I thought I'd write about one of my favourite authors, for today's post. However, I do not know how widely he is read here in Sri Lanka... So make this your chance to take the plunge and try something new!
Bestselling author Neil Gaiman has long been one of the top writers in comics and also writes books for readers of all ages. He is listed in the Dictionary of Literary Biography as one of the top ten living post-modern writers, and is a prolific creator of works of prose, poetry, film, journalism, comics, song lyrics, and drama. In case you have not seen it as yet on Facebook, he is the creator of American Gods and Good Omens, both of which are mega TV serials.
I have been a fan for a while now, and I thought I'd share some books which are available here at libraries and bookstores. I have read all of these and definitely recommend them to anyone who is a lover of fantasy fiction.
Although you may not have read the book, chances are you may have seen the movie which was released in 2009. It is dark fantasy horror, but don't let that put you off. It is still a children's story. It is about a young girl named Coraline whose curiosity gets her into unimaginable trouble.
The story begins with Coraline and her family moving into a new home. Her new home has 14 doors, but one of them is locked, and on the other side is only a brick wall. The day after they moved in, Coraline goes exploring, only to find a passage to another flat in another house just like her own. But it's also different. At first, things seem marvellous in the other flat. The food is better. The toy box is filled with wind-up angels that flutter around the bedroom, books whose pictures writhe and crawl and shimmer, little dinosaur skulls that chatter their teeth. There's also another mother, and another father, and the story takes a sinister turn when Coraline realises they want her to stay with them and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go. She discovers that there are other children trapped there as well, lost souls behind the mirrors. Coraline is their only hope of rescue. She has to fight with all her wits and all the tools she can find if she is to save the lost children, her ordinary life, and herself.
This is a book for both children and adults as both parties will go away from it resonating different ideas. For example, as an adult, I was left wondering about the 'Other Mother' - what prompted her to behave this way?
If you like to know what a modern, darker Alice in Wonderland would look like, then this is the book for you!
The Graveyard Book
Neil Gaiman made history when he became the first author to win BOTH the Carnegie and Newbery Awards for the best children's book published in 2008. It subsequently also won the Hugo award which is awarded for books of the fantasy/sci-fi genre. This is another dark fantasy for children.
After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own. They name him Nobody Owens which is then shortened to Bod. He is protected by a solitary guardian (who is later revealed to be a sort of reformed vampire) Silas. The bulk of the book is about Bod's adventures in and out of the graveyard as he grows up. As a boy, he befriends a girl called Scarlett Perkins.. Bod is captured by Ghouls and then rescued by his tutor Miss Lupescu, who turns out to be a werewolf. He befriends Elizabeth Hempstock, the ghost of an unjustly executed witch. Once he tries to attend regular primary school with other human children, but it ends in a disaster when two bullies make it impossible for him to maintain a low profile.
Years pass by, and Scarlett and her mother return and they befriend a historian called Mr Jay Frost who turns out to be the man Jack who tried to kill Bod as a baby. Bod is chased by Jack and four other members of the Order, the Jacks of All Trades. Bod and Scarlett escape to the graveyard where he is able to defeat each Jack. At the end of the book, Silas gives now 15-year-old Bod some money and a passport with the name of Nobody Owens. He says his goodbyes to his ghostly family and friends and leaves the graveyard to embark on a new life.
I laughed, cried and had a lot of other emotions in between as I went through this book. Ghosts, vampires and werewolves have never been more endearing, and this is highly recommended.
(This is not a book for children - it is very much for adults)
This is the first in a series of books and introduces the characters. The rest of the series (For example the Anansi Boys) expands on them.
Days before his release from prison, Shadow's wife, Laura, dies in a mysterious car crash. Numbly, he makes his way back home. On the plane, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America. Wednesday offers Shadow a job, to drive him around and basically run errands. Little does he realise what he is getting into! Together they embark on a strange journey across the heart of the USA, whilst all around them, a war of epic proportions threatens to break out.
