Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Review: Norse Mythology by Neil GaimanNorse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 293
Published by W. W. Norton & Company on February 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Introducing an instant classic—master storyteller Neil Gaiman presents a dazzling version of the great Norse myths.
Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales.
In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, son of a giant, blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.
Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Once, when Thor’s hammer is stolen, Thor must disguise himself as a woman, difficult with his beard and huge appetite, to steal it back. More poignant is the tale in which the blood of Kvasir, the most sagacious of gods, is turned into a mead that infuses drinkers with poetry. The work culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and rebirth of a new time and people.
Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerge these gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

My Review:

Neil Gaiman’s retelling of the Norse myths should be required reading for anyone whose primary visions of Odin, Thor and Loki, derived primarily from Marvel Comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, just as the author’s once were.

Thor wasn’t half that bright, and Loki wasn’t nearly so handsome, although he was every bit as tricksy, and as compelling.

On the one hand, these stories of ancient gods from a world long gone seem like they might have little relevance for the 21st century. At the same time, there’s Marvel Comics, which mined these myths for pure gold. As has every fantasy writer of the 20th and 21st centuries, from J.R.R. Tolkien to Neil Gaiman himself.

These are the stories on which so much of modern literature (and TV and movies) are based, along with opera and many other forms of storytelling. These are the stories behind the stories.

Or at least what’s left of them. What we have, what the author has here to work with, are the written records of what was an oral tradition – stories told around the fire during the very long nights of almost endless winter, passed from skald to skald and mouth to ear, until they were finally compiled into the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda in the 13th century, long after the Viking Age whose tales they tell.

At least in this rendition, what we have is a loose connection of short stories, that the author has strung together, like pearls on a string, into an episodic narrative from the beginnings of Yggdrasil to the end at Ragnarok.

And while they no longer invoke the awe that they once did, the Norse gods are still fantastic.

Escape Rating B+: This collection, or retelling, or reintroduction to the Norse myths should become a classic, right alongside Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. It makes what often seemed like a conflicting collection of tales into a somewhat coherent whole, admittedly a whole like a slice of Swiss cheese, where some parts are missing, deliberately or otherwise.

But readers looking for Neil Gaiman’s particular voice in this collection will only find hints and snippets of it. These aren’t his stories, and that shows. But they are, undoubtedly, the inspiration for many of his best.

If you read American Gods and instantly recognized Mr. Wednesday, then you have already been exposed to these foundational tales, but this version is still definitely worth a read. If you didn’t see through Mr. Wednesday’s rather thin disguise, then you need to read this book before you dive into the upcoming series.

Ian McShane Starring As Mr. Wednesday In 'American Gods' TV Series
Ian McShane Starring As Mr. Wednesday In ‘American Gods’ TV Series

Review: Stardust by Neil Gaiman + Giveaway

Review: Stardust by Neil Gaiman + GiveawayStardust by Neil Gaiman
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, graphic novel, large print, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 288
Published by William Morrow on September 27th 2016 (first published 1999)
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Go and catch a falling star . . .
Tristran Thorn promises to bring back a fallen star for his beloved, the hauntingly beautiful Victoria Forester—and crosses the wall that divides his English country town from another, more dangerous world of lords and witches, all of them in search of the star. Rich with adventure and magic, Stardust is one of master storyteller Neil Gaiman's most beloved tales.
“Eminently readable—a charming piece of work.”   —Washington Post Book World
“Beautiful, memorable . . . A book full of marvels.”   —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

My Review:

Stardust the movie posterNever judge a book by its movie. I saw the movie Stardust a few years ago, but my recollection of it is NOTHING like the book. Which was lovely. But does not contain cross-dressing pirate captains. Not that a book about or containing cross-dressing pirate captains might not be good, or interesting, or funny, or all of the above. But there are none in Stardust. The book.

Stardust has the feel of a fairy tale, albeit one written for adults or near-adults. Or possibly pretending-to-be-adults. The world of Faerie, beyond the town of Wall, has all the elements of a fairy tale. There are evil witches who cast terrible spells. There’s a mysterious kingdom high in the mountains, where the throne is passed, not from father to eldest son, but from survivor to survivor, in a winner-takes-all competition for the throne. There are people ensorcelled to be animals, and animals spelled to be people.

And of course there is prophecy, destiny and fate. And absolutely nothing is as it seems.

Once upon a time, a young man of Wall spends the night in Faerie with a beautiful girl. He goes home to his ordinary life, and marries his ordinary wife, and the night he spent with the bird-girl slips further into dreams.

Until nine months later, when a baby is shoved through the opening from Faerie into Wall, and Dunstan Thorn learns that actions have consequences, although not necessarily for him. Because this is not his story.

