When I was young and impressionable my brother would read The Sandman comics, written by Neil Gaiman, to me. Our mum was not too pleased when she found out, due to the graphic violence depicted in some of the stories, but I don’t remember being bothered by it. I was too fascinated by the mythology, and by the concept of the secret lives and worlds happening within and alongside the everyday.
The first Neil Gaiman novel I read on my own was Neverwhere. The plot itself plays out a bit predictably, like a modern fairy tale, but that wasn’t what captivated me. It was the world itself; the way an ordinary thing in the everyday world could be turned into a realm of the strange and weird, the way it made the magic world fit within the mundane one and it made more sense than if it wasn’t there at all. Like the mythology and world-building within The Sandman, it felt like having a secret curtain pulled back just for me to glimpse behind.
When I read American Gods, it was like all those ideas from the earlier works had grown up. It was subtle and grounded, balancing both the macro focus of the world and the micro focus of the personal stories. Once again, I was being allowed into a secret world that made sense, that had rules and interactions with the familiar world; one that was still magical and strange and scary, yet as the same time felt utterly familiar because it was so deeply reflecting the ordinary.
These are the stories that shaped me. They formed and changed the way I thought, and the way I saw the world. They created a taste for fantasy that was grounded in reality, stories that revealed a hidden meaning behind the everyday, tales that brought out secret worlds within familiar spaces.
Not every story is an epic. Not every epic has to feel like one. The potential impact of the small tales about ordinary lives muddling through extraordinary things can be just as impressive. Neil Gaiman is a master at this kind of storytelling.
Within the pages there is an obvious love of language; poetry written into every sentence. There are dark and fantastical worlds, haunting images and emotions, characters who are familiar as old friends, and those who are taken from fairy-tales and nightmares. All of this is set within something accessible, stories that twist your mind and perception but never lose the sense of this could really be happening. They are reality blended seamlessly with dream, until you can no longer be sure of the edges, of what is reflection and what is solid.
Neil Gaiman, his words and his worlds, will live in my heart always. He created the stories which helped create who I am in life and in imagination. I’m drawn to dreamlike and fantastic worlds in all media forms now, because of the impact his writing had on me.
Since the very first, I’ve wanted to live in the worlds he created. My friend @TinyLionRoars recently called me “a PunkRock Pixie” — a description I love, by the way. To me, this shows that even my tastes in things such as fashion and make-up reflect his influence (among similar others); some of the colors I’ve dyed my hair would never had happened if I hadn’t fallen in love with Delirium’s ever-changing hair in The Sandman, for instance.
Whatever your tastes, I hope they’ve enriched your life as much. Keep dreaming…