Move Over Percy Jackson, There’s a Different Pantheon in Town

Actually, it’s older from the literary standpoint, yet about the same from the historical. Or whatever, I’m splitting hairs here.

As someone who reads frequently, and whose reading is frequently from the fantasy genre or somewhere thereabouts, I have come to the conclusion that there are places where it is easy to imagine the line between fact and fable may blur. After reading so much of Neil Gaiman’s work, I feel he capitalizes on this very idea. Coraline has a door and a passage, Stardust has a gap in a wall governed by ancient rules, every story in Fragile Things at least hints at the tenuous connection between reality and myth, if they do not mix them outright. I like that a lot. Instead of being immersed in the completely different world of the “high fantasy” novel, where the fantastic is expected and status quo, these stories take the “real world” and BAM! out of left field comes something completely unexpected to shake things up. My head was already swimming with these ideas when I began American Gods. About halfway through the book, I began writing my own story. It is an exercise in creative license and the malleability of myths. Here is the thing: It is set in a place remarkably like one I know and explore every summer, and the story is about the connecting places between this world and the realm of fantasy. I cannot wait to see where it goes. Everything is fair game.

That being said, let me explain the title I chose for this post. The main focus of American Gods is on how humanity has brought gods along with them as ideas as they have traveled, specifically to the North American continent, and subsequently forgot and abandoned them in the United States (mostly) like so much debris. The pantheon that shows up most is that of Norse mythology. After that, it is a name-that-deity of world religions and beliefs throughout time. Gaiman even makes up some myths in the process, to stand in for those truly forgotten by time. Oddly enough, I do not think any of gods of the Greco-Roman pantheons make an appearance. Or they are small players in the grand scheme of the tale, and not worth mentioning here. It is really a great story idea, and the novel is well executed. Shadow, the protagonist, is a bit like his name: wispy, hard to pin down, reacting more than acting on his surroundings until the turning point of the novel, but that is what the story is about in the long run.

Aside from Shadow finding “agency,” I have two specific parts that are my favorites, but I cannot mention the one because it is a spoiler. The other is a point when Shadow gets to be a regular citizen for a little while, in the middle of the book, during a break in the chaos and machinations of his employer, Mr. Wednesday. He is browsing books at a library sale, and he finds something mundane, but historically important, and it turns out to be a key to a great mystery in the town he is currently hiding in. I like that. Rummage sales, library sales, antique and consignment shops are great places to find little treasures, in book form, that sometimes hold the key to great adventures. It is innocuous details like this that make me love American Gods so much as a whole. Gaiman puts little moments into the fabric of the story to make it seems more real, and often they turn out to be pivotal moments.

This is rambling, but these are my thoughts, and it is late at night, and this post is a week late, nearly. Goodnight.

For further reading on the importance of myth in fiction, check out the author’s speech on “Writing and the Imagination.” I will try to find a link to the text, but for now it can be found at the end of the e-book version of Stardust. It explains a lot.

I’ll be back on schedule with my final January post tomorrow  afternoon/evening.

The Future Drinks the Past’s Mistakes

The human race is racing

on a convoluted track

losing the pacing

of hopes and dreams

of better places.

Calling all the long-lost

dreamers!:

Marshall out of the dimness

into the ever increasing thinness

of this world’s creative halls.

Will you hold the banner higher?

Will you be a peaceful fighter?

Will you will yourself

ever on, despite all those

who scream, “You’re wrong!”

and help your kindred

spirits along?

I believe in God the Father,

Son and Spirit, each a whole,

whole in each other.

He who holds future and past

all in the present, and will outlast,

eternal over time, all earth’s strife.

Only He can bring true life.

We are death, who war with

each other:

son to mother, father to daughter.

We are the reason for decay:

day to night, green to gray.

We’re ever crawling from

hope to dismay.

Still I see hope continue to

flicker—

while this world is growing

sicker—

like a candle in a window

opening on the edge of this world.

Gathering Strength

I just found my favorite Bible passage. It was read in church today and just struck me as poignant. It’s from a tiny book, one of the minor prophets, tucked away near the end of the Old Testament, but it is important nonetheless.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,

nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail,

and the fields yield no food,

the flock be cut off from the fold,

and there be no herd in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

God, the Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet like the deer’s;

he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Remember, no matter how bad the circumstances–and they can be very bad in an imperfect world such as this–the Lord is our strength, if we only remember to look to Him.

For Once, I Liked the Movie Better

Yeah, yeah, brow-beat me about it for all I care. I just finished reading Stardust, and I must say, the movie was better. This is the first time I’ve ever come to that conclusion, and this includes other times when I’ve seen the movie first (which I don’t like doing) before reading the book.

Seriously. Things were done in the movie to expand the world of Faerie, the backdrop to the plot, which weren’t done in the book. I suspect, however, that Neil Gaiman had heavy involvement in the creation of this movie, as he is listed as one of the producers. And I also suspect that his participation is why I loved the movie even more. He probably used the film medium as a way to delve further into the world of the story, as well as to answer some “what if” questions.

What if the sky pirates played a bigger role?

What if we can get a better idea of the scope of Faerie?

I would have taken that opportunity.

I quite enjoyed the book, though, and found myself chuckling out loud. I appreciated it as the stand alone work of fiction that it is. I also realize it is the inspiration for the film. So, by “better than the book,” I mean that the film was able to do things with the world of faerie that the novel was not. The film was also a way to play with character roles, and change things up. I still recommend the book, whole-heartedly. It is a short, easy read, full of whimsy and adventure, danger and excitement, love and longing.

I think, generally speaking, that Stardust is often considered YA in genre, although I usually find it tucked away in the SciFi/Fantasy section of the bookstore. There’s a lot of blurred boundaries between genres these days, so that does not matter a whole lot. I will say that Gaiman’s descriptions are always concise and apt. He paints the landscape and characters with words very effectively. Despite having seen the movie first, I could still imagine the characters as they were described in writing, rather than as they were portrayed in the film, at least mostly. The same goes for the scenery. The passage of time between seeing the film and reading the novel may have helped. It’s been a few years.

One word of warning: If you get the e-book, be careful you don’t miss reading the epilogue. It came after the excerpt for The Ocean at the End of the Lane, for some unknown reason, and I almost missed it.

Winter Formal

The trees are wearing pearls today

to cover their nakedness

they have long left behind their emeralds and gold.

The winter rains dress them well

and soon with the coming of spring

they shall wear all these jewels, and more

beautiful things.

The Only Predictable Thing About This Book is the Sarcastic Cat…

Show of hands: Who’s seen the film, Coraline? I have, but I do not remember it as well as I remembered the book. I read the book first, so that is probably why. I did it in the “right” order. The best thing about this story is that it is engaging for adults, even though it is marketed as a children’s book.

Frankly, if I read this at a young age, I would have been terrified. My first impression, as an adult, is that Coraline is a Carroll-esque tale. There are several parallels between Alice (of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass) and Coraline, and there is an ambivalent cat in each (although the Chesire cat is decidedly more Puckish). Even the malleable and ephemeral natures of the alternate worlds are comparable. After that, comparisons break down. Alice is in a world of dream, created from her own mind and only existing in the subconscious of a sleep state. Coraline travels from her reality to an other reality, created or maintained by an evil creature. Alice is never in any real danger. Coraline is in a world of danger. This is the attraction of the story. We all have some level of fear about a world beyond our control that may exist alongside our own. Certainly the world’s religions (and pathologists) have a greater grasp on this concept than most people. It is a reality for them. Alice must simply wake up. The draw of Gaiman’s story, then, is how Coraline reasons her way out.

This brings me to the coolest thing about this story, for me. In my post on Fragile Things, I mentioned that I came across Gaiman’s books due to a college class about adaptations in literature. One of the requirements was to adapt a book we read into something of our own, just to see how the creative process worked. All we needed was a concept and a plan. I thought Coraline would make the perfect Choose Your Own Adventure story. (I loved those books as a kid, and I’m in good company. Apparently Neil Patrick Harris loved those books, too. I digress.) I mapped out five of the major turning points and reworked them as decision points. Then, I wrote out the possible alternate scenarios if the reader–choosing for Coraline–picked an option other than that in the original plot. It was an interesting project, and one I enjoyed very much.

Basically, Coraline is the kind of book that says: With a little intuition, a lot of bravery, and a good friend, you can get through any tough spot. It ends as a feel-good story about a girl who overcomes a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, but the whole book is not sugary sweet as all that. Coraline faces challenges, and she must make difficult decisions. She also must trust a little to luck. I loved this story the first time I read it, and I enjoyed reading it again.

Best Fortune Ever!

I got a fortune cookie fortune that said “The book should be a ball of light in one’s hand.”

I pinned it onto my inspiration board by my computer.

Best. Fortune. Ever.

Fortune is a weird word, by the by. Say it a few times and see what I mean.