One would be hard-pressed to find an author who has so radically changed the face of their genre as Neil Gaiman. In a world dominated by the likes of literary giants such as Tolkien and George R. R. Martin, carving out your own space in science fiction and fantasy is hard enough as it is without the added hurdle of finding a unique voice in the saturated market. Gaiman, in his decade-spanning career, has done this and more.
I was more than a little surprised to hear that the British author was celebrating only his 60th birthday this November; within those years he has crammed in such a legacy that it’s a wonder he had the time to do anything other than write. Whether or not you’re familiar with his books and comics, it’s impossible to escape the reach of Gaiman’s influence on 21st century media. In addition to his dozens of critically acclaimed comics, novels and poetry, he has TV and film adaptations coming out of his ears. Most recently, in 2019 Amazon Prime released a six-part TV adaptation of Good Omens, a book he co-wrote with the legendary Terry Pratchett thirty years ago. Good Omens alone has also had a separate stage production in 2013 and a radio adaptation broadcast the following year. The series based on his novel American Gods has been renewed for a third season, and Gaiman has a slew of Hollywood films under his belt such as Stardust, Coraline and How to Talk to Girls at Parties. If this isn’t enough to convince you of the extent of Gaiman’s notability, his writing credits for a seemingly boundless number of renowned productions such as Doctor Who and the English dub of Princess Mononoke should not be overlooked.
With such a vast anthology it can feel like you’ll never reach the end of Gaiman’s work, and it’s glorious. I, like many, had staved off reading his books for years until the news of the Good Omens adaptation hit the news and suddenly you couldn’t walk into Waterstones without having to first wade through dozens of copies of black-and-white books. I picked one up on a whim and devoured it in less than a day. Since then I have collected and read an array of his books, and his popularity has been vindicated to me. Neverwhere is a particular favourite of mine, a book centred around the idea of a second London underneath the one we know, where familiarity is turned on its head; the Night’s Bridge is a terrifying crossing with lurking monsters that couldn’t be further from its real-life counterpart, and the Angel Islington is a glowing, winged being straight from heaven. It is a striking example of Gaiman’s unmatchable ability to tease the magic out of mundanity.
It isn’t hard to spot the many influences on Gaiman’s writing, such as the very British humour reminiscent of Monty Python, or the characters plucked straight out of folklore, but every aspect is reimagined and remoulded until it’s hard to believe they were anything but the work of Gaiman’s imagination.
As for the reason behind Gaiman’s success, one could go on a deep internet dive and pick apart every step he took to reach the bestseller lists, but I put it down to the fact that he is just that good. Gaiman’s writing is effortlessly immersive; after reading his books it was hard for me to come to terms with the fact that there isn’t a London Below with angels and magical floating markets as in Neverwhere, or that shooting stars can’t turn into beautiful women to fall in love with like in Stardust.
We are now heading into the depths of both winter and another nationwide lockdown. As such, we could all do with some escapism. Neil Gaiman clearly did not foresee how his books could provide such valuable relief from what has been a difficult year for most, but the worlds he has created for us continue to be perhaps the easiest way to inject yourself into a fairytale.
Image: Anna Kupstova