Neil Gaiman’s Writing Research Paper
Updated: Jan 28th, 2020
Neil Gaiman is an internationally acclaimed English writer with a wide range of comic books, fiction novels, and short stories and children’s books to his name. His literary style has intrigued many readers around the world and as a result, he has won numerous outstanding awards from his literary work.
His writing prowess is attested by the fact that his work has done notably well across several genres of the literary world. This research paper is only interested in his works in the fiction genre and shall consider the novel, Neverwhere and short stories from Smoke and Mirrors. The research paper seeks to identify external literary and cultural influences on Gaiman’s work and establish whether they serve to enrich or bring about a lack of originality in the author’s work.
Gaiman’s use of Greek Mythology
Greek mythology has been widely used by many authors from virtually all genres of literature and Gaiman is not an exception. In his novel Neverwhere, Gaiman manages to weave elements of Greek mythology in the plot. He depicts his main character, Richard, as a hero in a completely different style. Extraordinary, heroes are typical of ancient Greek mythology and Gaiman’s depiction of Richard seems to pitch him as one.
He is indeed an extraordinary hero because at first, he is willing to lose his fiancé in his endeavor to assist the injured young woman, Door. Despite living an almost non-bearable life shortly after Door’s departure, when he finally finds her in ‘London below’, he sets aside all his interests and resolves to offer a helping hand. Richard’s heroic nature manifests in the beauty of his character, viz. his steadfast loyalty and kind heart rather in deeds (Schupbach Para.16).
Richard’s fall through the ‘crack’ to ‘London below’ definitely reminds one of mythical tales in which everything is possible. In the London below, the speaking rats, the earls, and the monsters in sewers are further instances of mythology alluded to by Gaiman in this novel. He clutters, “Oh yes. Yes-yes-yes…I know exactly what to do with him” (Gaiman Neverwhere 69). This was the Lord-Rat-Speaker at his first meeting with Richard.
He further depicts the villains in the novel as dangerous assassins who survived the Trojan War, a war that only exists in the depths of the Greek mythology. It is clear at this point that Gaiman, in his effort to portray how dangerous the villains were, brings in the idea of a war that is touted as having been very serious. Therefore, it is evident that Gaiman’s style is one that outsources necessary information to strengthen the images that he creates while writing.
In the short story Chivalry, which is found under the collection, Smoke ad Mirrors, Gaiman alludes to ancient mythology in the form of a phoenix egg that is brought as a present by Galaad to the old woman, Mrs. Whitaker, to convince her to let go of the Holy Grail (Gaiman Smoke and Mirrors 45).
The decision to use the mythical bird’s egg in the short story seems to be aimed at showing just how important the Holy Grail was and effort that could be expended in wrestling it out of the old woman’s possession. This effort goes for the apple of life too as it was a fruit that could only come out of a mythical world. Where Galaad gets the gifts from is shrouded in mystery, but eventually, he succeeds in getting the Holy Grail.
Gaiman’s attraction to Greek mythology is further evident in “Nicholas Was…” where he seems to depict Santa Claus in the old man, Nicholas. Based on the short story, the torment that the old man endures while supplying children with Christmas gifts was far much beyond what Prometheus endured while serving his eternal sentence. The fact that he envied Prometheus can only mean that his torment was so much that he would have gladly traded places with Prometheus if given the chance.
Influence of fairy and folk tales on Gaiman’s work
Fairy and folk tales have influenced Gaiman’s work as well to a considerable extent. In the novel Neverwhere, Richard’s quest to see the angel to grant him the ability to return home to his normal life is an example. The existence of an angel in London below is a phenomenon that can only be conceived in fairy tales.
Therefore, he combines fairyland possibilities with other styles such as fantasy to deliver a story that remains etched in the minds of his readers for a long time (Smith 25). The overlap of London below with fairyland is again witnessed in Gaiman’s description of the dwarfs, which coexisted with the inhabitants of London below.
