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A Beginner’s Guide to Neil Gaiman
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Empress Eve   |  @   |  
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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?

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