I have no idea why it has taken me so long to get around to reading Neil Gaiman’s work. It has always occurred to me that he would be the perfect author for me to read, his appearance, his humour, his heroes, all a great fit for me. I read Good Omens many years ago but mostly out of my love of Terry Pratchett. Why did it take me so long to make the link and dive into Gaiman’s own individual work? I’m almost embarrassed to be honest, but at least I got there in the end.
I am a great believer in stories. They infuse into our culture and as a result are incredibly powerful in shaping the way we live both individually and collectively. Neil Gaiman is a master storyteller and in Anansi Boys he explains that power as he describes the shift in ownership of our stories from Tiger, all teeth and claws hunting down its food, to Anansi, the Spider, cunning and wise.
“’Now Anansi stories, they have wit and trickery and wisdom. So, all over the world, all of the people, they aren’t just thinking of hunting and being hunted any more. Now they’re starting to think their way out of problems – sometimes thinking their way into worse problems. They still need to keep their bellies full, but now they’re trying to figure out how to do it without working—and that’s the point where people start using their heads …… now people are telling Anansi stories, and they’re starting to think about how to get kissed, how to get something for nothing by being smarter or funnier. That’s when they start to make the world …… People respond to the stories. They tell them themselves. The stories spread, and as people tell them, the stories change the tellers …… People still have the same story, the one where they get born and they do stuff and they die, but now the story means something different to what it meant before.”
In his books Sapiens: A brief history of humankind, Yuval Noah Harari argues that it was imagination that allowed humanity to thrive in comparison to other animals, because our ability to imagine something that cannot be seen allows us to collaborate in much larger groups. This ability allowed us to mythologise and create stories that united people who had no other connection, had not even met before. We see it now in the way that shared religious beliefs allow people to come together and pool time, skills and resources in a common aim. Even shared support of the same football club has a similar effect.
The stories that we tell ourselves, and each other, really matter. The way that we talk about immigration and how we should respond to and feel about immigrants is a huge issue right now, as some sections of the media shape a whole country’s actions by telling emotive stories, even false ones. Climate Change is another subject affected by our stories. When we set ourselves as outside of nature with the Earth as a mere resource to fuel our pleasure we live out a very different reality to when we consider ourselves a part of nature, reliant upon this life-giving ecosystem for our very existence.
During the 2016 referendum on EU membership the Leave campaign told compelling stories whereas their Remain opponents mainly fell back on woolly rhetoric around fear of a possible change. In hindsight, after three shambolic years the Remain concerns look more real than the Leave stories, but Leave won (albeit narrowly). People respond to stories. The same is true at the personal level. If we tell our children that they are “good for nothing”, for example, eventually they will live like that is true. Parenting is a minefield and we tend to go into it poorly prepared, but our words shape our children’s lives.
“Fat Charlie” Nancy believes that he is the mundane half of a pair of siblings. Both born of a God, Spider seems to have inherited all the cool bits, the swagger and the charm, whereas Charlie was left with uncertainty and a lack of self-esteem. Over the course of Anansi Boys he gradually learns the truth and both he and Spider will live different lives as a result.
Think about the stories that you read, the stories you hear and, perhaps most of all, the stories that you tell. They change the world.
God is dead. Meet the kids.
Fat Charlie Nancy’s normal life ended the moment his father dropped dead on a Florida karaoke stage. Charlie didn’t know his dad was a god. And he never knew he had a brother.
Now brother Spider’s on his doorstep — about to make Fat Charlie’s life more interesting… and a lot more dangerous.
Neil Gaiman was born in Hampshire, UK, and now lives in the United States near Minneapolis. As a child he discovered his love of books, reading, and stories, devouring the works of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, James Branch Cabell, Edgar Allan Poe, Michael Moorcock, Ursula K. LeGuin, Gene Wolfe, and G.K. Chesterton. A self-described “feral child who was raised in libraries,” Gaiman credits librarians with fostering a life-long love of reading: “I wouldn’t be who I am without libraries. I was the sort of kid who devoured books, and my happiest times as a boy were when I persuaded my parents to drop me off in the local library on their way to work, and I spent the day there. I discovered that librarians actually want to help you: they taught me about interlibrary loans.”
From Neil’s website: http://www.neilgaiman.com/About_Neil/Biography