Gaiman's American Gods

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at
Wed Oct 10 13:27:38 EDT 2001

On Wed, 10 Oct 2001 16:04:09 +0800 (WST), Paul Andinach wrote:

>On Wed, 10 Oct 2001, christian nutt wrote:
>> i don't know if you were a sandman reader, but the book felt rather
>> transparently recycled and thrown together from a lot of its
>> elements.
>I was (am?) a Sandman reader, and I never got that.

I did.  Or, rather, I didn't think of it as recycling the Sandman stories,
but that it seemed like a Sandman story in straight prose.  I can even
remember places in the book where I felt as though there should be
illustrations--as though he'd structured it like one of his scripts for
Sandman.  (Have you ever seen pictures of these?  They look like
screenplays.  I read that he learned to do it this way from Alan Moore, very
detailed and dense with instruction for the layout and the art.  I think
it's fascinating.)  I put it down to him just being new to the novel form.
I liked it quite a bit, but I think I would prefer the miniseries, simply
because of that feeling I had that it should have had a visual component.
It just now occurred to me that I'm one of the few who liked _Stardust_ as a
novel WITHOUT the Charles Vess visual component that everyone else loves
(keeping in mind that I've never actually seen it and my opinion would
probably change if I had).  Ironic.

>> as i think i said in another post, i also felt like he basically
>> lifted richard mayhew from douglas adam's hitchhiker's guide's
>> arthur dent, and sent him to play in the london sewers. 
>I think this objection is, perhaps counter-intuitively, a sign that
>you're not as perspicacious as you think you are.

Oh my, Paul, why don't you tell us what you really think?  :)

While I disagree with Christian's conclusions, I think his observations are
sound.  Both Arthur Dent and Richard Mayhew strike me as being a peculiarly
British kind of hero--not the only kind of British hero, but not the sort
that pops up in American genre fiction.  The bumbling, uninformed affable
type who is tossed into the middle of things and either learns to sink or
swim--and the point of the story is to get him to swim.  In American fiction
this character exists but is almost never the hero.  (In literary fiction
he's exclusively the hero, but I have Issues with contemporary literary
fiction.)  When I was a teen, Arthur Dent made an impression on me because I
had never seen a protagonist like him before.  And he was still the first
thing that came to mind when I read _Neverwhere_.  Some of that is obviously
setting and plot: ordinary guy in England is drawn violently out of his own
world into another about which he knows nothing.  Some of it was the fact
that even as ancient and decrepit as I am, I still haven't read many books
with this kind of protagonist.  It sounds as though Christian stopped at
this point.

Beyond this, I really don't agree that they're the same.  The first point is
what Paul pointed out, about Richard doing things and Arthur being done to.
Part of the humor in the Hitchhiker books relies on Arthur remaining
perennially clueless.  Richard Mayhew wouldn't be nearly so sympathetic if
he continued to be helpless.  Half the plot is about his transformation as a
character.  (Paul Jonas, in Tad Williams' _Otherland_, is far more similar
to Richard Mayhew than Arthur Dent is, by the way, and while Williams is not
to my knowledge British, he's done a good job of capturing the British hero
type in that character.)  One gets the feeling that despite all that Arthur
Dent goes through, he's basically the same person at the end--whereas
Richard can't really return to the real world after the end of his

I definitely don't think _Neverwhere_ is fluff, to use Christian's word.  To
me it represents a bridge between two genres.  I'm not going to read
_American Gods_ because I'm not up to certain kinds of mayhem--there were
parts of Sandman that I could barely stand--but in my opinion Neil Gaiman is
still coming into his own as a novelist.  Jacob says he's already there with
_AG_, which could be true.  Either way, I think it was remarkable for him to
make the transition at all.

Melissa Proffitt
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