Enter Sandman

Why Neil Gaiman is about to become bigger than death

CP: Do you approach the problem of suspending disbelief in different mediums differently?

Gaiman: My approach is always the same. You're the storyteller, somebody else is somebody you're telling stories to, and it's your job to take them by the hand, look them in the eye, and say everything's okay, we're going to walk into dark places, and you can trust me. And then you take their hand, and you walk step by step out of the light, into a dark place. And then you let go of their hand and you walk away.

CP: [laughing] But don't you come back and get them?

"I have this thing which in retrospect looks like a career": Neil Gaiman
Jayson Wold
"I have this thing which in retrospect looks like a career": Neil Gaiman

Gaiman: Sometimes. Sometimes you leave them in the dark forever.

CP: Do any of your ideas originate from telling stories to your kids?

Gaiman:The Wolves in the Walls kind of did, in that it began with a daughter having a nightmare, and me telling Maddy stories about me and her, and the evil wolves who'd taken over the house, and how we were brave and rescued things, because she was so troubled by this nightmare of wolves. But the book bears no relationship to any of those stories.

The process of making up stories for kids orally and on the fly is very similar to the process of making up stories that you write down, in that you're using the same kind of engines. I've actually found a few recently, going through some old files in the attic. There was a period when I had to be away for a few weeks, so I'd started emailing Maddy an installment of the story every night when she was about five or six. It was about this princess who, when she was born, a fairy made her an appalling liar. Trying to fix things [years later], the fairy said, "Okay, everything she says from now on will be true."

The trouble was, she continued being an appalling liar, but now if she said to you, "You have two noses," you'd have two noses. It was enormously fun, but it wasn't anything I read and said, oh, I must get this off to my publisher immediately.

CP: You have an unusual amount of openness about your family with fans. Where do you draw the line with your private life?

Gaiman: I remember once I said something about my wife, which I thought was just the kind of funny story you put up on a blog. I'm a member of the Deformed Bunny of the Month Club. There's a very nice lady out on the West Coast who makes me deformed bunnies. They used to come monthly, and now they're sort of more quarterly, but they'll turn up, and they'll be strangely disturbing.

A few years ago, one of these bunnies arrived, and it had two heads. It was in a ballet tutu, and it was kind of cute. And my wife said, "Well that's really cute, it isn't even disturbing like the others."

And then Maddy said, "Yes, Mom, and look, one of the heads is dead!"

I just thought that was funny, so I put it on my blog, and the next thing my wife is saying, "I don't feel comfortable being on there." So as far as my blogging world exists, I leave her out.

I can definitely see a point where I would no longer blog, or tour, or do interviews. I think I'm somebody who decided early on that you either do it the whole way, and you have fun with it, or you go the Thomas Pynchon route. I'm not sure I'd be very good at doing the middle ground. I'm now just a bit more famous than I'm comfortable with. Stephen King once told me about the mad lady who lived in his attic, this person who had crept into his house, and his advice was: Do not live where your address is.

CP: What makes your writing different from horror?

Gaiman: Somebody once said to me that they didn't like horror short stories because they always tended to end where you want a story to begin. There are probably two stories in Fragile Things that I think of as pure horror, "Closing Time," which is a ghost story, and "Feeders and Eaters," about the old lady who winds up more or less keeping the guy for meat.

CP: Last question: How do human beings use stories?

Gaiman: I think we use them in a lot of ways. We use them to tell each other that we're alive. We use them to create and justify a worldview. Except that they are wrong in every possible way, the book-burners have a point. Because stories are dangerous. I think that it's really important for people who don't want other people to have ideas to kill stories with those ideas in them.

I think the scariest thing about the Islamic world, about the Arab world, is not the fact that you get some nuts hijacking planes and crashing them into buildings. I think what's really scary is that there were more fiction books translated into Greek last year than have been translated into Arabic since the days of the Prophet. That's big and scary. If I were the United States government, I wouldn't have started giant, massive multi-billion-dollar wars. I would have started up piddly little million-dollar printing presses and translated Harry Potter. [Editor's note: Actually, Harry Potter books have been translated into Arabic.]

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