My family and I were in Atlantic City when I was about 14-years-old. Feeling too old for the carnival and legally too young to gamble, I found myself wandering a cloudy boardwalk until I hit the mall. I found a bookstore in it where a bookseller suggested one of Neil Gaiman’s books. Maybe it was American Gods, Coraline, or Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett). I can’t remember.
Regardless, for reasons I am not completely sure of, I bought almost everything he wrote that I could find in the store. Maybe it was a faint memory of his name repeated in Wizard articles. Quite possibly it was because my friend, Stefan raved about his work on Sandman comics. There might also have been whispers of his name in my cousin’s voice, Titus, lingering in my subconscious for exactly the same reason.
But why all the books instead of just one? I don’t know if I’ll completely figure out just as I haven’t figured out exactly how his work influenced my views on the world. One thing I know for sure is that he was my gateway drug to other books. From him I found other authors who would take up so much of my time like Gene Wolfe and Jonathan Carroll.
Wolfe is an academic institution onto himself. All my courses on philosophy, religious studies, and Greek mythology feel like they paid off just to be able to read his work and feel at home.
Carroll was my guide in the world of romantic intimacy, its magic and its dangers swirling in a wise man’s imagination. His stories brought you to unexpected places that paradoxically seemed familiar and true.
And those writers opened up other doors too. Carroll for example led me to Rilke, who I feel I would have met on my road as a regular reader. But the later you read Rilke the poorer those years absent of him will seem to you.
Nonetheless, it all began with Neil Gaiman but my descent into this madness didn’t start with his best-known work, Sandman. It didn’t even start with American Gods. It started with Stardust.
Stardust , with its echoes of Lord Dunsany & C.S. Lewis, was about a star-searching boy, Tristan whose travels and misadventures in fantastical world help shape him into manhood before returning to the real world.
As most of my adolescent life was spent roaming fantasy worlds in my mind, practically growing into maturity in them, reading Stardust seems like an obvious form of foreshadowing by whoever it is authoring my life.