Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Journey Under London


"The old woman took the umbrella, gratefully, and smiled her thanks.  "You've got a good heart," she  told him.  "Sometimes that's enough to see you safe wherever you go."  Then she shook her head.  "But mostly, it's not."" (p 3)

There are few books in my reading experience that I would describe simply as "magic". This is one of those few. Perhaps it is the sense of wonder that permeates the story from the perspective of the hero, Richard Mayhew, that is the reason for my reaction. I found echoes of my many readings of Carrol's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that helped cement this feeling as well. But at the heart Neverwhere is a variation on the traditional heroic journey. This is a tradition that began with one of the the earliest stories ever written, the tale of Gilgamesh recorded in Sumeria of the seventh century BC; and it is one that has continued through stories such as Homer's epic The Odyssey, the medieval epic Beowulf, and others to this day. In these tales, a person must make a metaphorical journey into the underworld or the dark to come to an understanding of themselves.
Richard Mayhew's travels through the underworld of the city of London are his equivalent of that quest. His journey in the catacombs, sewers and abandoned subway lines that exist beneath London, England, showed me a separate world that not only exists but thrives. Whether he knows it or not his travels to assist the Lady Door in her search to find those who killed her family gives him a sense of self that he was lacking previously. The story involves a wealth of interesting characters and places and just enough whimsical humor to assuage some of the very violent action that Richard encounters on his journey. The tale is also one of good versus evil and the evil characters are as bad as I have ever met (on the page of a book). Gaiman also offers prose pictures of each locale encountered on the journey that brought forth an image in my mind of what it should look like. In fact the whole time I was reading Neverwhere, I was able to gradually piece together images in my mind of the entire world of the story.
In short, the book was magic and a reading experience that I would recommend to all whether they are inveterate fantasy aficionados or just people who enjoy a great read.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. Avon Books, New York. 1997.


Parrish Lantern said...

I'm a great fan of Gaiman & both myself & my daughter enjoyed this, although my favourite is probably American Gods or Anansi Boys.

James said...

Thanks for the comment and the recommendations. I will be reading more Gaiman in the coming year.