What, like there was some other thing or person I was going to pick for the last day of this month of sharing things that make me happy?
Mr. Neilenberg Ulysses Gaiman IV is a name I just made up. Neil Richard Gaiman, on the other hand, is my favorite author. Actually, that’s not big enough. Neil Gaiman is my favorite storyteller, and if you know me even a little, you know I can’t offer any higher praise. [And for the record, since I hear people mispronounce his name more often than I hear it pronounced correctly, it’s Gay not Guy, or as he explains, “It’s Gaym’n.”]
He isn’t just my favorite storyteller because of the stories he tells — although that alone would certainly be enough — but also because of the way he sees story, the way he talks about what story is, and how it works.
His work was the engine at the heart of my master’s thesis: “Fantasy, Recovery, Escape, & Consolation: Finding Increased Capacity for Desire, Life, Mourning, and Wonder in the Liminal Space of Fiction.”
Here’s the weird thing about that, though. I wondered and researched about how story works, all the while feeling that his stories were the best examples of what I was arguing for. Yet, since the thesis wasn’t actually about Neil Gaiman, it wasn’t until after I had finished the project that I found most of Gaiman’s nonfiction essays about story — which are now all conveniently collected in his book, The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction, which also has all sorts of other essays and articles and forwards and speeches, and you should absolutely read it — and learned that he said everything I was saying in my thesis, he just said it with much more wit and skill.
Not that any of the things he said about story surprised me. After all, so much of his work is comprised of stories about stories, in one way or another. It’s one part of the richness of his work, the symbiotic relationship with so many myths, songs, symbols, folk tales, and legends of the massive human mosaic. They enhance the depth and power of his stories, and in turn his work breathes new life into old mythologies that, though forgotten by most of us, still frame our consciousness.
I love so many things about Gaiman’s work, but most of all, I love that his writing fosters genuine hope in my broken brain. When there is light or hope or warmth in his stories, it’s never achieved without taking seriously how dark and broken and ugly the world can be. And sure, there is always magic in some form or another, but just because magic doesn’t exist doesn’t mean I don’t want magic to exist. As I wrote yesterday, I want to believe.
In late 2015, I flew from Seattle to New York City just to see Gaiman interviewed by Junot Díaz in Brooklyn, where he was doing his only signing of Sandman: Overture. The entire trip took around 40 hours, and I didn’t sleep until the plane ride home.
When I got to the front of the signing line, mostly delirious from the 20-something hours I’d been awake and the 12 or so I’d been wandering the streets of Brooklyn, I nervously thanked Neil Gaiman for writing stories that helped me find hope in the darkness. I don’t think he really heard me, or that it registered with him at all — after all, I was one in a very long line all trying to communicate some deep truth to him in the span of a few seconds, and as far. Also, I was so tired that it’s possible I only thought I said, “Thank you for writing stories that help me find hope in the darkness,” but actually said, “Therm finking messyflormal.” Either way, I’m still glad I got to say it, and honor how important his work is to me.