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The View from the Cheap Seats

Neil Gaiman


  For Ash, who is new,

  for when he is grown.

  These were some of the things

  your father loved and said

  and cared about and believed,

  a long time ago.





  Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming: The Reading Agency Lecture, 2013

  Telling Lies for a Living . . . and Why We Do It: The Newbery Medal Speech, 2009

  Four Bookshops

  Three Authors: On Lewis, Tolkien and Chesterton; The MythCon 35 Guest of Honor Speech

  The Pornography of Genre, or the Genre of Pornography

  Ghosts in the Machines: Some Hallowe’en Thoughts

  Some Reflections on Myth (with Several Digressions onto Gardening, Comics and Fairy Tales)

  How Dare You: On America, and Writing About It

  All Books Have Genders

  The PEN Awards and Charlie Hebdo

  What the [Very Bad Swearword] Is a Children’s Book, Anyway? The Zena Sutherland Lecture


  Reflections: On Diana Wynne Jones

  Terry Pratchett: An Appreciation

  On Dave McKean

  How to Read Gene Wolfe

  Remembering Douglas Adams

  Harlan Ellison: The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World

  Banging the Drum for Harlan Ellison

  On Stephen King, for the Sunday Times

  Geoff Notkin: Meteorite Man

  About Kim Newman, with Notes on the Creation and Eventual Dissolution of the Peace and Love Corporation

  Gumshoe: A Book Review


  Six to Six



  Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 and What Science Fiction Is and Does

  Of Time, and Gully Foyle: Alfred Bester and The Stars My Destination

  Samuel R. Delany and The Einstein Intersection

  On the Fortieth Anniversary of the Nebula Awards: A Speech, 2005

  IV FILMS AND MOVIES AND ME The Bride of Frankenstein

  MirrorMask: An Introduction

  MirrorMask: A Sundance Diary

  The Nature of the Infection: Some Thoughts on Doctor Who

  On Comics and Films: 2006


  A Speech to Professionals Contemplating Alternative Employment, Given at PROCON, April 1997

  “But What Has That to Do with Bacchus?” Eddie Campbell and Deadface

  Confessions: On Astro City and Kurt Busiek

  Batman: Cover to Cover

  Bone: An Introduction, and Some Subsequent Thoughts

  Jack Kirby: King of Comics

  The Simon and Kirby Superheroes

  The Spirit of Seventy-Five

  The Best of the Spirit

  Will Eisner: New York Stories

  The Keynote Speech for the 2003 Eisner Awards

  2004 Harvey Awards Speech

  The Best American Comics, 2010

  VI INTRODUCTIONS AND CONTRADICTIONS Some Strangeness in the Proportion: The Exquisite Beauties of Edgar Allan Poe

  On The New Annotated Dracula

  Rudyard Kipling’s Tales of Horror and Fantasy

  From the Days of Future Past: The Country of the Blind and Other Stories, by H. G. Wells

  Business as Usual, During Alterations: Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, by Cory Doctorow

  The Mystery of G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown

  Concerning Dreams and Nightmares: The Dream Stories of H. P. Lovecraft

  On The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

  Votan and Other Novels by John James

  On Viriconium: Some Notes Toward an Introduction

  So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish: An Introduction

  Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones

  Voice of the Fire by Alan Moore

  Art and Artifice by Jim Steinmeyer

  The Moth: An Introduction


  Curious Wine: Tori Amos II

  Flood: Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition, They Might Be Giants

  Lou Reed, in Memoriam: “The Soundtrack to My Life”

  Waiting for the Man: Lou Reed

  Afterword Afterword: Evelyn Evelyn

  Who Killed Amanda Palmer


  Several Things About Charles Vess

  The King of Elfland’s Daughter, Lord Dunsany


  The Thing of It Is: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

  On Richard Dadd’s The Fairy-Feller’s Master-Stroke

  IX MAKE GOOD ART Make Good Art


  A Wilderness of Mirrors

  The Dresden Dolls: Hallowe’en 2010

  Eight Views of Mount Fuji: Beloved Demons and Anthony Martignetti

  So Many Ways to Die in Syria Now: May 2014

  A Slip of the Keyboard: Terry Pratchett



  About the Author

  Also by Neil Gaiman


  About the Publisher


  I fled, or at least, backed awkwardly away from journalism because I wanted the freedom to make things up. I did not want to be nailed to the truth; or to be more accurate, I wanted to be able to tell the truth without ever needing to worry about the facts.

