Posts Tagged With: neil gaiman

“The Graveyard Book” Readalong, Parts II & III

So I didn’t quite get my Graveyard Book post up last week… the combination of grad school and the new job have been a bit rough, but I only have a semester and a half left to go after this one.  I can’t wait to finally be done with school!

This will just be a quick post, because I just finished a paper and need to go to bed before waking up at 5:30 am to go to work.  I’ll need lots of caffeine to avoid being Zombie Librarian.

Warning – from this point forward, there will be major plot spoilers from Chapter 4 through the end of Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book.”

I love the way that Neil Gaiman creates the theme that the world isn’t entirely bad, and that not everything that seems scary is inherently evil.  Liza Hempstock and the Sleer are both great examples of this.  The chapter where Bod gives Liza a headstone was my favorite part of the entire book; even though everyone told Bod to stay away from Liza because she was a witch, she ended up being a true friend and a good person who just happened to get shafted with some bad luck.  I’m glad that Bod had the good sense to look past everyone else’s prejudices and make a new friend.  And the Sleer?  The Sleer is just awesomely creepy, and I love that it’s not malevolent, but just has motivations of its own.

Ghouls, on the other hand, are just nasty.  So are Jacks of All Trades.  Even though Gaiman created a lot of characters that are rough on the outside but just misunderstood, he allows that there are still evil things in the world that will try to harm you, whether or not you are nice to them.

I’m not sure that I particularly cared for the way that the book ended (even though I loved the book).  I realize that it’s meant to be a parallel to “The Jungle Book,” but let’s face it… a fifteen or sixteen year old with a pocketful of cash is going to have a hard time being thrust into the world without some sort of direction, especially if he has no idea about modern life. I don’t think that going for pizza with Silas counts as understanding the world, and even when he went to school, Bod was very sheltered.  I fear for him a bit.  Perhaps Neil Gaiman will revisit Bod in a short story later on and let us know that he found a place for himself.  I’d like that.

I still totally think that Silas is a vampire.  There was that part at the end where he was talking with Bod about how he used to do bad things, as bad as Jack, even.  When he said that, I kept thinking to myself “Yeah, he’s a vampire alright.”

What did everyone else think of the book?

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Horror/Gothic | Tags: , , , | 16 Comments

The Graveyard Book Readalong, Part I

Hey everyone!  Welcome to this week’s discussion of the first part of Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book.”

For anyone just joining in, the readalong is hosted by Carl over at Stainless Steel Droppings.  Links to other people’s thoughts can be found here. Oh, and from this point onward there will be major plot spoilers from chapters 1-3. You have been warned!

One of the things that I’ve noticed thus far is that each chapter is almost a story in itself.  In the first chapter, we learn about a little boy who came to live in a graveyard after his parents were murdered by Jack-who-isn’t-the-Ripper with a big knife.  I had initially thought that he was Jack the Ripper, but then a later chapter mentioned airplanes, which weren’t around in the late 1880s.  Either way, I thought that the idea of a boy being raised in a graveyard was delightfully spooky, and adorable at the same time.  The ghosts are the kind of people that I’d love to spend time with, as they each have their own quirky personalities.

In the second chapter, we learn about how the little boy known as Nobody Owens makes his first friend who isn’t a dead person.  The world beneath the hill reminded me of something straight out of Lovecraft, and I kept wanting to tell Bod that going down there was a bad idea.  I liked how Gaiman made fear itself to be something more dangerous than the monsters in the hill, which is a nice little twist on a familiar theme.

Now, for the third chapter.  This was my favorite, because Bod’s new guardian is such a typical Russian mother.  I am jealous that Bod got to eat borscht and dumplings and beet salad every day, and I’m perturbed that he didn’t appreciate it.  At the same time, I can see how there’s a gap in understanding between Bod and Miss Lupuescu were coming from two completely different backgrounds.  Neither one respected the other until disaster struck.

I like the fact that each chapter is so distinctive and tells its own story.  It makes the book quite amenable to a readalong format, because the story is broken down into small chunks and there aren’t major cliffhangers from one section into the next.  Neil Gaiman’s a great storyteller; this is rapidly putting me into a Halloween mood!

Does anyone else think that Silas is a vampire?

