CNN - Neil Gaiman's fairy tales for adults - February 25, 1999
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Seeing the 'spark of magic'

Hear and see the extensive CNN Interactive interview with Neil Gaiman.

(All video in Windows Media format)

"Fantasy for me is always the perfect metaphor."
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"They say the golden age of science fiction is 13."
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What is 'Stardust'?
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The omniscient reader
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Getting ideas from daydreaming
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"Everybody has ideas" for a good book...
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How writing is like working with clay
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Is there always a fairy tale part of humanity?
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"I have the best thing in the world... I have kids."
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Imagination is "a muscle that must be exercised."
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"Stardust" -- a historical novel?
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Neil Gaiman: Adults deserve good fairy tales, too

By Jonathan D. Austin
CNN Interactive Books Editor

Web posted on: Thursday, February 25, 1999 4:16:40 PM

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Neil Gaiman thinks adults are getting the short end of the deal: Kids get to daydream and escape on fantastic trips of the imagination, guided by marvelous fairy tales, while being an adult means to leave imagination and fantasy behind. Gaiman believes that's wrong. He should know.

Consider the fanatical following for his imaginative 1980's comic book series "The Sandman", which is credited with bringing the comic book industry out from under the weight of muscle-bound heroes and scantily-clad vixens. Gaiman wrote the storyline for "The Sandman" and gained rock star-status among fans from both sides of the Atlantic. Norman Mailer lauded "The Sandman" as "a comic strip for intellectuals," while singer Tori Amos and the band Metallica were writing songs inspired by the work.

All fine and fun, he says, but adults deserve more than comic books. They deserve, he claims, their own fairy tales.

"As adults, we are discriminated against. As adults, we are an oppressed majority because nobody writes us fairy tales. I think the problem is not that ... we grow out of fairy tales. The problem is nobody writes us fairy tales; nobody gives us fairy tales that are as satisfying, as meaty, as filled with real people and real incident, as the things that we remember from when we were children," Gaiman said during a recent extensive interview with CNN Interactive. ( 28k or 80k )

"You can't go back and re-read Snow White and get the same magic you got out of it when you were six," he said. So he is creating fairy tales for adults, beginning with his first novel, "Neverwhere", in 1997, and continuing with his latest, "Stardust".

"As an author I've never forgotten how to daydream," Gaiman said. It comes naturally. "It's not something that I tend to think about very much."

Seeking a 'sense of wonder'

In "Neverwhere", a man falls through the cracks and becomes invisible, inexplicably consigned to a London of shadows and darkness, a city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels that exists entirely in a subterranean labyrinth of sewer canals and abandoned subway stations. He has fallen through the cracks of reality and has landed somewhere different, somewhere that is Neverwhere.

"With 'Stardust', I hope what I was doing is giving 30-year-olds and 40-year-olds and 25-year-olds and 60-year-olds a chance to get the same sense of wonder, the same feeling, the same magic, that they got in reading the classic fairy tales as children." ( 28k or 80k )

"Because 'Stardust' is a fairy tale ... it was very important" for it to not be a metaphor, he says. ( 28k or 80k )

Perfect age for 'golden age'

Like many children exposed to the marvel of fantasy, Gaiman fell in love with tall tales early.

"The first author I remember being obsessed by, actually realizing 'I like the way he writes and I like the way he tells stories,' was C.S. Lewis and the Narnia books," Gaiman said. "And that was when I was about six."

"On the other hand, by the time I was about 10 I had already become rather disillusioned with the Narnia books," because of some of the allegorical messages and "preaching." ( 28k or 80k )

Luckily, there was a variety of challenging fantasy and science fiction for him to find. His teen years coincided with a new wave of SF writers who were as unique as they were literary, such as Samuel R. Delany, Harlan Ellison and Roger Zelazny. Their work influenced Gaiman's own sensibilities, and those authors themselves all became Gaiman fans. "They say the golden age of Science Fiction is 13. For me that was definitely true," he said.

As a fledgling writer, the first stories he wrote were about a day in the life of a penny; a professor, his assistant and their pet mountain lion; an alien and his spaceship, which Gaiman remembers looked like a frog and a football, respectively. At the age of 20, he sold his first article to a small newspaper -- a review of a concert -- stepping in for a rock journalist friend who couldn't make it.


Neil Gaiman reads an excerpt from his "Stardust"
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Fairy tales seemed to draw him on, first through his cartoons, and then his novels. In fact, he says real life has all the fascination of fiction, if we only open our eyes to see the "spark of magic." ( 28k or 80k ) He admits that often he is too busy looking down at the ground, or talking on the cell phone, to see all that is fantastic around him. ( 28k or 80k )

But to Gaiman, the more you see the fantastic -- the more you use your imagination -- the stronger your imagination becomes. ( 28k or 80k ) "The imagination is a muscle. If it is not exercised, it atrophies," he says. "I think that is one of the most important things about fantasy; it allows us to imagine."

And while Neil Gaiman's fans should expect more "imagining" from him, don't expect him to rest on his laurels. "If you told me I could write nothing but 'Stardusts' forever -- proud as I am of 'Stardust' -- that would be my idea of hell. The thing that I'm most proud of is that I can keep moving." ( 28k or 80k )

Readers "seem very willing to let me tell stories. They don't seem to want the same kind of story every time."

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