  And now, as I type this, I am very aware of a huge pile of paper on the table beside me, with words written by me on every sheet of the paper, all written after my exit from journalism, in which I try very hard to get my facts as right as I can.

  I fail sometimes. For example, I am assured by the Internet that it is not actually true that the illiteracy rates of ten- and eleven-year-olds are used as a measure by which future prison cells are built, but it is definitely true that I was told this at an event at which the then–head of education in New York assured us that this was the case. And this morning, listening to the BBC news, I learned that half of all prisoners in the UK have the reading age of an eleven-year-old, or below.

  This book contains speeches, essays and introductions. Some of the introductions made it into this volume because I love the author or the book in question, and I hope my love will be contagious. Others are here because, somewhere in that introduction, I did my best to explain something that I believe to be true, something that might even be important.

  The authors from whom I learned my craft, over the years, were often evangelists. Peter S. Beagle wrote an essay called “Tolkien’s Magic Ring,” which I read as a small boy and which gave me Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings. A few years later H. P. Lovecraft, in a long essay, and after him Stephen King, in a short book, both told me about authors and stories that had shaped horror, and without whom my life would be incomplete. Ursula K. Le Guin wrote essays, and I would track down the books she talked about to illustrate her ideas. Harlan Ellison was a generous writer, and in his essays and collections he pointed me at so many authors. The idea that writers could enjoy books, sometimes even be influenced by them, and point other people at the works that they had loved, seemed to me to make absolute sense. Literature does not occur in a vacuum. It cannot be a monologue. It has to be a conversation, and new people, new readers, need to be brought into the conversation too.

>   I hope that, somewhere in here, I will talk about a creator or their work—a book, perhaps, or even a film or a piece of music—that will intrigue you.

  I am writing this in a notebook, with a baby on my lap. He grunts and squeaks in his sleep. He makes me happy, but he also makes me feel vulnerable: old fears, long forgotten, creep out from shadowy places.

  Some years ago a writer not much older than I am now told me (not bitterly, but matter-of-factly) that it was a good thing that I, as a young writer, did not have to face the darkness that he faced every day, the knowledge that his best work was behind him. And another, in his eighties, told me that what kept him going every day was the knowledge that his best work was still out there, the great work that he would one day do.

  I aspire to the condition of the second of my friends. I like the idea that one day I’ll do something that really works, even if I fear that I’ve been saying the same things for over thirty years. As we get older, each thing we do, each thing we write reminds us of something else we’ve done. Events rhyme. Nothing quite happens for the first time anymore.

  I have written many introductions to books of my own. They are long, and describe the circumstances under which the pieces in the book were written. This, on the other hand, is a short introduction, and most of these pieces will stand alone, unexplained.

  This book is not “the complete nonfiction of Neil Gaiman.” It is, instead, a motley bunch of speeches and articles, introductions and essays. Some of them are serious and some of them are frivolous and some of them are earnest and some of them I wrote to try and make people listen. You are under no obligation to read them all, or to read them in any particular order. I put them into an order that felt like it made some kind of sense—mostly speeches and suchlike at the beginning, more personal, heartfelt writing at the end. Lots of miscellaneous writing, articles and explanations, about literature, film, comics and music, cities and life, in the middle.

  There is writing in here about things and people that are close to my heart. There’s some of my life in here, too: I tend to write about things from wherever I am standing, and that means I include possibly too much me in the things I write.

  And now, before we close and I leave you to the words, a few thank-yous.

  Thank you to all the editors who commissioned these pieces. Thank you isn’t a big enough expression of gratitude for Kat Howard, who went through so many of my articles and introductions, and decided which ones would make it into this book and which ones would be thrust into darkness, who put them into some kind of sensible order a dozen times just so that I could say, “I have another idea . . .” (I also complicated things for her every time she was certain she had everything she needed by saying, “Well, I already wrote about that in my essay about . . . ,” and rummaging around on the hard disk or clambering up dusty shelves until we found it). Kat is a saint (probably Joan of Arc come round again). Thank you to Shield Bonnichsen, who found an essay we didn’t have a copy of anywhere else. Thank you to Christine Di Crocco and Cat Mihos for finding things, typing them and generally helping and being wonderful.