Categories: Fantasy, Horror/Gothic | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments

“Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman

During the past month I’ve been participating in a groupread of “Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman.  This is a brief spoiler-free review for those of you who are curious about the book and haven’t read it.  For a more in-depth discussion, see:

“Neverwhere” is an urban fantasy novel by Neil Gaiman.  It tells the story of Richard, an average man in a dysfunctional relationship with his overbearing girlfriend.  One day, Richard stumbles upon a bleeding girl lying upon a sidewalk.  His decision to help her is life changing, as he finds himself sucked into the nightmarish wonderland of London Below.  London Below is inhabited by those individuals who fell through the cracks of society (and reality itself), and once Richard begins to see its denizens, he becomes invisible to people in the world above.  He follows the girl whom he rescued, whose name is Door, in the hopes of finding his way home, only to discover that Door’s life is threatened by the same people who murdered her family.

…and the villains!  Croup and Vandemar are a pair of bumbling but humorous mercenary bad guys who enjoy their job far too much.  You can’t hate them, because it’s very hard to take one’s villains seriously when they’re trying to talk with a mouth full of toads.

The atmosphere of London Below is one of the biggest strengths of this book.  Gaiman draws on both the mundane and the absurd to create a world that is simultaneously beautiful and menacing.

One of the weaknesses of “Neverwhere” is the general lack of character development throughout the novel.  Most of the characters don’t change, but Richard’s perspective on them does, so I’ll forgive it.  Most of the characters in London Below are unabashedly themselves.  Characters represent different archetypes and seem to have come out of a fairy tale, but one of the overreaching themes of the novel is that life isn’t always what it seems and that there is more to people than meets the eye.  The minor characters are extremely memorable, such as the Amazonian woman named Hunter who is searching for a fabled Beast or the Old Bailey who talks to birds and trades in favors.

Overall, I’d highly recommend this book.  It reminds me of a darker version of Alice in Wonderland, but in a more modern setting complete with subway rats, floating markets, and plenty of hidden dangers.  Even though the book has some flaws, the story is enjoyable and imaginative.

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I read this book as part of the Once Upon a Time Challenge.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Neverwhere Groupread, The Conclusion

I’m late posting this because I’ve been at BEA all week.  Many thanks to Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings for hosting this groupread!  I’d heard many good things about Neverwhere before reading it, but never expected to be introduced to such a creepy/whimsical/wonderful new world!

Rather than following specific questions this week, we decided to just post our thoughts on the ending of the book.  For those of you who haven’t been reading along, this means major plot SPOILERS.  I’ll post a spoiler-free review in the near future for anyone who hasn’t read the book and doesn’t want to ruin the fun.

So, without further ado…

One of the most fascinating characters to me throughout the entire story has been Hunter.  She reminds me a bit of a female comic book character.  Based on her appearance earlier in the story, Richard mistakes her for a prostitute, but at the same time she saves his life over and over again.  I didn’t expect Hunter to betray Door, but at the same time I didn’t think that it was out of character for her at all.  Hunter has one major goal throughout the book, and that is to kill the Beast.  Betraying Door brought her one step closer to doing so.  Hunter highlights the grey area between good and evil, and must face the consequences of her decisions, putting herself into a position where she is unable to kill the Beast herself.  Hunter’s betrayal shows the complexity of human nature because even though she sold out her friends, she still wasn’t necessarily an evil person.

The Marquis was one of those characters that I kept thinking was the bad guy, but then it turns out that he wasn’t.  Meanwhile, Islington was a frickin’ angel!  I had thought that he’d be trustworthy.  One of the morals of this story is that appearances can be deceiving.

I’m impressed by the way that Richard grows up towards the end of the novel, but I did kind of want to slap him and turn him around because I already knew that there was no way that he could just return to his old life after developing a sense of imagination and coming into himself.  I was just like “No, Richard!  Don’t do it!”  I was so glad that he was able to return to London Below, and I’m glad that he didn’t get back together with Jessica.  I was pleased with the ending; it just felt right.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction | Tags: , , , , | 13 Comments

Neverwhere Readalong, Part II

Happy Memorial Day, and welcome to part two of the Neverwhere readalong.  This week’s discussion covers chapters 6 thru 12 of the novel.  I’m loving the book thus far; it’s got a perfect balance of darkness, magic, and humor.

I’m probably going to be a bit behind on visiting people’s blogs.  I’ll try to get to all of them today, but I’ve got a lot of catching up to do because I’ve been away from internet/cell phone service/etc. for the weekend.  I went camping with my family in Pennsylvania, which was both relaxing and exhausting.  I read a couple books while I was there, and I’ll be posting reviews of them over the next few days.

The following discussion will contain spoilers.  I’ll post a spoiler-free review of “Neverwhere” once I’ve finished reading it for anyone who isn’t following along.  For those of you who are, be sure to pop over to Carl’s blog to see the rest of the discussions.

