I first met Neil Gaiman when I read Good Omens. I fell in love with the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley, who had competed for so long over the centuries that they had more in common with each other than their employers. When the Apocalypse comes, they decide to save the world, because they kind of like it. I was expecting the humor (which was smart and silly), but I was not expecting the giant wallop of Truth that came with it. From there, I read Neverwhere and I was hooked. Then I read Stardust and American Gods and Anansi Boys and Sandman and Coraline and his collections of short stories. I have pre-ordered The Ocean at the End of the Lane and I will be there at his DC signing.
First, Neil Gaiman believes in the ability of people to change. In each of his books, a character is taken out of his or her element. They must struggle and fail and grow strength until they break out of the rut they are supposed to follow to do something brave and extraordinary. Or they learn something profound about the world or themselves that allows them to do the right thing. Charlie, Crowley and Azerophaile, Coraline, Richard, Tristran, even Dream of the Endless, the eternal manifestation of an idea, is forced to change. I profoundly believe in the vastness of human potential, how anyone can rise above what is expected of them to do something great. To change the world.
Second, he sees the world the way I do. He creates worlds within our world, under it or behind it. Layers of culture and history, of emotions or echos of pain all living on top of each other all at once. The world is not just the present. It is what is, what was, what will be, and what we imagine. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Our pain and joy is the pain and joy experienced by every human being throughout the centuries. Our actions are the actions of a thousand stories. We are never alone. We walk where thousands of people before us have walked. We pass through ghosts of history every day. And as Joseph Campbell said, “The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stand this afternoon on the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the traffic light to change.”
Third, he realizes that sometimes life can be really shitty. Bad stuff happens. People die. Worlds end. But there is always humor and hope.
Lastly, Neil Gaiman is an inspiring artist and person. He speaks with such clarity, simplicity, honesty, and wit. He encourages us to create, to love, to be wise and kind, to take risks, to make mistakes. He champions libraries and the free exchange of information and stories. He collaborates with his readers to make art. He challenges us to be ourselves, because only we can make the art that is in our heads.
I will leave you with one of my favorite pieces of advice from Neil Gaiman: his commencement address for The University of the Arts.
(Video Link: http://vimeo.com/