Reading Books

Oct 08, 2005 11:50 # 39356

rosyxxx *** wants to know...

"American Gods"

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Um. I read a 'quip' about Neil Gaiman's book "American Gods" just now. It was to the effect of: "...sends a cast of burned-out mythological deities on a cross-country attempt at a comeback tour." And.............I'm thinking: Tom Robbins.

Yes. Tom Robbins. Author of such quirky novels as: Another Roadside Attraction, and Jitterbug Perfume. Namely, the two novels that I am thinking of as a result of that quip about Neil Gaiman's novel. The reason that I think of Tom Robbins, is that back in the early 90s I read those two books of his, among others....and the former had a little story housed within it about a man who had a 'traveling flea circus' as a roadside attraction (and Gaiman's book seems to be about the uniquely mysterious American phenomenon of 'Roadside Attractions', in part...); while the latter Robbin's novel was about old gods who had disappeared from disuse, and the attempt to bottle the essential 'horny goat god scent' of Pan, who was making a "comeback" on the spiritual road. Combined together, they seem to make great writing fodder....for someone else.

Now, the fact that I think of these novels is fascinating to me. I have read several Tom Robbins novels, as well as several Neil Gaiman novels. There are parallels. They go beyond the obvious parallels in Gaiman's books to English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh fairytales.

I might add, appropos of nothing here, that Gaiman's brand of fantasy is based upon a tradition that came out long before Tolkien, and Gaiman's urban settings have nothing to do with Middle Earth. Tolkien did not create the genre of 'fantasy'; the American grindwheel of categorization, and the need to classify every fucking thing did.:/ And, it bears pointing out here, that Gaiman's fiction is nothing like Tolkien's. At all. It isn't either, the insipid Tolkien parodies we see these days. Poor Tolkien. He was such a visionary...and people came along and 'rewrote' his novels, and slapped their names upon them.

I have digressed, yet again. Alas. Shall there be any hope for me, in a world that likes well-delineated dialogue that follows a thought to the exclusion of the creative impulse, which is the doorway to originality? This question, of course, is rhetorical. I don't need clarification on this point. And I am only joking anyway, by having 'labeled' the whole last paragraph as a "digression" that is 'appropos of nothing' is actually, quite relevant to my discussion. FYI. ;p first point is this: there seem to be distinct parallels between the above-mentioned Tom Robbins books and Neil Gaiman books. Having not yet had the privelege of reading Gaiman's "American Gods", I cannot yet verify this. My first question, posed to those here who have read the above three books, is:

Am I on my mark?

Second, I have heard some writers, such as A.S. Byatt, say that their idea of the mark of bad fiction is that it is quite derivative. I agree with this, in that so much of 'so-called' fantasy fiction, and fantasy games for that matter (though there are a number out there that are vastly original), is incredibly derivative of...oh say, other authors...without having any really new ideas added. And yet, there are people, such as Neil Gaiman, and historical writers such as Shakespeare, who draw upon a huge database of faerylore and folktales, and mythology and transform it into something actually quite original. You know, the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, ad infinitum. It's recycling. Life is often about 'recycling'. Sometimes in a good way, and sometimes in a bad way.

My theory is that when you assemble disparate parts from other wholes and create something quite are an innovator. You've followed gestalt thinking. But when you take the exact same plotline and essentially the same characters, and write a seemingly different story, with very little variation, you are trite and banal.

So, I'd like to state that I think Neil Gaiman is far from banality. He is an innovator. And yet he draws heavily not only from folklore and fairytale traditions, and children's stories from antiquity, but form current writers. The thing is....he has an uncanny ability to make the themes his own. He isn't a weak parody of other writers, wishing that he could be as creative as them. He is creative. But he does draw upon previous ideas and writing, as we all, in very real actuality, do...

Ditto, writers who have fallen in popularity like Elizabeth Goudge who wrote two lesser known novels: Linnets & Valerians, and The Little White Horse. Fabulist literature for sure...

Ditto, visionaries like Hayao Miyazaki. I used to wish that Miyazaki would give credit where credit is due, in the fact that the movie "Spirited Away" has so much of itself taken not only from Japanese folklore, but from the actual Frances Hodgson Burnett novel: The Secret Garden. If you watch the movie version back to back with "Spirited Away", you should immediately recognize what I am talking about. I realized that Miyazaki is no different from Gaiman, in this... Gaiman accesses folklore. Hayazaki accesses folklore. Gaiman and Hayazaki access current writing, and by current, I mean within the last few centuries. So what's the difference? Public domain? Is originality only a matter of degree?

I think my second question would be phrased thusly:

IYHO, do you consider that drawing upon recent as well as ancient literary traditions to amalgamate them into something unique and different is not plagiarism, but simply elaboration upon a theme to the point of a gestalt, at times?

I know I certainly see the difference between plagiarism and elaboration upon a theme. And Miyazaki and Gaiman have 'elaboration upon a theme' down to a fine science. They aren't plagiarists. So the ultimate question is: To those of you who have the knowledge base to answer the above two questions, and have done the requisite reading and viewing, do you feel the same as I do? That Gaiman and Hayazaki are true visionaries? Not, of course, elevated to 'god-status' as American culture so often does to people, but just simply and amazingly:

Are they visionaries?

