The ‘Good Omens’ New Years Resolutions – 2006
From the HarperCollins website – Crowley and Aziraphale’s resolutions for the new year, as told to Neil and Terry Pratchett.
(With many thanks to baralier for posting this.)
Interview – NPR
From the December 5th Talk of the Nation:
(NOTE: This is a heavily edited transcript due to length. Breaks in the conversations are marked with ellipses (…). You can listen to Neal Conan’s entire interview with Neil, along with Neal’s full interviews with authors Christopher Paolini and Tamora Pierce, at the NPR website. The program runs an hour.)
Neal Conan:…Neil Gaiman may be best known as the creator of The Sandman, a series of graphic novels for older readers. His novels include the recently published Anansi Boys, and he writes dark and sometimes funny tales for children. He joins us from the studios of member station WHWC in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
Nice to have you back on the program, Neil.
Neil Gaiman: It’s nice to be back, Neal.
NC: Is there one thing that makes children’s fantasy work?
NG: I think the thing that really makes children’s fantasy work is the power of belief. Children know when they’re being patronized. They know when someone’s telling them a story that the person telling it doesn’t believe or is telling it to kids for their own good. I think–and talking about [The Chronicles of] Narnia, I think the enduring power of Narnia is that really you had C.S. Lewis following these ideas. He had this idea of a faun in a snowstorm with an umbrella and packages and wanted to write the stories and find out who this faun was and where he came from.
NC: You wrote an interesting addendum to “The Chronicles of Narnia”, a story called The Problem of Susan. Why did you want to do it? Was it homage?
NG: No, The Problem of Susan was a story that eventually sort of came out from something that had been bugging me for many, many years. The Narnia books were the books that hooked me as a reader, hooked me as a–I was maybe six years old. I absolutely adored them, went seriously off them when I was 12, came back to them as an adult, first reading them to my older two children and then to my younger daughter. And each time I’d read them, I would get more and more irritated by the way that C.S. Lewis treated women of, let’s say, reproductive age. Girls are cool and he had some terrific girls and there are some nice elderly women in there, but when it gets to sort of beautiful, nice women of reproductive age, they’re wicked witches, they’re ditsy, they’re strange, they’re evil, they’re not to be relied upon. And Susan, who was the oldest of the children, is dismissed in the last book. All the others sort of go off to this wonderful Narnian heaven and we are told that Susan didn’t qualify because she was too interested in invitations, lipstick and nylons. And whether you want to interpret that as being about vanity or being about sex or whatever, she didn’t qualify. And it always struck me as being deeply problematic, and a few years ago I wrote a short story addressing the problem of Susan and playing around with various Narnian ideas and was quite fascinated by how people took it and how much power that story had.
NC: I wonder, another element of–your contribution was received by some with delight and others as blasphemy, I will say. But anyway, is an element of children’s fantasy that children or childlike creatures have to be at risk and that that risk has to be greater than just risk to themselves?
NG: I think that’s definitely part of it. But I don’t think that you can, with any children’s fantasy, sum it up to a formula because I think at that point you run the risk of making something very cold and very strange. In obviously a lot of great children’s fantasy something bigger than threat to themselves is there, but then again, you know, you’ve got Oz in which, yes, the wicked witch is defeated, but really it’s about Dorothy’s quest to go home. You’ve got–a lot of the great children’s fantasies, I think, they’re about kids figuring out who they are and they’re about kids taking other kids to somewhere bigger and stranger and better than they might have in a…
NC: And also–yeah, but also about returning home, growing up in Peter Pan’s world and leaving that world when in fact one of the enduring lessons, I think, of a lot of these books is even as adults, a lot of us would just prefer to live in these worlds.
NG: Oh, absolutely. And, I mean, when I look back at the things that I got from Narnia, I’m very amused watching the current foofaraw about whether or not Narnia is deeply Christian and whether or not Aslan should be perceived as Jesus and so on and so forth, ’cause I look back at what I took from Narnia as a kid and it had Bacchus in it and, you know, the Greek god of wine and it had these fauns and nymphs and Silenus and werewolves. And I went off and found out who they were. Nobody mentioned Jesus and it never occurred to me that this cool, bouncy lion was Jesus. On the other hand, I went and found out everything I could about Bacchus, the god of wine, ’cause he was in there.
NC: If you’d like to join our conversation about children’s fantasy books, give us a call. What was your favorite? Why was it your favorite? Does it hold up? And we’ll go to Michelle. Michelle’s calling from Phoenix, Arizona.