In the short stories included in Smoke and Mirrors, the influence of fairy tales is witnessed in ‘Nicholas Was…’ when Gaiman describes the old man so vividly that when he brings in the idea of distributing gifts to sleeping children, it becomes obvious that he is talking about Santa Claus. Though the story is very short, he manages to fit this style and a lot more others into the stories. This aspect confirms fairy tales also influenced the position that Gaiman’s writings to some reasonable degree.
Influence of classic English fantasy literature on Gaiman’s work
Gaiman heavily employs classic English fantasy in the novel Neverwhere, which generally falls under the category of urban fantasy novel. The moment Richard descends to London below, the novel shifts from being a normal work of fiction to a fantasy novel.
To begin with, the vivid description of London below is a perfect example of fantasy. The author creates a completely new world right under the streets of London or rather ‘London above’ with a description that is almost tangible. The inhabitants of this new world are also creations of the author’s imagination.
They add to the blend of fantasy that the author depicts in the story. They are people complete with everything they require to live their lives and are completely oblivious of the possibilities of living a life besides the one they have in their world. Door’s disappearance to this world after getting better is a clear indicator that she did not care much about the comforts that life in ‘London above’ could offer.
Richard’s transition from his normal self to this other person, who did not exist to other people around him, was yet another product of the author’s imagination. The fact that a human being can exist yet be barely noticed by all people around him/her gives the impression that s/he might have been invisible yet s/he sees them and thinks s/he is in the same realm with them.
This same display of fantasy is witnessed in Chivalry when the author refers to the Holy Grail and all the importance attached to it yet to Mrs. Whitaker, it is nothing more than an item that adds beauty to her house (Marcus Para.12).
Galaad’s trips to nobody knows where and his return with the different items to appease the old lady to give him the Holy Grail also seems to bring about an element of fantasy in the short story. It cannot be explained how he could access items, which only existed in ancient Greek mythology, in his human nature. In addition, the items could do exactly what was said of them, which is slightly hinted at when Mrs. Whitaker touches the different items and realizes that she instantly feels different.
Influence of pulp fiction on Gaiman’s writing
Gaiman in his writing also alludes to pulp fiction especially in Neverwhere when he creates a young woman whom Richard finds himself willing to assist under whatever circumstances. The idea of a hero striving to save a lady finds its roots in pulp fiction. This observation means that when Richard sets out on dangerous adventures although with some element of unwillingness or doubt about his desire to assist, Gaiman is borrowing from pulp fiction.
Richard assists the girl in ‘London above’ and it costs him so much, but still goes ahead to help in ‘London below’ where his ability to help is highly doubted by Door herself. He eventually emerges as a unique hero not in deeds, but in his way of thinking and his perception of all that they went through. Ultimately, he does not fall in love with Door as many would have expected and this element adds to his uniqueness as a hero in the story.
The works of Neil Gaiman will continue to intrigue many who come across them because they are a product of a clever combination of different styles of writing blended with the author’s unique writing style.
Gaiman’s approach to writing could easily be thought of as lacking in originality, but in essence, the numerous allusions made to various sources serve to create the effects he desires without having to use a lot of words. Clearly, the influence that other works of literature have on Gaiman’s work serves to enrich it rather than to water it down. He is a great writer.
Gaiman, Neil. Neverwhere, New York City: Harper Collins Publisher, 1997. Print.
Gaiman, Neil. Smoke and Mirrors, New York City: Avon, 1999. Print.
Marcus, Richard. Book Review: Smoke And Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions by Neil Gaiman, 2008. Web.
Schupbach, Jo. The Inverted City – The Use of London’s Underground in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, 2011. Web.
Smith, Clay. “Get Gaiman?: PolyMorpheus Perversity in Works by and about Neil Gaiman.” Interdisciplinary Comics Studies 4.1 (2008): 1-29. Print.
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