Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Neverwhere: A Novel (written by Neil Gaiman) - published in 1996

“The trouble with girls is they’re a mystery,
Something about ‘em puzzles me
Spend my whole life tryin’ to figure out
Just what them girls are all about…”
What man doesn’t wish to be the knight in shining armor - saving the damsel in distress? Exactly what Richard Mayhew does, except that his fiancée Jessica is in tow as well, warning him not to; and to make matters worse, the rescued damsel-Door, bloodied and wounded implores him to extend to her another favor - find her friend Marquis de Carabas, who would help her escape the fate that awaits her in the guise of two ruthless assassins - Mr. Croup and Mr.Vandemar.
So precisely why is Door in trouble? Her parents were killed in London Below, and her bid to escape brings her to London Above. She possesses the inherent gift of opening other things, besides just doors. The fox-like Croup and the animal devouring wolfish Vandemar are on her heels, to subject her to the same fate as her family.
Richard is paid a visit by Messrs. Croup & Vandemar, showing him a  picture of their ‘sister’ Door, whom they would like to take back to mother; sensible Richard denies her presence, and on their way, the duo hear Jessica break Richard’s heart and their engagement. As if it couldn’t be more infernal - Richard is now invisible, homeless and jobless.
In search of Door (who, by the by, has disappeared in smoke), Richard travels to London Below, to the kingdom of the Rat Speakers, and the Floating Market, where he finally finds Door, who is conducting a recruitment drive for prospective bodyguards. Finally, the position goes to Hunter, and the three (Door, the Marquis and Hunter) get Richard to join them on their journey to the Earl’s Court-the Earl would direct them to the Angel of Islington - guardian  angel of London Below.

The Marquis, a swashbuckling, suave, smooth Puss in Boots type of chap has been a loyal friend of Door’s deceased family. Along with him, they all travel to the Court, although he has to leave mid way owing to irreconcilable differences with the Earl. Meanwhile, the Earl directs them to the British Museum, to find the Angelus statue, which paves the way to the Angel. Once they meet, the Angel promises to reveal the identity of the killers of Door’s family. However, she must first salvage the inimitable key from the Black Friars, the other residents of London Below.
On the other hand, the Marquis strikes a deal with Messrs. Croup & Vandemar – that in exchange for a priceless T’ang Dynasty figurine, they would disclose the mystery of the murder of Door’s family. While the Marquis lives up to his word, unfortunately, the wolves in sheep’s clothing- Croup & Vandemar- don’t; ending in the tragic end of the brave Marquis.
On the other hand, Door, Richard and Hunter are on their way to the Black Friars, where the three face a test each-Door wins the test of intellect, Richard- the test of character and Hunter, the test of strength. This success results in them getting the key.
The Devil in the plot is the Angel, closely following on his devious trail, Hunter. Both of them want to use Door’s powers for their own gain - he to have dominion over all the angels, and Hunter to slay the Beast. But all’s well that ends well - everything evil is carefully dispensed, and Richard returns to London Above-more confident, yet longing for London Below.
Neil Gaiman’s penchant for fantasy has yet again drawn readers, young and old alike, to enjoy yet another spiraling and thrilling story about worlds unknown. The Book is also a drama series on TV, starring Clive Russell and Laura Fraser. Gaiman has outdone himself with the Book- a modern day fairy tale of opulent magnitude, is what the reader should expect. He is also the author of the Graveyard Book, American Gods and the comic series The Sandman. Gaiman is the first writer to win both the Carnegie and Newberry medals for The Graveyard Book (2008).

Neverwhere: A Novel (written by Neil Gaiman) - published in 1996

Monday, July 29, 2013

Novel - Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman in 1990)

