Tag Archives: Neil Gaiman

Gods and Umbrellas: Alex Reads Neil Gaiman


Neil Gaiman makes you believe in magic—fairy tales and swords and sorcery sometimes, but mostly, and in what I’ve decided is my favourite genre of fantasy, corner-of-your-eye magic. Magic that coexists and overlaps with the everyday world that we know, but magic that simply chooses not to reveal itself, or we choose on some subconscious level not to notice because we’re content to go on with the lives we’ve deemed sensible. A hidden world in the cracks and forgotten places of London? Gods and spirits eking out a living in modern day America? Ancient spirits residing in the hill of an overlooked and overgrown graveyard? It’s all there, and you really do believe that these things can exist and we can all be walking straight past them every day.

I haven’t read Sandman or any of his graphic novels, but mostly ended up in his novels and short stories and the interweave of bizarreness and normalcy within. The fact that he won an award for an Arthur Conan Doyle/H.P. Lovecraft crossover fanfiction (A Study in Emerald) should tell you on its own that his imagination is versatile, playful, somewhat macabre, and has no problem magpie-ing other people’s creations and toying with them until they’re made into something new. Gaiman’s recently released a Sleeping Beauty retelling, and it’s not the first time he’s played with fairy tales either, given Snow, Glass, Apples, a chilling reimagining of Snow White from the stepmother’s point of view, Snow White being a vampiric creature she’s trying to stop from sucking the life out of her husband and kingdom; and Stardust, his own ‘fairy tale for adults’.

Does this mean he’s one of those ‘let’s take well-known pre-established and much-loved ideas and make them into something gritty and mature and horrifying’ authors? In some ways, yes, but he manages not to be so overt about it, and you always get a sense of fun as an undercurrent to even his most serious works (yes, even you, American Gods). The same way he blends the magic with the mundane, he manages to blend things we recognise with his own original ideas, which purees together into a beautiful creative smoothie that’s very interesting to read. Continue reading

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Filed under Alex Reads

Night Vale, Neverwhere and the Magic of Audio Theatre

Hello listeners. Except, of course, you are not listeners but readers, since I work within the written medium. The medium of sound, however, has recently swung into my focus and imagination.

Cards on the table, I’ve been plugging into Welcome to Night Vale, a podcast written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor detailing, in the style of a perfectly believable community radio station, the hijinks of a completely unbelievable town. Night Vale is an idyllic little community in the middle of the arid desert, occasionally graced by mysterious glowing clouds that drop small animals on everyone, black angels that help little old ladies change light bulbs and strange hooded figures making use of the dog park which the townsfolk are advised not to enter. There is also a hovering cat suspended in space in the men’s bathroom of the radio station that the voice of Night Vale, Cecil, is rather fond of.

It’s been likened to The Twilight Zone for the ears, bizarre (and funny) stories strung together by the running narratives of the townspeople and the gentle, amiable news broadcast style delivered to us in Cecil’s mellow voice. There’s a mystical sense of magical realism and it’s utterly odd in the most engaging of ways. Roll with it, don’t ask too many questions, suspend your disbelief and do not talk to the angels, they do not exist and only tell lies.

With Night Vale’s explosive popularity, musings on the audio medium have begun to waltz in my mind. The radio drama seems like a genre based in another age, belonging to an era of gathering around the wireless with the family, and everyone has bob haircuts and Dad’s smoking a pipe. When radio was the most prominent technology, of course audio theatre was running wild, popularity booming from the 1920s to the late 1950s. Even when television was wowing everyone with the fact that it existed, the radio play genre was still going strong.

We need not look further than War of the Worlds to note the power of audio theatre, with the famous case of H.G. Wells’ alien invasion story quite literally capturing the imaginations of a nation. A lot of the radio play was presented, much like Night Vale, in news bulletin style to provide a sense of realism… which worked so well that people flew into a panic and (reportedly) believed that aliens were actually attacking the world. It was a rather cruel trick to pull in the pre-war tension, but it was clever nonetheless. I doubt anyone has stumbled across Night Vale and thought it was real (lord help them), but it raises the question: is the audio medium still so powerful? Continue reading


Filed under Pop Culture Ponderings

Fall of the Divine: the Power of Belief as a Story Device

Rise of the Guardians art

I finally got around to watching Rise of the Guardians—such an arduous, complicated task it is to sit down and watch a movie, I know. In any case, I can now join in WB’s adoring mouth-frothing over the visual spectacle that is this animated delight, and sit and ponder the key concept of film, which is one that I’ve noticed popping up all over the place.

The Guardians, for the uninitiated, are a crack team of magical spirits tasked with protecting the children of the world—Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman and the Tooth Fairy, joined reluctantly by a mischievous and somewhat angsty Jack Frost. The great evil this squad of awesomely re-imagined childhood heroes is combating is Pitch the Nightmare King, alias the Bogeyman, who’s crawled out of the woodwork with a flourish and is concocting a plot to do away with the Guardians and snuff out all the hope in the kids of the world.

And how does he go about this? Why, by destroying the children’s belief in them. The entire reason Pitch is so bitter and fabulously maleficent is because kids stopped believing in and fearing him, causing him to lose power and fade into the shadows. He can’t be seen or touched by humans, but he can swan around blasting us all with Jude Law’s evil monologues, and he can defeat the Guardians by killing the idea of them.

This is the idea that fascinates me: the concept that belief in something gives it power. Continue reading


Filed under Pop Culture Ponderings