Tag Archives: neil gaiman

Yesterday Threw Everything At Me

I had kind of a crazy day yesterday.

It started with an exam in Quantum Field Theory. Painful, but I think it didn’t go too badly. Had a bite to eat, then it was straight into some last minute revision on the Queen’s Lawn for the second exam of the day in Optical Communications Physics, which was actually sort of pleasant, in a slightly strange way. Less like the hideous mental assault which constituted my other exams, anyway.

To celebrate, Rowan, Susan and I took a trip to our customary haunt — Nando’s — and proceded to consume chicken. It was delightful.

After that, I decided to take a trip into central London to grab some comics at Forbidden Planet, and as I was strolling up Monmouth Street I walked past none other than Neil Gaiman, award-winning fantasy writer and graphic novelist. By the time I’d realised it was him he’d already walked past me and gone round the corner. It took me a few more hours to realise that I was in fact carrying in my bag a copy of his “Sandman” graphic novel “Dream Country”, and that asking him to autograph it would have been incredible. I later found out via the wonder of Twitter that he would have signed it if I’d asked. Never mind!

So yeh, went to Forbidden Planet, grabbed a new Buffy comic and a Penny Arcade book, and went and sat down on a wall just up Shaftesbury Avenue and read my purchases for a while, and watched the world go by. I don’t spend nearly enough time in central London, which is a shame because I love it dearly; it’s so full of life and bustle and remarkable buildings and architecture and it goes on and on in all directions.

Rather than go home, I decided to take a bit of a walkabout. I set off east towards Holborn, passing whichever way took my fancy.

The first thing I discovered was what looked to be the entrance to an underground tramway.

A disused and gated tramway under the streets of London

I wonder how long it’s been since it was used, and where the other end of it surfaces, if it still has another end.

I wandered over to where a section of street had been blocked off by Crossrail signs. This old building, a sign on which read “The Ivy House” was abandoned, encircled by signs exhorting me to visit the site office. The building across the street bore the likeness of, and a dedication to, John Bunyan. It too looked decayed and abandoned; I turned the corner into a desolate alley, and leaned to look through some railings; through them smelt of damp and decay.

The building was apparently called “Kingsgate House”, and despite appearing to be derelict, somebody still seems to be in habitation, judging by the light and the open window.

It appears that I’m not the only one to find this building interesting.

Places like this fill me with wonder, make me think about their history, why they were built, and how they fell on hard times. I wonder if Crossrail is doing any good to this little microcosm of Holborn at the moment; I must confess that apart from the Astoria, I’d never really considered the impact the building of Crossrail would have.

I turned north, and found that Warner Brothers keeps replicas of the Hogwarts house insignia in the Foyer of their offices.

From there I wandered into a residential district, near Great Ormond Street hospital. Houses draped with the flag of St. George, people in bars, drinking and chatting, the beautiful chattering sound of people enjoying themselves wafting over the streets. I walked down an alleyway that passed through a building, joining the street through a crack in the facade of a shop. Behind this was tucked a little house, sounds of a party coming from inside.

It was getting late, so I headed in the direction of Russell Square tube station, marvelling at water fountains, and a house draped in lights for some unfathomable reason. I came across a park called Coram’s Fields. The sign above the gate read “No Unaccompanied Adults”. I thought this was marvellous.

Bring me a dream…

Sandman_Preludes

I had heard over the proverbial grapevine that The Sandman, written by Neil Gaiman (writer of the films Stardust and Coraline) was an excellent graphic novel, so on one of my regular visits to the fantastic geek-Mecca that is Forbidden Planet on Shaftsbury Avenue I picked up the first volume, then the second on my next visit, and then the third.

Then I just gave up trying to space them out and bought the whole remainder of the series from Amazon, and devoured them within a few days.

It’s one of the most astonishing, wonderful, imaginative, collection of tales I have ever read. To (probably mis)quote one of the introductions, “If this isn’t literature, nothing is.”

The central figure (I would say protagonist, but often he isn’t) is Dream, Lord of the Dreaming, Prince of stories; the very personification of the act of dreaming itself. The idea of dreams is at the very heart of The Sandman – the tales are often fantastical and nonsensical, but at the same time have a truth to them, a resonance that’s undeniable. There’s horror and humour, profundity and absurdity.

Neil Gaiman is the kind of person whose writing both simultaneously makes me want and not want to become a writer; his tales are so fantastic that it makes you fall in love with story-telling, but simultaneously despair that you would never be able to arrange words as wonderfully and as eloquently as he, or touch on so many themes, or make such excellent historical and mythological illusions, or have so many dazzling ideas.

The story has an overall arc and theme, summarised by Gaiman himself as: “The Lord of Dreams learns that one must change or die, and makes his decision.” Twisted alongside that main tale are squabbles with his family the Endless, his brother and sister personifications, e.g. his older brother Destiny, older sister Death, and the particularly antagonistic Desire, who is simultaneously male and female and the tales of the lesser beings who come into contact with Dream and the rest of the Endless, like the cat who dreams and learns that once cats ruled the world before the dreams of men revised history, or the man in the Middle Ages who learns how to live forever, and meets Dream once a century for a drink in the same pub, or the Roman emperor Augustus who is told to pretend to be a marketplace beggar once a year.

The writing I literally could not have more effusive praise for; it is utterly magnificent. However, this being a graphic novel, writing is only half the story, which is part of the wonderful richness of the medium; there’s the art.

Sandman _50 Ramadan Gaiman Klein Russell This being a very long series there are a number of different artists who’ve worked on this series, so there might well be some you enjoy, some you won’t. There are some incredibly standouts; the work of P. Craig Russel in the story “Ramadan” is breathtakingly wonderful, for instance. Overall, they do a really good job of embodying the strange world of Dream.

I really couldn’t recommend The Sandman highly enough. Anybody who knows me can ask and I’ll lend you the first volume. Or second or third, and the stand-alone set of stories, Endless Nights; alas, that’s all I have with me.

All that remains to be said is that I really, really want Neil Gaiman to write an episode of Doctor Who. He’s British, he’s a fantastic writer, it needs to happen.