Michelle: I was calling–when you were talking about fantasy, I was a huge fantasy reader as a child and I read the “Narnia” books probably at least a hundred times each, and I’m not kidding, ’cause I read them over and over again. And I also read the whole “Lord of the Rings” series. And what I found was kind of interesting. And so I loved those books, but as an adult when I went back and reread the “Narnia” series, it wasn’t as great as it was when I read it as a child. Now my son loves it, who’s nine, but as an adult, whereas when I read the whole J.K. Rowling series, as an adult–I never read that as a child; obviously, I’m old–but as an adult, I was into that. It compelled me and it caught me up. But the “Narnia” series seemed to have lost something as an adult, even though my memories of it are wonderful–I said I loved it as a child. But as an adult, it kind of–the writing, something lost something when I became an adult and it was almost a little too simple maybe, I don’t know. I mean, my son loves it and I still love the books, I’m glad he’s reading them, but whereas the Hogwarts and the “Lord of the Rings” series seemed to transcend both childhood and adult, for some reason or other.
NG: I think…kids literature, one of the things that you bring to it is yourself as a child, which can sometimes make it kind of hard to go back to…I remember as an adult going back to some favorite books as a kid and remembering all this wonderful stuff, you know, the wind whipping the snow, the whickering of the horses, the–and reading the section and the entire section turned out to be something, like, `”I hope it stops snowing soon,” said Jack.’ …And I realized that as a kid you bring yourself, you build these worlds and they’re bigger and better than any movie could be. And sometimes they’re there when you go back and sometimes they aren’t.
NC: I wonder, when you said you went seriously off “Narnia” when yo
re 12, was that ’cause it was..baby stuff’?
NG: No. No, no. I went off “Narnia” when I was 12 because I was very slow on the whole Christian allegory bit and I’d completely missed the whole death of Aslan and coming back to life as being a Jesus thing, but I was reading, rereading–I was one of these kids who also read the Narnia books over and over again and, you know, read other books because there weren’t an infinite number of Narnia books to read. But at some point I was reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and I realized that Eustace Scrubb’s getting turned into a dragon and undragoning was actually a rewrite of the blindness of St. Paul on the road to Damascus. And I suddenly thought, hang on, there’s this stuff all through here. And I felt like an author who I had actually trusted to play fair with me had been hiding things in the text and had not entirely been playing as fair as I thought he was. These days it doesn’t bother me, but when I was 12, I got very–got up on my high horse and put the books away.
NC: Michelle, thanks very much, and we hope your son continues to enjoy them.
MICHELLE: Thank you.
NC: All right. Bye-bye…Interestingly, when we come back from a short break, we’re going to be talking with a writer who wrote one of these books while he was growing up…
…Christopher Paolini is not just an author of children’s literature; he’s not that far out of childhood himself. At the age of 15, he wrote the first book in his Inheritance trilogy, Eragon….Now 22, Christopher has already completed the second book in the trilogy called Eldest and is at work on the third. He joins us from the studios of member station KMEC in Bozeman, Montana. And it’s nice to have you on Talk of the Nation, Christopher.
Christopher Paolini: It’s a pleasure to be here.
…NC: Well, we’ve talked…about that sense of wonder; we’ve talked about the idea of risk. This idea of growing up, of transition, is that a critical element?
CP: I think it is, at least in my own stories and also in many of the books I read as well. You know, many great fantasy stories–you know, Mr. Gaiman mentioned Wizard of Oz, also C.S. Lewis’ work, Tolkien not so much but partly–deals with people, you know, losing their families or having to go out into the world and grow up. And I think that those stories are important in all forms of literature, but especially in fantasy. And fantasy sort of lets you externalize a lot of the difficulties that people may face, you know, in the real world. You know, like, in the real world you may get upset with your parents or you may have difficulty finding a job or something like that. In a fantasy world, you can make that much, much more exciting by, well, the job you’ve got to have now is, you know, saving the world. It may not be as exciting as–it may be more exciting than flipping burgers, but it’s the same principle.
NC: Yeah. Neil Gaiman, would you agree?
NG: Yes, I think I would, although I don’t think that all fantasy is necessarily about growing up. I think some of it is just about taking one more step on the road towards growing up and learning the lessons that life teaches you. And I think taking those life lessons is the big important thing…when I wrote Coraline, it’s about–you know, it’s really a story about a nine-year-old girl learning a lot about bravery. It’s not about growing up, but it’s definitely about taking those first steps towards independence.
NC: There are lessons, there are morals, if you will, maybe not morals, but…
NG: Not necessarily morals, but definitely lessons.
NC:…did you want to add to that, Christopher?
CP: Well, I would just say, you know, the true test of any book, though, is not the lessons it teaches but if it just tells a good story that people are going to enjoy reading, you know, decades, if not centuries, from now. And that’s really the question, if a book’s going to hold up or not. You know, does it tell a good story?
NC: Not so much the moral but the telling of the moral…let’s get Tish on the line. Tish calling from Charlotte, North Carolina.