It’s that baby’s story. Tristran Thorn grows up, and as a very young man, makes a very foolish promise to a rather stuck-up young woman. But while she means nothing of what she says to him, he means every single word that he says to her.

And off Tristran goes, to Faerie, to seek out a fallen star. He has no idea that Faerie is the land of his birth. And he equally has no idea that the fallen star he seeks is not a lump of metal, but a young woman who was knocked out of the sky by a magically thrown rock.

And of course he has no idea at all that this adventure will be the making of him. The boy who leaves Wall plans to bring the star back to show the young woman he believes that he loves.

The man he becomes, well, that man discovers something else entirely.

Escape Rating A: Stardust is, as I said in the beginning, absolutely lovely. If you have fond memories of reading fairy tales, Stardust will bring back all those feelings, while still telling a story written, if not exactly for grown ups, at least for people masquerading as such.

Stardust is also both a quest story and a coming-of-age story, in the finest fairy tale tradition. As everyone in Faerie knows, there are only two reasons for a young man to embark on the kind of quest that Tristran undertakes – either he is seeking his fortune, or he is doing it for love. And of course, they are right. While he is doing it for love, what he finds turns out to be his fortune. And also love. It wouldn’t have a happy ending otherwise.

Which it most certainly does. But it’s absolutely nothing like the movie.

NEVER JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS MOVIE! The book is ALWAYS better.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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William Morrow is giving away (5) sets of American Gods, Anansi Boys, Neverwhere and Stardust! (Which are all absolutely awesome books!)
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• Five winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter to receive one set of all 4 books
• This giveaway ends midnight December 2.
• Winner will be contacted via email on December 3.
• Winner has 48 hours to reply.
Good luck everyone!
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Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil GaimanThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 178
Published by William Morrow Books on June 18th 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.
A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

My Review:

If the man who is never named, who may be someone not dissimilar to the author, returns to that ocean at the end of that lane so that Lettie can see if her sacrifice was worth it, readers are left with the certainty that it was.

If only that so we can read this strange and marvelous story that has bits of fantasy, parts of horror, and a few things that go bump in the night. Along with the sense both that we never quite grow up, and that the bits and pieces we remember of our childhoods do not necessarily resemble what actually happened.

And probably shouldn’t.

From one perspective, this story is relatively simple. A man returns to his childhood home for a funeral, and in his grief he finds himself wandering back to the places he knew as a child.

Much of his childhood has been torn down, and this is not surprising, it happens to all of us as we reach middle-age. But one place is still standing, because it is a place that has always been standing, and possibly always will be, even after the rest of us have turned to dust.

It is the place where the narrator experienced something both wonderful and terrible, an experience that was awful both in the sense that it was a horrible thing to have happen , and in its original sense, that it was full of awe. But it was an experience that his seven-year-old self wasn’t ready to experience, and one that his ordinary self is unable to remember.

Except when he returns, as he sometimes does, to remember what really happened and to give an accounting of his life to the one person who made it all possible.

And it’s magic.

Escape Rating A: Fair warning, this is going to be one of those reviews where I mostly talk about how the book made me feel. I’m not sure there is any other way to approach it.

Although most of the events being recounted happened to the protagonist when he was seven, this is an adult book. It is the man looking back on those events, and recognizing that there are things he knows now that he didn’t know then. And sometimes vice-versa.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a story that will either charm you and draw you in, or it won’t. It is also not quite what you might be expecting. There is a sense that it is fantasy, a possibility that it is horror, and even a chance that everything the author thinks he remembers is mostly a story that he tells himself rather than events that he actually remembers.

There are readers, who will be turned off by the child’s perspective, and there are readers who will be turned off by the fantasy elements that are inserted into the real world. Obviously, I wasn’t one of them. I found the sense that he was telling the story to himself added to the magic. It felt like a memory of the things you think you see out of the corner of your eyes – or when when you turn suddenly and what you thought was there seemingly isn’t.

This is also one of those stories that when you finish, you look back at what you read and are forced to view it in an entirely different way because of what you have learned. One of the ways in which the author turns this trope on its head is that while the reader ends with enough knowledge to re-evaluate the whole story, the protagonist forgets all that he has learned. Again.

What he experienced, what he learned, is too magical, too real, to exist in the mundane world. But it is such an important part of what made him who he is that it is necessary, every once in awhile, that he come to Lettie’s Ocean to remember it all over again.

And as the reader, I am very grateful for that.

If you believe that the world is much, much stranger than it seems, and that there are forces both wondrous and terrible still lurking in its hidden corners, this book is an incredible, and intense, treat.