Apocalypse, Kal Yuga, Qayamat, Anti-Christ, well, I’m creeped plenty! Thankfully Good Omens: …. is anything but; it is typically “Gaimanesque” with Prachett’s wit thrown in for good measure. Most of Gaiman’s works are considered part of the genre of fantasy; but unlike many of his novels- this would appeal to young adolescents and adults. In an Age of Goblets of Fire and Fellowships of Rings, this would easily pass off as another magical fantasy-but it has religious connotations, unbeknownst to many young readers, so therefore, it is a good read for an older age group.
The End, by any other name would still mean Grim Reapers, avatars of raging gods, death, sorrow, war et al. When the Gates of Eden were shut tight to the world, the Angel Aziraphale (keeper of Eden, now the proprietor of a book shop) and the serpent, who personified Lucifer, now called Crowley (distortion-crawly, for the snake was cursed to crawl on its belly, but now happily ensconced in a 1926 Bentley) - are left on Earth, and loving this state, all play, no work. They are almost friendly, not the adversaries they set out to be over six millennia!
Suddenly, their peaceful coexistence is threatened by the birth of the Anti Christ. Very “The Omen” in its initial approach, including the nuns at the hospital who switch babies, this spoof of the original actually leaves you in splits (yeah sure, the end of the world is an obsession extraordinaire, but why not laugh about it once in a while instead of having mass-Wacko style prognostications and Heaven’s Gate’s arsenic-cyanide laced corpses paving the way to doomsday?). Over a drunken  lunch (post feeding the ducks) - the two share their apprehensions regarding Armageddon, how can they stop a good thing from coming to an end?
Adam Young, the character fashioned a lot like William, the bratty yet angelic boy from Richard Crompton’s book “Just William the Anti Christ”, is the guy they’re after, a refreshingly innocent eleven-year old, naïve towards his own unholy powers. And when he does use these powers- the race is on to find him, and the Four Horsemen (from the Book of Revelations) go a-hunting, relying on the prophecies of Agnes Nutter, 17C prophetess and witch, owned by Anathema Device her niece.

With characters that are human (it’s just their names which aren’t!), the Book does take a funny look at a serious matter that has been the preoccupation of our race -  from the Mayans to  present day doomsday-prophets.
Does the world end? Are the good guys taken up in Rapture? Read the book- it’s the only way you’ll ever know! Although stopping the world from going up in smoke isn’t such a bad idea-after all, Earth has its share of innumerable ‘first grade’ musicians, hell only two and Crowley doesn’t want to hear them play on his way out! Neil Gaiman, originally from England (no doubt from where he got his influences of druids, witches and fairies), lives in the US. He has authored many books for children such as Stardust (a major motion picture starring the likes of Peter O’Toole and Michelle Pfeiffer), Frost Giants, and picture books like Blueberry Girl.
Terry Prachett, actually Sir Terence David John Prachett is a British novelist and creator of the Discworld –a series of forty books. The recipient of the coveted Carnegie Medal for his work The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents in 2001, he has a penchant for black fedoras! He lives in the UK.
Gaiman and Prachett met way back in 1985, and got together to write Good Omens… in 1988.According to Gaiman, “I felt like a journeyman working alongside a master-craftsman in some medieval guild.” Exploring their commonalities, the Book is a labor of friendship and a synergy of common talents.
The Book has been nominated twice in 1991 – for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel and the Locus Award for the Best Fantasy Novel. It won the FantLab’s Book of the Year Award in 2012.

Novel - Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman in 1990)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Graveyard Book (written by Neil Gaiman) - Published in 2008

"How Nobody Came To The Graveyard"- seems an unnecessary statement of the obvious (NOBODY, really, would like to come to the graveyard!) - until realization sneaks up on you and you learn that Nobody is a toddler - who crawled away from the House of Horrors when  his former abode had been  tragically turned thus by ‘the man Jack’ - a cold blooded assassin from a dark secret society , the Jack of All Trades.
The toddler scrambles away, through wisps of mist and creatures lurking in the dark, to a place all living beings dread- the graveyard. Unbeknownst to the hapless child, the ghost of his mother pleads with the residents of God’s Acre, to help the toddler. The couple  – a picture of ghoulish marital bliss for over two hundred and fifty years (!) – embrace the child as their own, especially since they had none when they were alive.
But like all human traits, the nasty ones we take to our graves, and the arrival of Nobody causes a tussle- should he stay (he isn’t a ghost and has human needs, after all), if he does,  does he get Freedom of the Graveyard? Although they seemed happy to have him, his ghoulish foster parents were exactly that- ghouls, and they seemed clueless as far as their new ward was concerned. And so, Silas (aptly named, for his name means ‘Of the Forest’, or here the graveyard, an equally desolate space), a mysterious creature, is deputed the task for providing for Nobody’s earthly needs.

While they still debated the violation of their macabre space by this little mass of life, the Angel of Death silences every doubt of theirs by appealing to the altruistic side of their otherwise believed to be ‘dead’ conscience. And so- Nobody stays, oblivious to the fate his family met or the strange turn of events that will now alter the course of his life forever!
As ‘Bod’ grows (everyone has a nickname!), he starts to wonder what lies beyond those rusty iron gates, and why is it that though Silas can wander about wherever he wills- Bod ,   must stay put, acquiescing to the fact that this is his domain? Whilst here, Silas and Mr. Pennyworth offer him an education; from the alphabets to reading out loud (Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in The Hat).
So it is one day, as he sits practicing his reading and writing, that he chances upon his first human- Scarlet Amber Perkins, whose parents are most intriguing and interesting- they let her play in the cemetery! And like Alice in the Rabbit Hole, they go inside the hill, to get to the barrow where the oldest member of the graveyard, even older than Caius the Roman, is believed to be buried- returning somewhat disappointed.
The fourth chapter, which was intended to be the first, was also published as a short story in 2008, winning the coveted Locus Award. In it, eight year old Bod defies his foster parents’ diktat to never go there, to the Potter’s Field (the graveyard by another name).Here the souls of ‘sad people’ (not bad) wandered under a pall. But along with them, there also wandered the ghosts of witches. So his second escapade gets him to meet E.H- a 500 year old ‘witch’ Liza Hempstock.
Amidst all the excitement of exploring dark places and meeting wonderful characters, it’s time now for our Bod, aged ten- to have his first dance. So he’s all spruced up, and dances with Liza, and even the Lady Grey who promises that one day he will get to ride her magnificent steed!
When Bod is eleven, Silas tells him of how he came to be at the Graveyard, and that now since he is alive, he must do whatever he can, and so much to Silas’s surprise- he chooses to go to school! But after a few days and narrow escapes, it is decided, for his own good, that he must stay in the graveyard! (most kids would love to have that option!)
As the years progress, Bod remains unaware of Jack- who still has a score to settle and isn’t resting till he sees him dead! In a fancy room, all the men called ‘Jack’ want the killer Jack to get cracking on the case, ‘You had time (TEN years).Now, you just have a deadline.’
Words that ring with foreboding – for outside all human realm, there are powers that govern the lives we lead; we unknowingly are drawn to our fate. Thus, when Scarlet returns with best intentions to solve the mystery of Bod’s family’s tragic end, and when she introduces him to Mr. Jay Frost (historian), his doom is almost certain, for the man is actually Jack!
As the tale draws to a close, Bod starts to lose the powers he has- he cannot see in the dark, nor fade in and out. Everyone including the Owens seem strangely distant and Silas urges him to go forth into the  a world, with a new passport, a wallet with some money in it, and the assurance that when Bod calls on him, he will come.
Finally, Nobody Owens is ready to be a ‘somebody’ in the world-as he wishes his and mother goodbye, and shares his dreams with her, she bids him adieu with a song she  sang for him , as a toddler:
‘Sleep until you waken
When you’re grown you’ll see the world
If I’m not mistaken….leave no path untaken.’
So, Bod leaves his home of so many years, to be amongst his own, before the day he is finally laid to rest: “But between now and then, there was Life; and Bod walked into it with his eyes and his heart wide open.”
Set in another world, almost, the story leaves you fuzzy and warm, longing for a cuppa and more news of young Bod’s escapades in the world of humans- and if school was anything to go by, then things are surely going to get tougher!
A must read for every child, but only after every mom and dad have read the Book! It’ll just make bed time story telling a whole new experience- maybe scary at first (don’t kids just love a good ghost story?), but also the kind that solicits a slight warm tug at your heart strings as your lil’ one cuddles closer, and wants more, feeling nice he’s got daddy and she’s got mommy by their side, poor Bod!
And if a kid’s word isn’t good enough, there’s a whole list of accolades and critical acclaim the Book has received, including a Walt Disney movie offer! The Carnegie Medal, the Hugo award, Newberry Medal - between the years 2009 and 2010.