Writer Neil Gaiman always seems to be in the headlines. If it isn’t because he invited Jonathan Ross to host the Hugo Awards, it’s because he might be adapting Sandman into a movie or because he has grown a beard. In other words, Gaiman is enormously popular. And rightly so. He is a very talented writer. But as we all know, it takes more than just talent to become a success.
Why, then, are people so fascinated with Neil Gaiman?
I believe it is because his writing fits in with two other things people can’t get enough of — Monty Python and Stephen King.
The British comedy group Monty Python made its debut in 1969 with the first episode of the BBC comedy TV series Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The Circus stayed on the air until 1974, after which the group went on to film classic movies such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life Of Brian and The Meaning of Life. Not long ago, the group announced a number of reunions shows. All of them sold out in minutes.
The impact of Monty Python on comedy and popular culture can’t be overstated. The absurd sense of humor and the mix of low-brow and high-brow have even coined a new word, “Pythonesque.”
What Gaiman shares with Python is the juxtaposition of the absurd and the mundane as if the pairing is perfectly normal. For example, where Python in The Holy Grail let the Knights of the Round Table charge the filming location of a historical documentary, in the short story Chivalry, Gaiman has one of the Knights knock on the door of a lonely widow who happened to buy the Holy Grail in the Oxfam shop down the block. This type of story telling can also be found in Gaiman’s novels, for example in Anansi Boys, where it is perfectly normal that the trickster and spider god would have two kids.
Anansi Boys brings us to what Gaiman shares with Stephen King. Arguably the most popular horror writer of all time, King tells many of his stories from the point of view of a child, even when that child has become an adult. King uses this point of view most notably in the novella Stand By Me and the novels It and The Shining, as well as most recently in the latter’s sequel, Doctor Sleep. Apart from Anansi Boys, Gaiman uses the point of view of the child, as well as the child as an adult, for example, in Coraline, The Absolute Death and, most recently, in The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
One more thing that Gaiman shares with King, and which makes them into the compelling storytellers they are, is that they know when to end a story. Both Gaiman and King draw you in with a narrative that ends the moment just before all hell breaks loose. Instead of reading the story’s conclusion, you stare at the last sentence while in your head images of the end play out followed by a rumble and crash as the world you just immersed yourself in mercilessly comes tumbling down. This writing strategy is deployed by Gaiman in the short story The Price, about a cat that protects a family from evil. King uses this strategy in one of his novels written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, Thinner. Never before has a slice of pie been as frightening.
There are writings by Gaiman where these influences come together, most notably in Good Omens, although that could have something to do with the fact that he had a co-writer in Terry Pratchett. In Good Omens an angel and a demon live undercover among humans as owners of an antique shop which is open on appointment only.
I believe that Neil Gaiman is as popular as he is because he is a talented writer who merges the absurd with the mundane, innocence with loss of innocence, while having complete control over his own storytelling.
And because he looks like a rock star.
In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.