Ocean
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Review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Review: Neverwhere by Neil GaimanNeverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 336
Published by William Morrow on July 7th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The #1 New York Times bestselling author’s ultimate edition of his wildly successful first novel featuring his “preferred text”—and including the special Neverwhere tale, How the Marquis Got His Coat Back.
Published in 1997, Neil Gaiman’s darkly hypnotic first novel, Neverwhere, heralded the arrival of this major talent and became a touchstone of urban fantasy. Over the years, a number of versions were produced both in the U.S. and the U.K. Now, this author’s preferred edition of his classic novel reconciles these versions and reinstates a number of scenes cut from the original published books.
Neverwhere is the story of Richard Mayhew, a young London businessman with a good heart and an ordinary life, which is changed forever when he is plunged through the cracks of reality into a world of shadows and darkness—the Neverwhere. If he is ever to return to the London Above, Richard must join the battle to save this strange underworld kingdom from the malevolence that means to destroy it

My Review:

neverwhere dvdI’m not sure whether I first went to Neverwhere by reading the book or watching the TV miniseries. Needless to say, even though the TV series actually came first, the book is better. And I was thrilled to have the opportunity to reread it for this tour.

Neverwhere is one of those stories that stuck with me long after I read it. I’ve even written about it before. There’s something about Neverwhere, with its concept of London Below, that has always reminded me of Simon R. Green’s Nightside, which also creates an otherworldly version of London that exists alongside and underneath the great city.

But Neverwhere is a different kind of story. It doesn’t have to be set in London Below, although the setting does give its some of its resonance and charm as well as its flights of fancy. Who would have thought there would actually be an Earl at Earl’s Court? On the other hand, why isn’t there? And what if there was?

Neverwhere is the story of what happens to someone who takes the red pill, although in this case it’s not that our hero Richard Mayhew sees the painful truth of reality so much as that he sees that there is a deeper reality lying underneath our own. The humdrum world he comes from is just as real as London Below, but without that red pill, he can’t see it. And unlike takers of the blue pill in The Matrix, when Richard comes back, he still remembers everything. Only to discover that, as Mr. Spock once said, “After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.” At the end of his harrowing adventure, Richard Mayhew wants his safe, normal world back. Only to discover that he has changed too much to fit back into the life he once found so satisfying.

The story of Neverwhere is relatively straightforward in its plot, but complex in its setting. Richard Mayhew, a young and somewhat insecure securities analyst in London, rescues a young woman he finds bruised and bleeding on the streets of London.

By rescuing Door, he finds himself outside the life of the normal world, and an unwitting denizen of “London Below”. He is lost and confused and completely out of his depth. All that he knows is that if he is to get his own life back, he must find Door in the confusing maze of the world he never knew was under London, and travel with her, like the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tinman, until he reaches the wizard, in this case the Angel Islington, and he can finally go home.

Just like the journey through Oz, Richard and Door face trials and monsters, and also as in Dorothy’s journey, the angel, just like the wizard, is not what he appears to be. But in this case what they find is not a benign trickster – the angel is the greatest monster of them all. And nothing in the journey turns out to have been quite what it appeared to be.

After passing all his tests, Richard is able to receive what he thinks is the greatest wish of his heart. Only to discover that he has grown too much or too big to be contained in his old life.

Escape Rating A+: The story of Neverwhere was just as magical upon re-reading as it was the first time around. Or even the second, which I think was viewing the TV series. And even though the special effects are often laughable, and some of the horror is reduced by the necessity of filming things that are best left in the imagination, the TV show holds up too.

view from the cheap seats by neil gaimanThis time, I listened to parts of Neverwhere from an unabridged audiobook recorded by the author. And unlike many authors who read their own works, Gaiman does an excellent job voicing all the characters, to the point where I was still hearing his voice in my head a couple of weeks ago when I was reading The View from the Cheap Seats.

The story here is of a mythic journey, and there are lots of parallels to The Wizard of Oz, a fact which does get lampshaded in Neverwhere. While Richard is journeying to find his way home, he is also taking a trip through a long, dark night of the soul. And as a result, he becomes more than he was.

So many of the characters he meets seem more than a bit odd on first meeting. The Marquis de Carabas is a trickster. He always has his eye on the main chance, and does not suffer fools or incompetents within his orbit. He does not seem to ever warm up to Richard, who he always sees as the ultimate babe in the very deadly woods. But in the end he always keeps his word. And he always collects his debts.

The villains of this piece are Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, and while they often sound incredibly campy, the more they appear in the story the easier it is to see them as creatures that would make the monsters under the bed and in the closet run for cover. (But their scariness works better in print than on the screen, where the reader is able to feel the creepiness rather than see the joke.)

Neverwhere is one of the ultimate urban fantasy wild rides. If you have ever dreamed that there is a beautiful, terrible, magical world existing just out of reach, take your own journey to London Below. And always remember to “mind the gap”.

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Review: The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

Review: The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil GaimanThe View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 544
Published by William Morrow on May 31st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An enthralling collection of nonfiction essays on a myriad of topics—from art and artists to dreams, myths, and memories—observed in Neil Gaiman’s probing, amusing, and distinctive style.
An inquisitive observer, thoughtful commentator, and assiduous craftsman, Neil Gaiman has long been celebrated for the sharp intellect and startling imagination that informs his bestselling fiction. Now, The View from the Cheap Seats brings together for the first time ever more than sixty pieces of his outstanding nonfiction. Analytical yet playful, erudite yet accessible, this cornucopia explores a broad range of interests and topics, including (but not limited to): authors past and present; music; storytelling; comics; bookshops; travel; fairy tales; America; inspiration; libraries; ghosts; and the title piece, at turns touching and self-deprecating, which recounts the author’s experiences at the 2010 Academy Awards in Hollywood.
Insightful, incisive, witty, and wise, The View from the Cheap Seats explores the issues and subjects that matter most to Neil Gaiman—offering a glimpse into the head and heart of one of the most acclaimed, beloved, and influential artists of our time.

My Review:

“Fiction is the lie that tells the truth” – This is a quote that Neil Gaiman seems to have adapted from Albert Camus’ version: “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”

A good bit of this collection is about the creation of that fiction, not just his own, but also other people’s. So we get a look into how the writer does his craft, but even more of a peek at what the writer thinks about other writers’ books that he has known and loved. And sometimes that’s about the books, and sometimes that’s about the writer, and most often it’s about the love.

As a librarian, I have to say that the entire first section of this collection just warms the proverbial cockles of my book-loving and book-pushing heart. Because in it, Gaiman basically lays out his love of books and bookstores and libraries for the entire world to see. And his expression of that love is absolutely lyrical. It’s a paean to libraries and a clarion call to save them all wrapped into one beautiful ball.

He also talks a lot about the books that shaped him, both as a person and as a writer. If the “Golden Age of science fiction is twelve” or thirteen, as the age varies depending on what story he is telling, then Gaiman was exposed at just the right moment. But even if you are not a lover of science fiction, his story of escaping into books as a child will resonate for any adult who has spent their life escaping from it in books. We all started out young.

As a writer, Gaiman began as a journalist (not unlike his friend, the late, much lamented Terry Pratchett) and moved from writing for other people to writing the stories that, as he says, he couldn’t keep inside. And the stories that he wanted to read. Along the way, he passed through comic books, fantasy, science fiction and horror. As many of the languages of myth-making as he could manage. In various pieces of this collection, there are essays that speak to one or more of those interests, with digressions into movies and music.

But whatever he is, or was, writing about (or in some cases speaking about) the author’s voice shines through. And that love. Love for the genre, love for the medium, and especially love for the power of words and the worlds they create.

Escape Rating A: Because this is a collection of essays and whatnot, I don’t actually need to read the entire thing to write a credible review. But I had so much fun reading it that I could not make myself stop.

Also, I recently listened to the beginning of Neverwhere, read by the author. As I read The View From the Cheap Seats, I could hear the author’s voice in my head, especially reading the speeches. It’s a very distinct authorial voice, and a surprisingly excellent voice for reading.

(Some authors are notoriously bad at reading their own work. Gaiman is emphatically not one of them.)

trigger warning by neil gaimanAs an essay collection, while I wouldn’t say that it is uneven the way that last year’s short story collection, Trigger Warning, was, I would say that the appeal of the collection will depend on how closely the reader’s interests match the author’s.

Anyone who loves books and reading AT ALL will enjoy the first section, Some Things I Believe. Because the author believes A LOT about the joy of reading to move us and the importance of bookstores and libraries and of simply READING.

But other parts of the collection reflect different tastes and interests. As someone who reads a lot of science fiction and fantasy, the essays in those sections, including the speeches, had plenty of resonance for this reader. The stories within the stories, the tropes that are referred to, the people being honored, are all ones that I am not just familiar with, but frequently also love. And occasionally have my own stories about.

And his writing about science fiction and fantasy and being both a reader and a writer echo my own experiences in the SF fan community.

His speech about Tulip Mania as it relates to the Comic Book Industry (Good Comics and Tulips: A Speech) should probably be read by anyone interested in the economics of fads and/or the bursting of false-demand economic bubbles.

At the same time, the sections where I’m not as invested, aren’t as interesting to me. My taste in music is different from the author’s. So while I find his essays on music interesting, they don’t move me in the same way that the ones on SF and fantasy do. They are excellently written, but don’t touch a place in my heart.

But so much of this collection does.

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