  • http://booksandmovies.today.com Carrie K.

    No Anansi Boys? I loved it – and the audiobook read by Lenny Bruce is fantastic.

  • http://geeksofdoom.com Empress Eve

    I did mention Anansi Boys in the part where I talk about American Gods. Since this is a “beginner’s guide” new readers should go with AG first.

  • http://booksandmovies.today.com Carrie K.

    Oops – sorry I missed that. I didn’t care for American Gods, but loved Anansi Boys.

  • naomi

    I would suggest ‘The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish’ for younger (4-7 yrs old) readers. I picked up ‘The Wolves in the Walls’ for my granddaughter at that age, but she found it frightening. Now, at age 9, she thinks it’s pretty cool!

  • QHMotU

    I don’t think Neil read the audio for American Gods…. Anyway, the first work of his I read was Books of Magic, which I think is a good comic-book introduction to his work, especially for those who may not want to commit to the full run of the Sandman right off. :) I second the recommendation for The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, too.

  • http://geeksofdoom.com Empress Eve

    @QHMotU
    Thanks for reminding me, I don’t know what I was thinking. I love that audiobook too. I really feel like I know Shadow from it.

  • Claire

    I started with Good Omens back in the mid 90s when I was ploughing through Pratchett’s Discworld at the same time. Recently I started devouring everything Gaiman I can find in all genres. There is something for everyone in the Gaiman world, and I think Good Omens is a good introduction.

  • bluestockingchic

    I think that the Stardust graphic novel is worth noting. The Charles Vess illustrations are spectacular, and really enhance the story.

  • Kelsey

    Good Omens got me into Pratchett the first time I read it (my roommate had a bunch lying around to carry on to), and then when I bought it for myself, I started on Gaiman. A recommendation of mine is to check out his short stories as well, whenever possible. Anthologies are your friend… ;)

  • coleen

    I love American gods :) I’m reading Sandman now. Neil Gaiman is the best

  • Keith

    I have to agree with the masses and say “Good Omens” – I was a Sandman fan 1st – but good omens is a great blend of Biblical Mythology with modern humor. Amazing book.

  • Bernie Clarke

    I adore the Stardust, but the beautiful graphic novel is my favourite Neil Gaiman book of all time, simply stunning.

    Neil’s ‘The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish’ was my favourite book to read to the kids while they were growing up! Should definitely be there on the ‘For the little kids’ list!

    Also, his short stories in the book ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ and ‘Fragile Things’ are awesome to read in the bath. ;)

  • Amy K.

    Years ago, while at the library, my husband picked up Pratchett’s “Going Postal” on a whim. He enjoyed it so much that I read it, and we quickly began devouring all of Pratchett’s books, including his collaboration with Neil Gaiman. After finishing it I said to my husband something like: “I’ve enjoyed every one of this Neil Gaiman guy’s books I’ve ever read.” So we made sure we read anything by Gaiman that we had somehow missed. Then I remembered, and remarked that I’d read through the Sandman series when I was in high school and had taken a comic book drawing class, and I thought it was written by Neil Gaiman. So we reread all of those as well. What I like is that all of his work, no matter what the story or subject is (or form for that matter) they’re all smart, funny, deep, detailed and yet at times very lighthearted. How he manages to deftly combine all those things is a huge part of his talent.

  • Katie

    American Gods is easily my favorite Neil Gaiman book. I believe Smoke and Mirrors was the first book of his that I read, though. Either that or Good Omens. In my opinion, both are great starting points.

  • Kathrin

    I started with the German version of American Gods and was totally overwhelmed. I always recommend Neverwhere, especially to those people who have been to London before. Everyone loved it.

    The short stories in Smoke & Mirrors and Fragile Things are also magical. Since they are not available in German I often fail to persuade friends to read them, as I am obviously the only one to be able to read in English :o)
    I remember reading a very short story by Neil written on a single sheet of paper in a Waterstone’s shop, and it gave me the creeps (it was about a chair having been bitten by a werewolf, but I cannot find it on the net). Great, great work. So far I enjoyed everything I read by him.

  • http://www.facebook.com/minervagonzales Minerva

    Hi Neil, I wish you included Fragile Things here :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/minervagonzales Minerva

    Oh and by the way, American Gods is my favorite out of all your work!!! :) xoxoxo Thank you for writing it. I am absolutely in love with Shadow, I am actually looking for his qualities in my future mates! :P LOL xoxoxo

  • Jacqueline

    I fell in love with Gaiman after reading Neverwhere.. So that would be my first read recommandation. The whole idea was brilliant! Especiallyas I am a slave to the game Mornington Crescent on the bbc radio show ISIHAC..The names of the stations have always intrigued me. (ps I am Dutch…so maybe it’s just me…)

  • http://calle72.multiply.com/ Patricia

    Hello, this page is excellent! could I translate it into portuguese, giving you all the credit, of course?

  • Susanna

    Details about the stage adaptation of Neverwhere, please?

  • http://robinjester.wordpress.com Robin

    personally, for the comic crowd, I would start out with Mr. Punch. the story is brilliant and mysterious and whimsical and dark but hopeful, and the graphics are out of control. the McKean/Gaiman combo is orgasmic. sandman for sure too, but punch started me.

    i also agree with those that said starting with his short stories for the non-comic works is a good idea. he is so lyrical and interesting that short stories are a manageable chunk until you get so addicted you can sit down and read through an entire novel in one sitting. there is exactly one author i can do that with – i’ll let you guess who… ^_^

    good post tho. (if this was fb, i’d “like” it)
    cheers

  • http://geeksofdoom.com Empress Eve

    Thanks for all your comments, everyone!!!

    While I love Good Omens as well, I wouldn’t say that some who doesn’t know Neil’s work and wants to get into it should jump right in with that one, because it wasn’t just him on the book. I think readers should get Neil head-on first, then go into books like Good Omens.

    For those of you suggesting The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, I wholeheartedly agree and have updated the post to include it.

    @Robin
    Thank you for ‘like’ ing it :-)

    @Susanna
    I see that the Neverwhere play will be in Chicago at the Lifeline Theatre.

    Previews: Apr 30 – May 9, 2010
    Regular Run: May 10 – Jun 20, 2010

    Here’s the link:

    http://www.theatreinchicago.com

  • Chris R

    Check out: Where’s Neil when you need him. Great cd

  • rayne

    for a beginner, i’d recommend that he/she start with Good Omens. I really, really enjoyed this one. Though what I actually read first was Anansi Boys. Oh no, I read Stardust first. I looked it up after I watched the movie. Anyway, Good Omens, then Anansi Boys. ;D

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