The Neil Gaiman Dilemma


by - March 11th, 2014


The MilkI’ve been reading Neil Gaiman’s stuff since I discovered The Sandman back in the 1990s, while I was working in a comic book store. Although I haven’t read everything he’s written, I’ve read a lot of it. I was ridiculously excited when it was first announced that he was going to write an episode of Doctor Who and I quickly jumped online to buy tickets when he was speaking at the Athenaeum Theatre back in 2011. I think it’s fair to say that I’m a bit of a Neil Gaiman fan. So how do I deal with the fact that I didn’t care for Fortunately, The Milk…?

I wanted to like it. I wanted to like it, so much — as I always want to like what Gaiman writes. But it just didn’t work for me — at least not on the level of The Graveyard Book (see: “Gaiman’s Graveyard Book”) or Chu’s Days (see: “Neil Gaiman’s sneezy picture book”), both of which I adored. Fortunately, The Milk… was kinda cute. But I also found it predictable in its somewhat forced unpredictableness (if that makes any sense).

But my opinions of Fortunately, The Milk… are irrelevant. After all, I’m sure Gaiman doesn’t care. And it’s not as if my opinion will have any bearing on whether other people purchase it and like it. What’s important here is how my opinion of Fortunately, The Milk… affects ME! 😉 Does it nullify my Neil Gaiman fan status? Should I now avoid future Gaiman books on the off chance I don’t care for them?

After the initial shock of my reaction to Fortunately, The Milk…, I did eventually calm down and try to look at things with reason. After thinking about it a little, I realised that this has happened before.

I LOVED the episode that Gaiman wrote for Series 6 of Doctor Who, “The Doctor’s Wife” (See: “Gaiman and the Doctor“). I loved it so much that I immediately started hoping he would write another. And he did. For Series 7 he wrote “Nightmare in Silver”. I was so excited. I expected  to love it. Instead, I was massively underwhelmed. For a while there I thought that Gaiman maybe only had one good Doctor Who story in him. But then I read 11 Doctors, 11 Stories, the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary story collection. In it was Gaiman’s “Nothing O’Clock”… and it was brilliant!

Ocean at the end of the laneSo, having reminded myself of this incident, I decided not to give up on Neil Gaiman as a writer — and, more importantly, on myself as a Gaiman fan. I picked up my copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which had been sitting on my must-read-soon pile for way too long, and I read it. And I loved it!

[insert sigh of relief]

The story was small and personal, dealing with one man’s memories of a forgotten childhood incident, and yet it was also on a grand scale —mythic and epic. The characterisation was believable, the setting tangible and the memories vivid. I felt like I was there. I was immersed in this literary ocean. I am so pleased that I read it.

So, folks, what did I learn from all of this? If one of my favourite authors occasionally produces something that I don’t particularly like, it doesn’t mean that all this other writing is suddenly negated. Ergo… I should never dismiss any author just because I didn’t care for one piece of his/her writing. What if Fortunately, The Milk… had been my first experience of Gaiman’s writing? What if I had never picked up another Gaiman book? How much poorer would my literary landscape have been.

Catch ya later,  George

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