Prince Of Stories: The Many Worlds Of Neil Gaiman by Hank Wagner, Christopher Golden and Stephen R. Bissette (book review).
Neil Gaiman is one of the most popular writers of weird fiction today, with a prolific range that includes comics, novels, TV show episodes and even Hollywood movies. He’s one of the few writers who became famous off the back of genre fiction (specifically, the ‘Sandman’ series of comics) but worked his way into the literary mainstream, regularly authoring books that win awards and make it onto newspaper bestseller lists. Besides being a popular writer, he’s also regarded as a good writer, his works being well received by luminaries as diverse as Stephen King and Norman Mailer.
So, while genre writers don’t normally get the full biographical and bibliographic treatment from mainstream publishers such as St Martin’s Press, ‘Prince Of Stories: The Many Worlds Of Neil Gaiman’ is precisely that sort of work and a good one at that. Apart from the index and a few short essays, including a rather affectionate foreword by Terry Pratchett, the book falls into twelve main parts. The first is mostly biographical, covering his early years and various writings pre-dating ‘Sandman’, which is the subject of the second part and takes up more than 120 pages! While that may seem excessive at first glance, ‘Sandman’ is thoroughly dissected and analysed, as befits the graphic novel that arguably raised the medium to an intellectual (and literary) level it had never achieved before. Gaiman’s other graphic novels and comic series make up the third and fourth parts of the book.
Part five covers the novels up to and including ‘Anansi Boys’ (2005). These include some of Gaiman’s best known works, such as ‘Good Omens’, ‘Neverwhere’ and ‘Stardust’. At this point, it’s worth describing the format of the book. The authors, Hank Wagner, Christopher Golden and Stephen R. Bissette, have chosen to adopt an approach that treats each work more or less independently, with an introductory essay of varying length followed by sections on characters and places featured in the work, discussions of adaptations or subsequent developments, then trivia and, finally, one or two quotes from Gaiman himself on the work being discussed. Slotted in between the sections concerning single works are more wide-ranging essays or interviews that develop themes or arguments relevant to the works in question. So, for example, part five includes a Q&A conversation with illustrator Charles Vess, who worked with Gaiman on the illustrated versions of ‘Stardust’ and ‘Blueberry Girl’.
The sixth and seventh parts of the book cover the children’s books and short stories and, again, some of these, like ‘Coraline’, have gone on to enjoy a wider audience as films or on TV. While Gaiman is much known as a poet or songwriter, part eight covers this side of his output, noting his fondness for particular forms of poetry like the sestina. While a very slight chapter, this section of the book is interesting if only because snippets of poetry do turn up in some of Gaiman’s other works, including ‘Sandman’.
Part nine brings the reader to the TV and film scripts for which Gaiman has become well regarded. One of the first was his script for the US version of the anime ‘Princess Mononoke’, a Japanese film that was enjoyed by American critics as well as audiences. Another early script was for ‘Day Of The Dead’, an episode of cult SF series ‘Babylon 5’ that aired in 1998. British readers will also recall that Gaiman has recently written episodes for ‘Doctor Who’ including the fan-favourite ‘The Doctor’s Wife’, but sadly these were aired after this book as published in 2008.
Part ten includes a couple of oddments that don’t belong anywhere else (according to the authors at least) while part eleven looks into the life of Gaiman from his early years to the present. This section includes a long Q&A-style interview (more than fifty pages’ worth!) and ranges across family history, literary influences and the process of writing. Finally, part twelve wraps things up with appendices of various sorts such as timelines, bibliographies and footnotes.
While this book isn’t cheap, it’s very thorough and Gaiman fans will surely enjoy every word. Highly recommended.
(pub: St.Martin’s Press. 546 page illustrated hardback. Price: $29.95 (US), $32.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-312-38765-5)
check out website: www.stmartins.com