  Thank-yous also in abundance to Merrilee Heifetz, my agent; Jennifer Brehl, my American editor; to Jane Morpeth, my UK editor; and, ever and always, to Amanda Palmer, my remarkable wife.

  Neil Gaiman



  “I believe that in the battle between guns and ideas, ideas will, eventually, win.”


  I believe that it is difficult to kill an idea because ideas are invisible and contagious, and they move fast.

  I believe that you can set your own ideas against ideas you dislike. That you should be free to argue, explain, clarify, debate, offend, insult, rage, mock, sing, dramatize, and deny.

  I do not believe that burning, murdering, exploding people, smashing their heads with rocks (to let the bad ideas out), drowning them or even defeating them will work to contain ideas you do not like. Ideas spring up where you do not expect them, like weeds, and are as difficult to control.

  I believe that repressing ideas spreads ideas.

  I believe that people and books and newspapers are containers for ideas, but that burning the people who hold the ideas will be as unsuccessful as firebombing the newspaper archives. It is already too late. It is always too late. The ideas are already out, hiding behind people’s eyes, waiting in their thoughts. They can be whispered. They can be written on walls in the dead of night. They can be drawn.

  I believe that ideas do not have to be correct to exist.

  I believe you have every right to be perfectly certain that images of god or prophet or human that you revere are sacred, and undefilable, just as I have the right to be certain of the sacredness of speech, and of the sanctity of the right to mock, comment, to argue and to utter.

  I believe I have the right to think and say the wrong things. I believe your remedy for that should be to argue with me or to ignore me, and that I should have the same remedy for the wrong things that I believe you think.

  I believe that you have the absolute right to think things that I find offensive, stupid, preposterous or dangerous, and that you have the right to speak, write, or distribute these things, and that I do not have the right to kill you, maim you, hurt you, or take away your liberty or property because I find your ideas threatening or insulting or downright disgusting. You probably think some of my ideas are pretty vile too.

  I believe that in the battle between guns and ideas, ideas will, eventually, win. Because the ideas are invisible, and they linger, and, sometimes, they can even be true.

  Eppur si muove: and yet it moves.

  * * *

  Parts of this were first published in the January 19, 2015, issue of the Guardian, with accompanying illustrations by Chris Riddell. It was first published in its complete form in the New Statesman of May 27, 2015, illustrated by Dave McKean.

  * * *

  Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming: The Reading Agency Lecture, 2013

  It’s important for people to tell you what side they are on and why, and whether they might be biased. A declaration of member’s interests, of a sort. So, I am going to be talking to you about reading. I’m going to tell you that libraries are important. I’m going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do. I’m going to make an impassioned plea for people to understand what libraries and librarians are, and to preserve both of these things.

  And I am biased, enormously and obviously: I’m an author, often an author of fiction. I write for children and for adults. For about thirty years I have been earning my living through my words, mostly by making things up and writing them down. It is obviously in my interest for people to read, for them to read fiction, for libraries and librarians to exist and help foster a love of reading and places in which reading can occur.

  So I’m biased as a writer.

  But I am much, much more biased as a reader. And I am even more biased as a British citizen.

  And I’m here giving this talk tonight, under the auspices of the Reading Agency: a charity whose mission is to give everyone an equal chance in life by helping people become confident and enthusiastic readers. A charity which supports literacy programs, and libraries and individuals, and nakedly and wantonly encourages the act of reading. Because, they tell us, everything changes when we read.

  And it’s that change, and that act of reading, that I’m here to talk about tonight. I want to talk about what reading does. What it’s good for.

  Once in New York, I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons—a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth—how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, fifteen years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based about asking what percentage of ten- and eleven-year-olds couldn’t read. And certainly coul
dn’t read for pleasure.

  It’s not one-to-one: you can’t say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations.

  And I think some of those correlations, the simplest, come from something incredibly simple. Literate people read fiction, and fiction has two uses. Firstly, it’s a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it’s hard, because someone’s in trouble and you have to know how it’s all going to end . . .

  . . . that’s a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you’re on the road to reading everything. And reading is key. There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a postliterate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but these days, those noises are gone: words are more important than they ever were. We navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the Web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we’re reading.

  People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only get you so far.

  The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books and letting them read them.

  I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of children’s books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. I’ve seen it happen over and over; Enid Blyton was declared a bad author, so was R. L. Stine, so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy.