This morning at the cafe I was talking to the barista about American Gods by Neil Gaiman. She’s just about finished with the book and she loves it. This is her first exposure to Gaiman’s work and she plans to read Neverwhere next. Since I loved both of these books, I was happy to plug Neverwhere and chat a bit about American Gods.
When I left the cafe, I started thinking about the mechanics of Gaiman’s work and how he uses the Hero’s Journey in most of his work. it occurred to me that I might write a nice little article about this, but of course a quick search turned up scads of folks with similar ideas.
Roundup after the jump…
Eva, over at A Striped Armchair, neatly sums up a reader’s impression of Gaiman’s approach to the Hero’s Journey:
A typical Neil Gaiman hero is bumbling, or at least unaware of what’s really going on for most of the book. In American Gods, Shadow becomes the errand boy for Mr. Wednesday (on Mr. Wednesday’s insistence), who has some strange habits and appears in the most coincidental places. While Shadow is very efficient in the real world, he has to operate somewhat like a blindman in the world of mythology Mr. Wednesday plunges him into. The Fool (tarot card)In contrast, the protagonist of Neverwhere, Richard Mayhew, doesn’t function too well in either world. And while Shadows finds himself seeked out to begin his adventure, Richard stumbles over his, in the form of Door, a girl from the Underground. Coraline also accidently encounters an Other World, although she proves to be quite clever. Tristran Thorn of Stardust, begins his adventure due to a whim of the girl he’s in love with, Fat Charlie (one of Anansi’s Boys) both belong to the bumblers category with Richard: obviously, Gaiman’s quite fond of creating characters who are a bit like fools.
Ryan Paul’s review of the book Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman and Joseph Campbell: In Search of the Modern Myth – with special commentary by Leonard Nimoy (not).
Rauch is most convincing when he draws connections between Sandman and traditional myth, using Campbell as the bridge. For example, his discussion of the hero’s journey and how Gaiman has modified it was insightful, revealing a side of the series that I had never noticed. Another interesting chapter examines the social function of myth, and how Gaiman’s work expands the traditional social order to include marginalized groups.
A verse review (no, I’m not kidding) of American Gods by Suzanne Nixon at The Compulsive Reader:
Neil Gaiman’s American Gods
is a Tale for a person such as me;
is a Tale that pleads for all of us
to be Makers, in our beliefs
for there really is only one Tale
in the Universe:
the Hero’s Journey…
No, seriously, you have to read this poetic review. Quite surreal.
From Claire White’s interview with Neil Gaiman on Writer’s Write where Neil cries Sun God not Hero’s Journey in the case of Shadow (American Gods):
In some ways, as you mentioned, there are some parallels there to Christ. Some reviewers go, “Aha! A classic hero’s journey.” I’ve seen that phrase used a couple of times. And if it’s a classic hero’s journey, it’s not meant to be. What it’s actually meant to be is the classic Sun God story. Which is a very different animal. The solar deity which was the original pattern of the sun gods. I loved writing him. I loved writing a character like him. With both Stardust and with Neverwhere, I was very aware while I was writing them of the C.S. Lewis’ dictum that to write how odd events strike odd people is an oddity too much. And by American Gods I was quite tired of that dictum. I thought in Sandman I had no objection to writing both odd events and odd people. Then I thought there are very few people in this world that are anything but odd when you get under their skin.
A comment from Jack on the io9 article Eight Reasons Why the Hero’s Journey Sucks, which sort of rebuts the premise of the article (good for you Jack!):
I mean you can take Neil Gaiman’s American Gods as a wonderful way of both using the Hero’s Journey and critiquing it at the same time. In the hands of a skilled writer these ideas and archetypes can be fresh and wonderful experiences. Perhaps it’s a limitation of the genre of Sci Fi and Fantasy that it requires stories to follow the same sorts of trajectories in order to give us a familiar path through and unfamiliar terrain. I don’t know… but the basic point is that Joseph Campbell’s cataloging of cultural similarities is not the root cause of bad Sci Fi writing, bad writers are.
And last, Philip Palmer (author of Debatable Space) talks about Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary’s work on Beowulf (which I have not seen yet):
And so I have to take my hat off to Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, for what they’ve done with their script for the Robert Zemeckis’ directed Beowulf. They turn a turgid yarn into a ripping yarn. And without taking any credit away from Avary, surely it was Gaiman’s influence that turned a macho blood-fest into a subtle dissection and critique of the nature of heroism? Quoting from memory: late in the story, Beowulf (Ray Winstone) says, ‘Men are the monsters now,’ beautifully turning a reactionary tale into a critique of war.
If you have others, feel free to contribute in the comments.