My mind is made up...not like my bed, which is a mess.

This post was edited by rosyxxx on Oct 08, 2005.

Oct 13, 2005 11:03 # 39468

MrVicious *** replies...

Re: "American Gods"

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Unfortunately I can't answer the question exactly as you've posed it, because I haven't read American Gods. I have, however, read The Sandman graphic novel series. It's beautiful and interesting and complex, dipping into folklore and theology and mostly straight into the reader's dreams. It takes old stories and makes new stories out of them. It shows you that not only is beauty in the eye of the beholder, but truth as well. The Sandman pulls you into a world you never want to leave. It genuinely makes you feel. Comics almost NEVER do that. When they do, they still don't do it like this. Neil Gaiman did. I'll never really know how, but he did.

I've heard mixed things about American Gods. I think perhaps a lot of it comes from it being unexpected. If it's anything like the other things Gaiman has written, I'm sure it caught some people offgaurd, and that's not always a good thing, even when telling stories. For this reason, I don't think everyone will jump up to call him a visionary if all they've read of him is American Gods.

People keep bugging me to see Miyazaki's movies, and if you're saying he's a lot like Neil Gaiman in the way he tells stories, then maybe I'll have to put some effort into doing just that.

Anyway, to answer the question, yes. At least when it comes to Neil Gaiman, I think the term "visionary" characterizes him perfectly.

"What you don't understand you can make mean anything." - Misty Wilmot

Oct 14, 2005 02:03 # 39503

rosyxxx *** replies...

Re: "American Gods"

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When I logged on and found that there was a reply to the above post of mine, I was so happy! The fact that someone actually wants to talk about "literature" just floored me. It's been a while...I get so few opportunities on the NAO to actually converse with someone about literature. Thank you for replying.

I myself have only read one of the Sandman series comics, but loved it. I agree with you about how it makes you "feel". His writing does do that, doesn't it? I've read "Mr. Punch", "Black Orchid", "Violent Cases", "Stardust", and am breezing through the children's book "Coraline", while thinking hard about reading "Neverwhere". I love his writing. I have the same feeling reading his writing that I get when I read the Italian author Italo Calvino. I love Gaiman's quip, as well, about how the more he reads, the more he is aware that 'non-fiction' is only slightly less made up than 'fiction'. Or something to that effect...

As for Miyazaki's films, one of them (it wasn't "Kiki's Delivery Service" or "Spirited Away", I don't think, but one of them...) was edited in a fashion by Gaiman, and he is in the credits. Tori Amos absolutely loves the man, and there are apparently three references to him in her songs "Tear in Your Hand", and two others I currently can't remember.

Check out 'trip' into Gaiman's world. It's a world I am growing to love even more with each passing day...As far as I am concerned, his writing ranks up there for me with some of the best in magical realism. Simply because it fits more into less respected mediums like "comics" and "children's stories" doesn't seem to change that for me. There is so much depth to his writing, and yet he makes it seem so simple.

I must sound like a potentially crazed Gaiman fan, but really, I wouldn't know what to say to him if I ever met him, except: "Hi, and thanks for writing." People like Gaiman are what keep me not only reading, but also writing.

And thank you again for responding. :)

My mind is made up...not like my bed, which is a mess.

This post was edited by rosyxxx on Oct 14, 2005.

Dec 16, 2005 19:45 # 41052

Atheist_Uprising *** replies...

Follow Up

It's been a few months since you posted this thread, so I apolgize if I'm late. My excuse being I haven't logged on in a few months.

First I'd like to start off by saying I've only read Neil Gaiman's books, specifically "American Gods" so I'll answer your questions to the best of my ability.

Can't answer the first Question.

IYHO, do you consider that drawing upon recent as well as ancient literary traditions to amalgamate them into something unique and different is not plagiarism, but simply elaboration upon a theme to the point of a gestalt, at times?

It's definately not plagiarism. I've read "American Gods", where the characters are taken from other literary works, folklore and myths the story is original and it's own. To strengthen these Figures credibility certain facts, quirks, adventures are referenced from there original 'literature'. Mr. Gaiman isn't stealing, he's adding realism to his novel.

You hear this a lot about the Tolken argument, that since him a lot of writers have stolen his ideas and just expounded upon them. I give a big Raspberry to this. Did Tolken invent Orcs, Goblins, wolve riders,wizards? Did he fabricate these characters from his own inner imagination? No of course not. He drew upon folklore and myth creating a fabulous tale uniquely his own. As many authors have dones since in the realm of fantasy.

Not to digress but.. it's like some of these hack writers who try and re invent the wheel. Where they feel the need to change the names of everyday items to authenticate there tale. A swords a sword, call it that. I don't have the time or wherewithall to master a made up lexicon while I'm reading a novel.

Where was I? Yes...

You have to look at Fantasy novels and science fiction like regular literature. Like real life. You don't scream fowl while reading the multitude of Crime mystery's out there because there is more than one Author who writes about a degenerate above the law detective do you? You read it and like it for the writing and the story, not the idea.

