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He’s won more awards and honors than most people could ever imagine. Among those honors are a World Fantasy Award, a Nebula Award, a Carnegie Medal, a Hugo Award, a Newbery Medal, a Ray Bradbury Award, and multiple Locus awards. He’s also the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of the Arts (Philadelphia). Do you know who he is?
He began his writing career as a journalist who also had a particular talent for writing biographies. One of his early books traced the life of the colorful Douglas Adams, author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” He went on to develop a talent for penning graphic novels and made a name for himself when he wrote the famous “Sandman” series that earned distinction as the first graphic novel to win a World Fantasy Award.
That’s right: I’m talking about the prolific Neil Gaiman, author of both children’s and adult books, whose writing includes not only novels, but also graphic novels, picture books, short story collections, screenplays, and films. What makes his books intriguing is the fact that they never adhere to a single genre; instead, it is common for him to test the bonds of horror and fantasy with touches of humor in a single book.
If you are unfamiliar with Gaiman, “The Graveyard Book” is an excellent starting point. This curious children’s book begins with a frightening scene during which a small boy witnesses the murders of the rest of his family. Miraculously, the little boy escapes the carnage and toddles to a graveyard nearby. The graveyard is not deserted. In fact, it is inhabited by a whole community of benevolent ghosts who recognize the boy’s helplessness and vow to protect and raise him. And so they do. They assign him the name “Nobody” (“Bod”) and see to his needs, as they also prepare him for a life beyond the graveyard. A story that begins as horror but morphs into a unique take on compassion and love.
Another possible children’s choice: “Coraline,” an incredible tale of a mirrored universe accessed through a locked door in a young girl’s home. When young Coraline ventures into that other world, she discovers “other” parents who closely resemble her own, but there is something ominous about their black button eyes. These parents aim to possess her forever and seem determined to prevent her from returning to her family. Coraline’s challenge, to recover the souls of other captured children and those of her parents, is sparked by a memory of her father’s devotion and love. Filled with magic and horror, this fairy tale features a most unusual wicked witch.
For those who would rather tackle an adult title, consider Gaiman’s skill with short stories. “Fragile Things,” a collection of some thirty different tales, features stories and poems that vary from bleakly humorous to oddly disturbing. “Other People,” for example, is a brief little lesson that explores the nature of the afterlife in hell. The newly arrived learns what torture and self-realization are all about. In “How to Talk to Girls at Parties,” two young men make a late discovery that all is not what it seems. And “A Study in Emerald,” which was the recipient of a Hugo Award for best short story, is Gaiman’s wildly creative effort to thrust Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes into the world of H.P. Lovecraft.
Gaiman’s latest novel for adults is clearly among his better works. “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” is a flashback that blends together magic, horror and epic confrontation with the forces of evil. An unnamed man has returned to his childhood neighborhood to attend a funeral. While in the area, he locates a pond he remembers from a childhood adventure. And so the flashback begins. Memory tells him that as a young seven-year-old, he had become a conduit for the forces of evil. Fighting that evil would have been impossible, but the boy had powerful allies in the gifted women of the Hempstock family, who sheltered him and unleashed benevolent forces at his behest. A dreamy, eerie tale of discovery and courage.
Fortunately, the library has a large collection of Gaiman’s talented works. If you have not already discovered these amazingly inventive stories, it’s time for a visit to Gaiman’s incredible worlds.