Dear Diary, he began.  On Friday I had a job, a fiancee, a home, and a life that made sense.  (Well, as much as any life makes sense.)  Then I found an injured girl bleeding on the pavement, and I tried to be a good Samaritan.  Now I’ve got no fiancee, no home, no job, and I’m walking around a couple of hundred feet under the streets of London with the projected life expectancy of a suicidal fruitfly.

1.  Chapter 6 begins with Richard chanting the mantra, “I want to go home”.  How do you feel about Richard and his reactions at this point to the unexpected adventure he finds himself on?

I like seeing the way that begins to come into his own during this week’s chapters.  At first he’s not willing to believe that what’s  going on is real and keeps asking questions based on what he knows above.  He acts very sensibly and has no imagination.  As the story progresses, he begins to lose his inhibitions and begin to accept the nonsensical and wonderful world below that he’s slowly becoming a part of.  Seeing him pass the Ordeal of the Key seemed like a rite-of-passage that marked his full acceptance of London Below, and the Ordeal physically marks Richard’s realization that life isn’t as black-and-white as he thought it was.

2.  The Marquis de Carabas was even more mysterious and cagey during the first part of this week’s reading.  What were your reactions to him/thoughts about him as you followed his activities?

At first I thought that he might actually be the mystery employer.  I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw him talk to Croup and Vandemar and realized that he was on Door’s side.  Pity about the crucifixion.  He seemed like an honorable chap, if nothing else.

3.  How did you feel about the Ordeal of the Key?

I touched on this a bit in my answer to the first question because I think that the Ordeal marks Richard’s acceptance of the topsy-turvy underworld.  If he’d have given in to the voices in his head that told him he was insane, it would have been a rejection of London Below.  Instead he affirms the potential to see the world in a different way, which is a potential that I think he’s had all along.

The ordeal itself was nightmarish, but Gaiman’s details here made it even more absurd.  I loved the part about the cup of tea.

4.  This section of the book is filled with moments.  Small, sometimes quite significant, moments that pass within a few pages but stick with you.  What are one or two of these that you haven’t discussed yet that stood out to you, or that you particularly enjoyed.

It’s things like seeing Old Bailey telling bad jokes to birds, or seeing Door and Richard awkwardly drunk off their asses on wine from Atlantis, or even Lady Serpentine’s breakfast that make “Neverwhere” so special.  Gaiman uses silly nonsensical details to create a world of wonder and intrigue.

5.  Any other things/ideas that you want to talk about from this section of the book?

Croup and Vandemar are such fantastic villains.  I still can’t hate them and find myself laughing at them every time I see them.  It’s hard to hate someone who chomps on Tang dynasty statues or tries to talk with a mouth full of frogs.  Croup and Vandemar are both dangerous and delightful, and I look forward to seeing more of their shenanigans.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | Tags: , , , , , | 21 Comments

“Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders” by Neil Gaiman

Over the past two months, I’ve been participating in a groupread of Neil Gaiman’s “Fragile Things,” as a part of the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge, hosted by Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings.  For those of you who haven’t been following along, this is a spoiler-free review of the book.

This book was the first time that I’ve read any of Gaiman’s work.  I think that it’s a nice way of being introduced to him, as it allows the reader to experience a great variety of his stories and poems, which range in tone from being lighthearted and whimsical to focusing on darker adult themes.  As it’s hard to give an overall synopsis of a collection of short stories, I’m going to go over some of the highlights of the collection.

“The Problem With Susan” – This was a short story that answered the question of what happened to Susan from C. S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” after he abruptly cut her out of the story for being interested in boys and makeup.

“October in the Chair” – In this story, the months of the year are personified and sitting around a campfire.  October tells an eerie ghost story.

“The Monarch of the Glen” – The longest piece in the collection, this novella is set in Gaiman’s American Gods universe.  It tells the story of a character named Shadow as he visits Scotland.  It’s got Viking/Beowulf mythology, which was pretty neat.

“The Day the Saucers Came” – This poem was an awesome nerd-out.  It made me happy.

“Locks” – A poem about a father telling his child about Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

These are just a few of the selections in the book that stood out to me.  There are many more interesting stories, as well as the handful of stories that I didn’t care for.  As a whole, the stories tend to be well-written and cast an interesting perspective on mythology, legends, and fairy tales, as well as day to day life.  These stories are best enjoyed with a cup of coffee on lazy autumn mornings.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Horror/Gothic, Short Stories | Tags: , , , , , | 13 Comments

Fragile Things Groupread, Part 8

This week concludes the groupread of Neil Gaiman’s collection of short stories entitled “Fragile Things,” hosted by Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings as a part of the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge.

