Inspiring People in 2018: Neil Gaiman Stories for Children and 50-Year Old Men
On November 1, 2017 I entered into the wold of fifty year olds and I was surprised that it wasn’t terrible. When my grandfather turned fifty I was probably 10 or 11 and I remember the surprise birthday party my family threw for him. He seemed so old with one foot in the grave. Turns out he wasn’t so old, and still had many years with both feet solidly in the land of the living. Now with unnerving speed, I am here too.
For my 50th birthday I was given a copy of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. I loved it so much, I was compelled to dig into the author’s backlist. Anyone who writes stories with such a deep sense of myth and lore and emotion is worth exploring.
What I unearthed in Neil’s backlist was astonishing.
Neil Gaiman has written novels (the sort of novels that appeal to me - with an endearingly strange cast of characters, magical worlds, and emotive storylines). But his stories take on all of the forms of a shapeshifter. He has children’s stories and young adult stories. Screenplays and comics and volumes of short stories. Ghost stories and troll stories. Love stories and fairy tales.
I’ve now read many of his stories, most for the first time in 2018. And my year (and my life) has been better off for it.
My first year as a 50-year old was a little tumultuous. I moved from having a job and a paycheck to the wild, wild world of freelancing, Traumatic is the wrong word to describe it, but it was a shock to these bones and to this psyche in so many ways. Looking forward, I see that I like this world and the freedom it affords, in spite of bogs and floods and waves of uncertainty.
Neil Gaiman stories played a big part of this adjustment. But , oddly, not his adult stories. I’ve been most profoundly moved by his stories for children.
The Ocean at the End of the Land may have been the most meaningful and important book I read all year. It’s about middle-aged men and the things we forget. I was thoroughly moved by this tale, in all of it’s haunting oddity.
“Monsters come in all shapes and sizes, Some of them are things people are scared of. Some of them are things that look like things people used to be scared of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but they aren’t”
I have no idea if this book is for children or not. Gaiman stories often transcend genre. I found this one and the book “The Troll Bridge” to both carry weight as stories for children and stories for middle-aged men.
Part of my shift in personal trajectory includes writing and telling stories. Questions and self-doubt have been one of those monsters over many of these days - and in some cases weeks and months - in the land of 50. Stories stabilize.
Neil Gaiman’s stories (especially these two) are particularly stabilizing. As I think of my most inspiring people in 2018, Neil Gaiman is at the top of my list.
If you’re new to Gaiman’s writing, and want to get started, I recommend either Ocean at the End of the Lane or Neverwhere (a rollicking fantasy set in the London Underground). I’d save his currently popular “American Gods” for later - as it may be a bit much for some. His illustrated children’s books and fairy tales are magical (The Troll Bridge, The Sleeper and the Spindle). I was reintroduced to comics (which read exceptionally well on an iPad) with the Sandman.
I also recommend listening to Neil’s encouragement to graduates to “make good art”. It’s both inspiring and important. Check out the recently released illustrated book that encapsulates this message, as well.