Thu 19 Feb 2009
Originally posted in the comments to this article over at Tor.
Well, first off, I can guarantee that you won’t enjoy all of Neil Gaiman’s work equally. He isn’t an author who tells the same story in the same way again and again. I can say as someone who spent years on his site’s forum that there are plenty of disagreement of which of his works are the best. Really, you can even name distinct factions among his fandom. Sandman, Death, Good Omens, and American Gods seem to be the major poles, although others may have emerged in the years since I was a regular there.
For me anymore, that variety is a deal breaker. I burnt out on fantasy in the middle of college. I’d read more than enough of the field to know every cliché and every trick, and I started hating everything I was picking up because I’d already seen it. It made me sad, because the itch that drove me to read fantasy in the first place didn’t go away. So, for a few years I mostly reread old favorites and bad science fiction (plus, totally broke in college, so that saved me money).
When I got a real job and some money, I didn’t return to fantasy. No, I went with comic books, which were just starting to regularly put out trade paperbacks and graphic novels. The Dark Knight Returns had been on my bookshelf since college and the first half of Maus I bought for a college course. The Crow, Watchmen, and the JLA all followed. Then I picked up the first volume of Sandman.
I love series. I always have. Part of the problem I was having with fantasy novels were single novels that I enjoyed were often part of a series in which the same story is told again and again, although most authors at least have the decency to change the main characters every few books. There’s nothing wrong with it, since that was what many readers want. Heck, some of those old favorites I mentioned are just those sorts of books, which I happened to run into before I got burnt out.
The Sandman is a series, but it’s not the same story again and again. Instead it changes characters and story types, moving from boy stories to girl stories, from minor characters to guest stars, from pop culture to Shakespeare, from mythology to harsh reality. And yet it builds a world and single story out of 76 issues (10 volumes) (4 Absolutes) that ends up being more than the sum of its parts. It is a staggering piece of literature.
The variety did not stop when Neil moved on to other works. The comedy of Good Omens, the fairy tale of Stardust, the mythological weight of American Gods, and the many deaths of Batman – these are all different kinds of stories with different needs and different audiences. Neil does a good job of entertaining each of those audiences, but it should not be a surprise that some fans of his puppet show are not enthralled by his children production about two small fish and a parental figure.
Neil Gaiman is big deal author not because of he has a big following, but because he has many different big followings. He even has fantasy snobs like me, who appreciate good authors who don’t sell me the same thing I loved before again and again.