The image to the left is the cover from the Hungarian version of the book.  I thought it was interesting to see the various international covers from the book, as they each provided different ways of interpreting the atmosphere of the collection.

Today’s post will involve spoilers from the last four stories/poems in the book.  Later in the week, I’ll be posting a spoiler-free review of the book as a whole for anyone who hasn’t been following along.

The Day the Saucers Came

That day, the saucers landed.  Hundreds of them, golden,

Silent, coming down from the sky like great snowflakes

I loved the opening lines of the poem.  I’m sure part of it has to do with the first snow flurries of the season that fell in DC yesterday.  Poor narrator’s a wee bit narcissistic, isn’t he?  I liked this one.  The imagery was nice, and who doesn’t love the zombie apocalypse?

Sunbird

In the introduction, Gaiman writes that this story was a birthday present for his daughter.  The story describes the cyclical nature of time and legend, featuring the Epicurean society as they quest to sample everything edible on the planet, culminating in the Egyptian Sunbird.  I found it both cute and horrifying at the same time, but then again, those who decide to chow down on legendary creatures deserve their fate.  Then again, part of my thoughts on the story might stem from a mild resentment at being allergic to nuts and shellfish…

Inventing Aladdin

As I’ve said many times before, I love Neil Gaiman’s poems.  He did such a good job setting the tone of this one… imagining Scheherazade trying to come up with stories and finding inspiration from ordinary events in her day-to-day life.  Unlike the rest of us, she really couldn’t afford to get the occasional writer’s block when telling new stories.  I liked the contrast that Gaiman draws between the very ordinary routine and her extraordinary circumstances.  This poem was quite well done.

The Monarch of the Glen

Earlier in the book, we were introduced to Smith and Mr. Alice, and most of us tended to agree that the duo deserved to die (or worse) for their actions.  In this book, they weren’t so dark, and in fact almost seemed likeable.  Of all the characters in the story, I thought that Jennie was the most interesting.  I felt bad that she and Shadow couldn’t be together in the end.  They’d have made a rather cute couple.  I also enjoyed the fact that Shadow seemed to have only a vague understanding of his past, revealed to us only through nightmares and bits of legend.  He didn’t seem to understand his place within legend until it was too late to turn back.

Concluding Thoughts

“Sunbird” and “The Monarch of the Glen” both interested me in part because they told stories that were very cyclical; the same events happened throughout the centuries, but our characters didn’t understand until after the fact that they were becoming a part of the very same pattern.  I loved the poems this week.  Overall, these selections were a great way to conclude the readalong.  It seems to have gone by so quickly, even though we’ve been doing this for eight weeks now!

 

Categories: Fiction, Horror/Gothic, Short Stories | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Fragile Things Groupread, Part 7

Welcome to Week 7 of the Fragile Things Groupread!  Time has flown!

This readalong is hosted by Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings as a part of the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge.

As usual, there are no set discussion questions.  I’ll talk a bit about each of this week’s four short stories.  The cover art at left is from a Russian copy of “Fragile Things.”  I think it’s cool to see all of the foreign covers.

From this point forward, there may be spoilers.  Onward!

In the End

This story draws on the book of Genesis to create a different sort of parable in which everything is pretty much okay.  Mankind is outside the garden, and Earth and Breath are the ones corrupted.  I like it.

Goliath

This story reminded me a bit of Billy Pilgrim’s experiences with the Tralfamadorians in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five.”  You’ve got this dude that encounters aliens, and throughout the story we can see both his own perspective and the perspective of people in the average world who think that he’s crazy when he mentions them.  In the end, there’s no way of knowing whether the main character is crazy or not.

Pages From a Journal Found in a Shoebox Left in a Greyhound Bus Somewhere Between Tulsa, Oklahoma and Louisville, Kentucky

Hmm… this is the second short story based on a Tori Amos album.  I still haven’t listened to Tori Amos, which might be why this story didn’t do much for me.  It was alright, but not one of my favorites.  Conceptually it’s interesting, but it felt unfinished, which is pretty much what I thought about “Strange Little Girls.”

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

I’m a fan of this one.  It made me laugh.  You’ve got these two teenage boys who go to a party to meet girls.  Vic is very suave and always manages to pick some up, whereas Enn is socially awkward when he’s around actual females.  They start hitting on some chicks at the party, only to realize that the girls were aliens and that going any further with them would be waaaaaaay to traumatizing.  I love the part where Vic runs from the bedroom in a panic when he realizes that the girl he was with wasn’t entirely human.

Concluding Thoughts

I liked this week’s selections.  They were both lighthearted and fun.  Be sure to join in next week for the final installment!

 

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Horror/Gothic, Short Stories | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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