Shadow is introduced to Gods that have made their way across the seas to the New World when their worshippers disembarked centuries ago. The chapters of the main story are interspersed with these stories of arrival. In his travels, Shadow uncovers many a mystery both about himself and the world he lives in. He meets Gods who formerly originated in Ireland, India, Russia, Egypt and Scandinavia, to name a few. In the end he manages to spectacularly 'save the day' after the big reveal of his parentage and the master manipulators of all time (I will not give a full synopsis here as it will spoil the story for anyone who wishes to read it!).
I read this as a member of a Book Club here in Colombo and the discussion was wonderful and weird. The book covers such a plethora of topics and themes that they cannot all be discussed here. On the surface you encounter Religion and its meaning in the world, the many Gods we follow (including Technology and Media), mythology, family, trust... the list is nearly endless.
All I can say is: do not be put off by the somewhat erratic or meandering style you encounter at the beginning - everything ties up in a way that makes you wonder at the complexities of Neil Gaiman's mind and his ability to rival a spider weaving a web. Also do not shudder at the sheer size of the tome, as it is definitely worth the read!
The Sleeper and the Spindle
This is definitely one of my favourite fairytale reworkings of all time. It also brings together the award-winning combination of Gaiman and Riddell who both won accolades for Graveyard Book.
It is the artwork and the amazing cover that first caught my eye at the bookshop. The dust cover is transparent so that half the artwork is on that and the other half on the hardcover itself - magical! The illustrations inside are black and white sketches but with tinges of gold that pop out at you and highlight tiny details.
The story is a mash-up of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty with a very definite feminist twist. No handsome princes coming to rescue you in this ... For those who like strong female characters - this is the tale for you!
On the eve of her wedding, a young queen sets out to rescue a princess from an enchantment. She casts aside her fine wedding clothes, takes her chain mail and her sword and follows her brave dwarf retainers into the tunnels under the mountain towards the sleeping kingdom. The sleeping curse has gone astray and is spreading across the land. After many an adventure when the young Queen finally reaches the tower she is greeted by a withered old woman who lives there alone. They ascend to the top of the tower and find the sleeping princess... However, all is not what it seems. The twist in the tale is wholly unexpected and will leave you wondering "Did that just happen?"
Definitely worth reading if you are a fan of the unusual.
Hansel and Gretel
Yet another fairytale by a master wordsmith. This time Gaiman teams up with a different illustrator to bring us the darker aspects of the fairytale world.
Anyone who has read the original stories of the Grimm Brothers would know that what is found in the Ladybird and Disney versions is a very far cry from what was first written. Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm did not shy away from harsh truths. Their tales are often macabre and there is nothing politically correct about them.
In this volume, Gaiman has taken the horror and fascination inherent in the story of the two children lost in the woods and made it his own. It is a slim volume which is overwhelmingly black in colour. This foreshadows perfectly the tale within. It is not for the faint of heart and definitely NOT for little kids.
However, there are no unexpected twists and this is not a mash-up or a reworking of the original. The characters and incidents are identical to the Grimm's tale. So I would say this is a great addition to your collection if you love fairy tales and mythology in general.
Stardust is another of Gaiman's books which has been adapted for the silver screen back in 2007.
The story begins in the tiny town of Wall—named after the stone barrier which separates the town from a grassy meadow. Tristran Thorn has fallen in love with the beautiful Victoria Forester and for the coveted prize of her hand, he vows to retrieve a fallen star and deliver it to his beloved. To do this he must climb over the ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining.
Once he reaches it he realizes that the star is actually a magical being - a young girl. Also attempting to claim the star for their own is a trio of princes. Whoever finds her earns the Kingship. Septimus, the youngest of the three, is power mad; he will stop at nothing to be the victor even if it means walking over the corpses of his fellow prince. However, a dark and more sinister threat approaches the evil witch queen. If she and her sisters eat the heart of the star then their youth will be restored, and in doing so most of their already deadly powers too. The story follows the adventures of Tristran and Yvaine (the star) in the world of Faerie. Together they face many dangers and, most importantly, Tristan grows up and matures. After many twists and turn that will leave you gasping, the story has its requisite happy ending.
Neil Gaiman is the author of many more books, and they are available in stores like Vijitha Yapa, Sarasavi and Makeens. They can also be borrowed from both the Public Library and the British Council.
So here's wishing you a magical journey into the land of fairytale and fantasy!