Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman
by Hank Wagner, Christopher Golden & Stephen R. Bissette
Cover Artist: Dave McKean
Review by Drew Bittner
St. Martin's Griffin Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312373726
Date: 27 October 2009 List Price $17.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
If you know (or are) a fan of Neil Gaiman's work, there's a book that will make a terrific Christmas present. Hank Wagner, Christopher Golden and Stephen R. Bissette have constructed perhaps the definitive look at the work and words of Neil Gaiman--comic book writer, novelist, screenwriter, director and fantasist par excellence.
Prince of Stories quite wisely begins at the beginning, with a foreword by Terry Pratchett. World famous for his Discworld series of novels, Pratchett also collaborated with Gaiman on Good Omens, a lighthearted take on the Apocalypse and the rise of the Anti-Christ. He met Gaiman when the latter was a freelance journalist, interviewing Pratchett about his success with Discworld. That began a friendship that has lasted just over two decades, spawned a book, and lots of entertaining anecdotes.
From there, the book explores Gaiman's family tree, his early years in England, his fascination with books and his keen interest in writing. It seems he was fated to become a writer, as even his earliest years reveal the seeds of books he wrote much, much later.
Much of the book is taken up with synopses and literary critique of his body of work, spanning the early comic book stories (including a considerable amount that predates his groundbreaking Sandman epic). Summaries of the stories are provided, along with an extensive, insightful discourse on how these tales built upon each other and gradually construct a mythology unique to Gaiman's work. Many of these smaller articles include comments from Gaiman's collaborators and friends, which explore the creation of these works from different perspectives.
The largest portion is given over to a study of The Sandman, the 76-issue comic book series for which Gaiman is perhaps best known. Telling the story of Morpheus (aka Dream, one of the mythic and godlike Endless) and his struggle to regain his realm after a captivity of decades, The Sandman is an extended meditation on the role of story in the human psyche, shaping our world, our actions and even our consequences. It is brilliant work and earned Gaiman a place among the greats--not solely in the world of comics but in the realm of writers period. Sandman created a modern mythology, one not dependent upon the ancient Greeks or the Lovecraftian writers of the 1920s, in which the family of the Endless (including Death [one of Gaiman's most popular characters], Destruction, Delirium, Desire and Despair) personify phenomena that affect humanity daily. Morpheus interacts with humans, angels, Lucifer, the faerie folk and many more in the course of working out his own destiny. (And if you haven't read it yet, the Absolute Sandman volumes are a treasure.)
But Sandman is far from Gaiman's only comic book work, or his only example of thinking deeply upon what he is writing. One notable piece in this section is an essay, previously unpublished, wherein Gaiman thinks out loud about the nature of a "vegetable theology" in the DC Comics universe, tying together Swamp Thing, Black Orchid (a C-list character he pulled from obscurity), Poison Ivy, and more. It's fascinating reading and gives a great look inside Gaiman's thought process as he develops a means of linking these disparate green heroes and villains into a cohesive whole.
This section also discusses Gaiman's long and legally convoluted battle with Spawn creator Todd MacFarlane over the rights to Miracleman, a character revived by Alan Moore and subsequently written by Gaiman. It makes for intriguing reading, especially in regards to intellectual property rights... and may leave the reader dizzy, despite the clear explanation of a murky legal conflict.
After the comic book section, the authors delve into his novels (including American Gods, Stardust, and Anansi Boys) and his copious short fiction. Gaiman's love of storytelling and his fascination with mythology (juxtaposed with the ordinary) are shown as major themes in his work.
A very lengthy and in-depth interview with Gaiman follows the discussion of his work. Along with two sets of pictures and a very touching convention anecdote, that sums up the book's contents.
A review of a book like this can never really cover more than the tiniest amount of its substance. Suffice it to say that Neil Gaiman has been given a long, affectionate, and scholarly review. Wagner, Golden and Bissette (a former Swamp Thing artist himself) achieve something heroic in how they analyze, dissect and ultimately praise Gaiman's accomplishments in so many fields.
Anyone who reads fantasy for enjoyment should highly prize this book. There are few works out there that so masterfully explore and explain the doings of a modern writer. And, given that Gaiman is still relatively young, he has plenty of time to create material for a second volume--one that would certainly be as well worth reading.