“Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novels are more than true; not because they tell us that Neil Gaiman exists, but because they tell us who he is.” ~Anonymous #quote
Neil Gaiman’s novels are autobiographical; that’s my theory and I’m damned well sticking to it. Maybe the ones written for children are not exactly autobiographical in an absolutely literal sense. Since Coraline is the only one of those that I have read so far, I can’t generalise. But I have read Coraline, and it is a novella that is certainly enjoyed by children of all ages, including coffin dodgers like me.
Mr Gaiman is an adult. But he is an adult with an inner child composed of his memories of what it’s like to be a child. Hidden beneath his adult form, that child is every bit as real as the emotions stirred up whenever he experiences past events. That child nourishes his imagination today as it will do for the rest of his life. Coraline may be the least autobiographical of Gaiman’s stories. That would be due to the gender of the protagonist; to the best of my knowledge, he’s never actually ever been a little girl.
Nevertheless, Coraline is narrated by an adult male, one whose voice in the audiobook sounds uncannily like the master storyteller himself. He sets himself the task of warning children – his and everyone else’s – about what lies in store for them, lurking behind those shadows. This warning about the big bad world they will soon be encounter is thrilling, as all good stories should be. The novella prioritises those dangers that are, on first sight, prettified. They are covered in chocolate. For the more rebellious young adults, the adventure comes with free drugs, and anything else you might think you want to try; all doled out by the most charming con artists, drug dealers and slave traders you could ever hope to meet.
The protagonist of Coraline is hardly an incarnation of Neil Gaiman. But the autobiographical element persists due to the narrator’s relationship with children. He is – or was – helping his child and other children prepare for adulthood, and the dangerous rites of passage our children have to go through, with peer pressure demanding we cut the apron strings or be ostracised as too uncool to live.
Neil Gaiman has invested part of his heart and soul in the project that is Coraline. Every adult should thank him for helping all of our children; our grandchildren too, and those children not yet born. Cheers, mate.
Nobody Owens, Tristram Thorn, Shadow and more
The books that Gaiman writes for adults – whether qualified as young adult or not – has a protagonist who is, at least in part, Neil Gaiman. He is telling us about himself. That is why he can make us laugh so loud and so often. It is how he manages to make us cry or despair, get angry, regret the pain we have caused others. We feel these emotions because we make similar mistakes as the protagonists in Neil Gaiman’s novels. We also lash out without thinking, especially those we love most: parents, siblings, soulmates who we betrayed.
Neil Gaiman addresses his own relationships with others in these works of fantasy and the supernatural; I’m totally convinced about this. Deeply hidden beneath layers of symbolism and metaphor; very, very, very heavily disguised – naturally: he doesn’t want to get himself sued now, does he? Nor does he want to piss off friends and family any more than is absolutely necessary.
Changing people’s names, bolstered by the introduction of fantastical and supernatural elements makes it impossible to prove anything in a court of law, or at a family reunion caused by birth, death, marriage or whatever.
If Neil insists loved ones, or passing acquaintances are jumping to conclusions, it’s very likely that not everyone will take him at his word: he is a teller of tall tales after all. But if you feel you’ve ever been misportrayed in a Neil Gaiman novel even though no one other than yourself is aware of the message that you think he is trying to pass on to you, here is my free advice: why the **** should you care?
If you do get angry about such things, maybe you might try retaliation by writing your own version of fantastically unrealistic events. Perhaps have Neil Gaiman selling his soul to Satan, or burying a decaying portrait of himself away in his attic, alongside the bones of several dead little children, puppies and kittens. Then, if he feels suitably horrified at the prospect of someone thinking you might actually be serious, he could take you to court for implying he is that kind of a monster. Good luck with that.