Tish: Hi. My question is about series books as opposed to stand-alone titles. I am a school library media specialist, and I’ve noticed that although there are so many wonderful stand-alone title books out there that children flock to these series types of book. And I wanted to ask your guests what they thought, especially with the fantasy genre, was appealing to writing a series rather than a stand-alone title.
NC: Neil Gaiman, why don’t you start?
NG: I think there are two big things going on there, one of which is if you’ve actually gone off and created a whole world or a whole order of created things for yourself, you normally want to stick, as an author, more than one story in there. So there’s definitely an urge towards series as an author.
I think as a kid it’s very, very simple, which is that if you like something, you want another one just like that…or as close to that as you can get. And that’s the magic of a series there.
…NC: Here’s an e-mail we got from Kathleen in Portland, Oregon. `My favorites were probably more magic than fantasy, but I loved all the Edward Eager books, ordinary children who find a talisman of some sort, in one case a book that wrote what they said and did as it happened, and have fantastic adventures because of it. I think I love them because they made it seem just possible that it might happen to me.’
And I think that’s an element of it, took. And you see Madeleine L’Engle’s book, the “Wrinkle in Time” books–Neil Gaiman, there’s so much to identify, for a kid, with those kids, as in the kids with–in “Narnia.”
NG: Oh, absolutely. I mean, Edward Eager did something very interesting. He was an enormous fan of E. Nesbit’s books, the Victorian author of things like–Edwardian author of Five Children and It and The Story of the Amulet and things like that, and he just wanted to take them and put them in an environment that his kids would recognize. And so he set them in 1950s and 1930s America. And I think it’s a lovely–I was saying earlier there weren’t any formulas, but it is a lovely formula, just the idea of kids just like you stumbling into that one magical thing that will grant their wishes or almost grant their wishes or give them some wonderful magical thing that, A, they will learn from but what you take away from that as a kid reading it is not necessarily the lessons of Half Magic or Magic by the Lake, whatever, but you take away the magic and the idea that maybe if you just touched the right thing, put the right thing in your pocket or said hello to the right frog, it could all happen to you.
NC: Christopher Paolini, your protagonist discovered the right precious stone and, well, things have developed from there. You’ve talked about, you know, liking to live in that world, but as people do age and get older, lessons get more difficult.
CP: They do. And it’s one of the tricks with a series such as I’m writing that you don’t want to get too complex or too adult in a certain way because then you end up writing something completely different. And that is one of the nice things about a series, of course, is that you can have things evolve and you can build things and ever greater depth and complexity. But you have to keep in mind where you originally started and hopefully where you’re going.
NC: Do you worry, either of you, about seemingly, you know, others have trod where you have gone before, not necessarily into that particular world, but, Christopher, as I’m sure you know, Anne McCaffrey has written a lot of books about dragons and she’s not the only one.
CP: No. And I think it’s a wonderful tradition to be able to draw upon. You know, when I was younger and I read thes
e books and then when I sat down to write one of my own, I knew that I wanted to write the sort of story that I enjoyed reading. And, you know, I knew I wanted dragons and dwarves and elves and that sort of thing. That’s not to say that fantasy has to have those elements, but those were the elements I had fallen in love with and I wanted to continue to explore. I think that what it allows you to do is to use a sort of shorthand. It gives you–if you have a dragon show up, yes, you want to do something somewhat original with it, but on the other hand, people know what a dragon is. And you don’t have to tell them what a dragon is. You don’t have to invent it from scratch. And that’s very useful in many cases when you are creating a world that no one’s heard of before.
NC: Yeah, Neil Gaiman, I’ve talked to science fiction writers who said, look, there was that first generation who spent, you know, a chapter explaining how the faster-than-light drive worked and then there was the next generation who said, `And then we switched on the warp drive and took off.’
NG: Oh, absolutely. And that really is one of the things that makes, I think, fantasy a little different still from science fiction, though, which is that with fantasy you have things that have baggage. A dragon comes on; a dragon has baggage. And it has wonderful dragon baggage and McCaffrey didn’t invent dragons, you know, nor did any of the other writers. We’re just tapping into something that’s been wandering around in human myth and consciousness forever. And I love that. I love the fact that, you know, if you–you can still write wizards without treading on J.K. Rowling’s territory because it’s such an enormous thing. And by bringing on a wizard, you’re doing a specific thing. I tend not to as a writer just because I tend to go off toward places if it’s going to keep me amused. So I mean, my next children’s fantasy novel, the one that I’m writing right now, is set entirely in a graveyard and…
NC: A chucklefest, is it?
NG: It–I hope so. I decided it was time to rewrite The Jungle Book all set…in a graveyard so it’s called The Graveyard Book…about a kid whose parents are killed and who gets brought up by dead people.
