Neil Gaiman is popular among my students. At least among those that still read for fun. A couple of years back one of them lent me a copy of American Gods, and the story stayed with me. Having lived for many years in Wisconsin, and having visited the House on the Rock, the novel was like a kaleidoscope of some of my more pleasant memories of the state. Neverwhere is quite different and yet equally compelling. Gaiman peoples his worlds with characters just on the edge of believability thrown in with protagonists who tend to be completely confused by what they’re experiencing. Instead of gods, in Neverwhere there is an angel with the unlikely name of Islington and we have the myth of Lucifer’s fall retold in fantasy format, rolled together with Alice in Wonderland and the myth of Theseus. For starters.
A person is a composite of what s/he reads and learns and accepts. The books we digest, each in a unique recipe fitting our individual tastes, create new compounds and concepts that explore our personal realities. Neverwhere takes the reader down a rat-hole instead of a rabbit-hole, but nevertheless follows a young girl on a journey of maturity. The hero’s quest is undertaken to actualize both protagonist and idol, and along the way the beast in the labyrinth must be encountered and slain. Theseus, the flawed hero, dominates a world where even saviors have peccadilloes.
The protagonist of Neverwhere does not believe in angels, despite his encounter with one. As Gaiman puts it: “it was much easier not to believe in something when it was not actually looking directly at you and saying your name.” Belief generally involves not seeing. Once the object of belief is empirically confirmed, belief becomes knowledge. Today the belief in angels remains unabated. No empirical proof, nothing tangible confirms this belief beyond the anecdotal accounts of those who claim to have experienced them. Even the fanciful image of their androgynous good looks and unlikely wings remain untainted for all the centuries. Neverwhere raises an intelligent question about angels, but to discover what it is you’ll need to go down the rat-hole as well.
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