Saturday, January 5, 2008

Adventures in the Gaiman-verse

Recently, I read two novels by revered fantasy/horror writer Neil Gaiman. I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on them.

Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett)
This book is pure joy. It helped get me through a serious illness. I grew up reading Douglas Adams' brilliant Hitchhiker's Trilogy, and this is probably the funniest thing that I have read since then. The subject matter and writing style are different, but the dry humor—by turns irreverent, self-deprecating and absurd--are similar. As a friend of mine said, it's all in the footnotes.

My favorite characters were Aziraphale and Crowley. Their respective angelic-ness and demonic-ness, and the attendant supernatural powers, manifest in very creative and humorous, but believable ways. Also, I'm not usually into slash, but let's face it—such a couple! They are written with a very genuine and even tender connection.

Armageddon was also done creatively, and the Four Horsemen were updated for our modern world. Well...three of them were, anyway. I love the children in the book, and the implied location of Eden. The book idealizes childhood a bit much for me, but as another friend pointed out, perhaps that's the point.

The story has a couple of philosophical points that, while not totally original, ring true for me: the idea that Good and Evil need each other to define themselves, and that the consequences of our actions should be reason enough for the choices that people make. It is also probably no accident that both Aziraphale and Crowley would rather be on Earth than anywhere else.

Anansi Boys

The Afro-Caribbean trickster god Anansi was a secondary character in Gaiman's novel American Gods; but he—and more specifically, his sons—take center sage (sometimes literally) in the sequel.

One of the jacket reviews refers to the story as “spooky”. I don't agree—although in fairness, I have a pretty high threshold for “spooky”. If American Gods had a very serious, heavy tone, Anansi Boys is both funnier and more fun. I would say that the books are different in the same ways that Odin and Anansi are different.

As usual, Gaiman draws on mythology and archetype in ways that are very enjoyable. There is also a strong theme about the power of Art—specifically Story and Song. I really liked the way that Anansi's sons both grow and change to become more whole. The female characters are also quite endearing—especially Maeve Livingston. The only thing I am fuzzy on are the four old ladies from Mr. Nancy's neighborhood. I don't know if they're supposed to represent specific mythological characters, or just the wise women that work quietly in communities all across the Americas.

Since finishing these books, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Neil's personal weblog. I also wanted to cry when a friend read his short story, "The Price", at the weekly bardic circle I attend. I look forward to further adventures in the rich and magical universe of his work.

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