"Boredom is the Ultimate Gateway Drug"- Atheist_Uprising

Dec 18, 2005 02:30 # 41082

rosyxxx *** replies...

Re: Follow Up

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Hey, you know what? I had absolutely no intention of logging back onto this site whatsoever....................but I just have to say, that I shall really be happy when I get my new e-mail address, so that there is nothing to tempt me in coming back. :/ Nothing personal, you understand. Of course, it is obvious, that your response has aroused me from my slumber, but I have plans to prevent that from happening again. Heh.

The temptation now is SIMPLY to stand up for myself one more time.

Dude. I expect that you gathered from my statements made in my post about Neil Gaiman, that I felt that he was not plagiarizing at all...not at all. At least I hope you gathered that. It seems that you might have gathered that...but then again, I am not so sure. I very much believe that Gaiman is exceptionally original, and does an excellent job of weaving old themes into his work. There are, however, other authors out there who are not. Quite a few of them, IMHO, don't reweave enough on the theme they are using. Quite a few of those latter choose to rework Tolkein's stuff and do it badly, just as there are those that use the same themes he did, but are very innovative with their reworking of old themes. Some people are good at reweaving stuff, others aren't. Gaiman is definitely, definitely one who is very good at reworking themes and making them completely his own.

I hope the above was understood. I expect that it was....You could have been simply railing at the idiots out there who don't understand how nothing survives in a vacuum, and that age-old myths and themes get reworked all the time; that great new stuff comes out of the old all of the time. And it's real, and it isn't plagiarism. I THINK we are on the same page here, at least I hope.

But moving on. I have to get back to the rest of what I was doing when I finally left this site. Though it seems that what Martin and Majic said about the NAO is true, I still try to check my e-mail once in a while, even though no one really writes anymore. (It seems that I have to be here, where I don't want to be, if I want to hear from people.) So, I checked my e-mail, found this, and figured you might want to know that I actually agree with you. We were on the same page from the get-go, it seems...I hope this has cleared anything up, and that you will continue to enjoy reading Gaiman's books as I enjoy reading Gaiman's books...and that you will enjoy your visit to the NAO. Me, myself, I can't type fast enough, wanting to get off here as quickly as I can. I am so fed up with this place, and have been for quite some time. No offense, and I hope none taken. Enjoy your renewed visits.

My mind is made up...not like my bed, which is a mess.

This post was edited by rosyxxx on Dec 18, 2005.

Apr 20, 2006 05:52 # 42584

betty *** replies...

Re: "American Gods"

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Last year I read "Jitterbug Perfume" by Tom Robbins, and just recently I finished "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman. You are very correct in your assumption that American Gods is reflective of Jitterbug Perfume (I thought the same thing!) in that they are both about gods fading with lack of faith, but the similarities end there.

While Robbins focuses on the search for eternal life through a healthy diet of beets, fornication, and goat stink, Gaiman is writing about the war of new gods against old in modern America.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all about beets, fornication and goat stink.I love Tom Robbins (I couldn't get into "Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas" though). I cannot with any sense of self respect compare Robbins with Gaiman beyond the content of their writings.

Gaiman writes fantasy, he does it well ,providing some good insightful nuggets and and a nice story line. Though,sometimes while reading his books I wonder if they are ever going to end (like Clive Barker's "Cold Heart Canyon").

Robbins, Oh my dear dear Robbins.....his stories are fantastical, erotic, hilarious, finely woven and filled with philosophical insights that can possibly change how you view the world if you choose to listen to his ideas. And you have to give it up for the stinky, messy, drippy , grunt laden fornication.

As an aside, many authors tend to reflect their favorite authors. Some authors mentor others even if they aren't even aware of it. For example, read Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series - you don't have to read the entire series, just a couple of the first books to get my example. The first is "The Wizards' Rule"- then read "Eragon", written by a then 16 year-old Christopher Paolini.

I'm just now cracking open "Eragon", and as I read I keep thinking to myself, "No he didn't", about Paolini's obvious tie-ins to the Sword of Truth.

As original ideas become fewer and fewer in today's world, somebody's toes are going to be stepped on. I don't think of Gaiman as stepping on Robbins' toes though, I just see Gaiman getting a boost from Robbins as he expands on the idea of the loss of faith and the survival of gods.

"American Gods" is a good read, you should try it.

I am just me, searching for simplicity.........and a good hair stylist

May 22, 2006 01:37 # 42800

fisher_king * replies...

American Gods has some powerful ideas.

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I agree with you I like American Gods, its a very clever book and manages to mix real world ideas like mentalism and prestidigitation with mystical ideas of gods.

The way he deals with the gods being fed by belief reminds me of Terry Pratchett in some ways except the Gaimans gods are strangely believeable.

I first read American Gods in the same weeks as Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke and The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker while spending time near a ruined castle in Cornwall.

For those of you who don't know Cornwall is a strange and ancient Kingdom in the South West of the United Kingdoms, after reading those books I found myself being reminded of Gods and Faeries almost everywhere I went!

- Fisher

We were gods once and will be again.

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