I’m always unsure if I want to hear one of my favorite authors speak. What if they aren’t as I imagined them? What if they fall flat? What if they’re awful and all my dreams are dashed forever and I can’t ever enjoy their writing again? What if I end up hugging a pile of their books in my home while curled up crying in a ball of pain and disillusionment?
I have been unpleasantly startled by less than thrilling presentations from great authors or odd voices. Have you ever pictured an author’s voice in your head for years – then met them and your mind is immediately blown? It’s not their fault, but sometimes you just have a voice in your head. It’s been there, keeping you company every time you cracked open their books, you heard it telling their story. It’s horrible to have that change and never be able to read their books in quite the same way again. It’s like seeing the movie rendition of a book you love, you’ll never be able to go back to how the characters looked in your head before you watched that damn thing.
But there have also been amazing authors whose appearances have only increased my admiration of them. I was lucky enough to hear one of them speak last night.
I am an ardent admirer of Neil Gaiman, he is one of my all time favorite authors. I have shoved his books into many a hand in bookstores, whether I knew the person previously or not. I’ve put them in stockings yearly and given them as random gifts for no other reason than I really want someone to experience them. They’ve shown up on the desks of co-workers, who I then pester with various renditions of “have you read it? did you love it?” until they actually do read it. Thankfully, they always end up enjoying the books so my slightly annoying dedication to making their life hell until they finally read the wonderful book I’ve purchased for them is inevitably forgiven.
Last night Gaiman spoke at a special charity event here in Ogden. The event’s organizers went all out in honor of The Graveyard Book. Shadows of trees projected on the walls, a cemetery, a homey set on stage to instill the feeling that you’re sitting in a crumbling mansion next to a fireplace in the dark of the night. Though it felt like forever until he took the stage (I was impatient and hid it badly) once he was up there, he was everything I had hoped.
He read a couple short stories, talked about how he became an author and spoke about how important it is to help our future generations be literate. Listening to Neil Gaiman is exactly like being inside one of his books. His voice is the one you hear in your head, describing the Other Mother or the little boy flitting from grave to grave in the fog. He was descriptive and engaging, keeping the room amused and silently spellbound by turns.
If you haven’t read his books, I can only hope you will after today. Gaiman’s stories are darkly, magically, beautiful. He creates characters and worlds that come alive, burrowing into your imagination to stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.
Though I have loved every book – short, long, for children or adults – that he has written, Neverwhere holds a special place in my heart. If I ever get to visit London, I know I’ll be trying to fall through the cracks, hoping for a chance to cross the Knightsbridge and survive a visit to the Earl’s Court to Islington. It’s one of those stories that makes you yearn, with all your book loving soul, that the places and people could actually exist.
Even the dangerous, terrifying ones. Even the ones that make you leave all your lights on when you go to bed.
If you were a child that climbed into wardrobes to find Narnia, I know you’ll love Gaiman’s books as much as I do. You’ll spend the rest of your adult life hoping, praying, wishing that somehow, somewhere… Gaiman’s worlds are actually there, just waiting for us to find them.