…NC: Tamora Pierce joins us now. She’s written five full quartets of fantasy for both children and young adults. Her novels feature young women as the heroines of a fantasy realm with some medieval characteristics. The latest is called “The Will of the Empress,” and she joins us from member station WNYC in New York City. Nice to have you on the program as well.
Tamora Pierce: Thank you.
…NC: let’s get Jill on the line. Jill, calling from Boulder, Colorado.
Jill: My comment is that one of my most wonderful and treasured memories as a child was reading the Tolkien books. I loved “The Lord of the Rings”; I love all those books. And when Peter Jackson did the movies, I felt like he did just such a violent and scary and adult version of the books, and it felt like kind of an adult intrusion into my childhood memories, and I wonder sometimes about, you know, our adult adaptations of some of these books. What do you guys think?
NC: Tamora, what do you think?
TP: The books were kind of dark and scary things. We remember the bright spots because the background was so dark. They were violent things I think because the idiosyncratic moments like Gandalf’s stuffing his pipe and Sam cooking stick so firmly. They stick because the contrast is so great. The moviemaking makes it more vivid.
NC: Neil Gaiman, some people feel that violence–the dark stuff–shouldn’t be part of children’s fantasy stories. It’s certainly part of yours.
NG: Yeah, part–well, part of most of mine…I’ve written some fairly bright stuff. I think that what’s interesting is the–just that weird little gulf, though, between a book and a film. A book can be anything to the person who’s reading it, to the point where they discover it. A film does tend to be one thing. And something of the size of Lord of the Rings, for example, you can go into it because what you love is Tom Bombadil or Fogol Mabaradowns(?) or whatever, and pretty much ignore the battles. That wasn’t the approach that Peter Jackson took; a different filmmaker could have taken a different approach. But it does kind of lock it down in a very strange way.
You know, for the Narnia books or the Narnia stories, right now inside people’s heads they are the book that they wrote, and there’s a hundred thousand million different Lucys and Susans and Peters and Edmunds running around. In a month or two, maybe there’ll only be four left, and they’ll be the ones from the movie, and I think we would lose something from that.
TP: Also, as violence in children’s books is concerned, and this is something that I can speak to because I get spanked for it all the time, children live in a violent world. Children are hazed and bullied at school; they come home to the news. They do not live in a safe, protected little shell, and if you look at children’s books really closely, you’ll see that it is a–they are terribly violent places. Peter Pan and Hook–if you read the J.M. Barrie book, you’ll see that there are very real edged weapons there and that they come perilously close to Peter’s chest. I know I went around for days with prickling in the skin over my sternum feeling a sharp edge press there from those battles with Hook. The idea of a crocodile munching your arm wasn’t a pretty thing. “Treasure Island,” Blind Pew gripping Jim’s hand. Children’s books–the good ones–are not safe. They are not violence-free because children don’t respect when they have taffy sold to them, as Mark Twain would say.
NC: Jill, thanks very much for the call…And let’s see if we can get Sandy on the line. Sandy’s calling from Charleston, South Carolina.
Sandy: Hello. I am a really avid bookworm and I love to read all fantasy books. I especially like books with wolves fighting in it, but I was wondering what got the writers here started writing.
NC: Neil Gaiman, do you want to start with that?
NG: I don’t ever remember a time that I didn’t want to be a writer. At–when I was a little kid…[I didn’t] think that I could be a writer by writing books; that hadn’t occurred to me. So I would–by the age of 12 I’d come up with wonderful scenarios in which I would tumble into a parallel universe, which didn’t happen to have a copy of Lord of the Rings in, holding the only copy of Lord of the Rings which could then be published with my name on it so I would get to be author of Lord of the Rings. As I grew up, I realized the only way I was actually going to become a writer was to have to write things and start them and finish them. I started out as a journalist, and was a journalist as long as I needed to be a journalist and then started writing comics and fiction, and now just make things up for a living all the time.
NC: Tamora Pierce?
TP: It was my dad’s idea. He caught me telling stories to myself as I did dishes, and instead of saying, `Tammy, people will think you’re nuts if you talk to yourself,’ he suggested I write a book. He neglected to mention that it might be difficult, for which I got to thank him later. And the thing that made it stick–he said I could use his typewriter. Now up until that moment, if I had laid a hand on that typewriter, I might be missing that hand today. It was death to touch the typewriter. He wrote the union newsletter on it. So I knew without him saying so that this writing a book thing was a really big deal to my dad. So I asked him what I should write about, and we shared books all the time, so he knew what I liked. And he said, `How about travels in a time machine?’ And I was about two years into my Greco-Roman mythology thing, and the first thing that popped into my head was I could make myself go back to the Trojan War. And I
sat down and I started hunting and pecking and about a year and a hundred pages later, I ran out of idea but by then I was hooked.