neil gaiman


You all know Plato's famous Euthyphro dilemma, but it's worth re-printing here:

"Is the pious loved by the Gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the Gods?"

Plato's always a good place to start when discussing the touchy subject of personal heroes, and the Euthyphro is how I like to frame the discussion. I know people, friends and family, who don't have any heroes because these are people, hey, we're talking about, and people are flawed, people let you down, people have grey areas and are, in short, not worthy of being put on the Hero pedestal.

That's a point of view I can understand, but it's not one I subscribe to. For me, a person doesn't have to be perfect or even exceptionally virtuous to be a hero of mine. My heroes have one or more traits I find exceptional and admirable, or they've done exceptional and admirable things. In a more Platonic formulation, I might say "These ideals are heroic, and Bob is my hero because he does them," as opposed to "Bob is my hero, so the things he does are heroic." 

Anyway, this is a long way of getting to saying that Neil Gaiman is a personal hero of mine. It's not because he writes terrific stories, stories which inspire me and I find myself re-reading over and over. What makes him a hero, to me, is this: He has the extremely rare ability to speak about ideas the sort of ideas which tend to provoke strong, emotional responses in a way that is calm, thoughtful, and definitive in a way that defuses rather than escalates. Here's Neil Gaiman discussing "political correctness" a couple of years ago:

I was reading a book (about interjections, oddly enough) yesterday which included the phrase “In these days of political correctness…” talking about no longer making jokes that denigrated people for their culture or for the colour of their skin. And I thought, “That’s not actually anything to do with ‘political correctness’. That’s just treating other people with respect.”

Which made me oddly happy. I started imagining a world in which we replaced the phrase “politically correct” wherever we could with “treating other people with respect”, and it made me smile. 

You should try it. It’s peculiarly enlightening.

I know what you’re thinking now. You’re thinking “Oh my god, that’s treating other people with respect gone mad!”

In a sense, it's the opposite of trolling. I admire that and recognize that it's a lot more difficult than it looks. I try to make my point and still be above the fray the way Mr. Gaiman can be, but...well, I'm a bit of a work in progress in that respect.

So, count me in the pro-hero column. I admire John Steinbeck and Warren Ellis and Sarah Vowell and Neil deGrasse Tyson and Greg Graffin and many others. I admire them for what they do and say. They've all given me something to aspire to be. I think that's a fine thing so long as I don't stick them up on a pedestal and say that everything they do is heroic just because they're the ones doing it. 


Pictured: Not heroes of mine, but funny.

Pictured: Not heroes of mine, but funny.

Goodbye, Sir Terry

I've been trying to write about the fact that this world is now short one (1) Terry Pratchett, but I've been struggling to come up with anything...worthy? Normally, I don't have any issue with writing about writers, but Sir Terry was so very important to me, I feel like I need to do better when I'm writing about him. I'm not enitrely certain I'm up to it, but writing poorly is probably better than not writing at all, so here goes:

My first exposure to Terry Pratchett was entirely accidental. I picked up a copy of Good Omens because I was a huge Sandman fan and it was co-written by Neil Gaiman. Of course I love Good Omens. As far as I know (and my direct knowlege is admittedly limited), everyone who has ever read that book has loved it. It's one of the very few novels which not only produced guffaws when I read it, but I still giggle when I remember the scene with the four other bikers of the apocalpse. 

Reading Good Omens, you can certainly hear Neil Gaiman's voice, but Terry Pratchett's voice was equally strong and distinctive. Having now read every Discworld novel multiple times, I recognize the sound of Sir Terry's voice, but at the time it was an enticing mystery. I have probably spent more of my hard earned money following that particular voice than I have on any other author's works and I've never once felt like it was money badly spent.

I had the good fortune to get to listen to Sir Terry reading and answering questions at an event hosted by a local bookstore. I've seen dozens of authors at book signings, but none of them have handled the job as gracefully or with so much humor. Each question, even the questions by the most ardent fans who were concerned with the tiniest minutiae, were answered as though they were from a dear friend inquiring about his children. He signed my copy of Small Gods (my favorite of his novels) and even drew a small turtle on it and that book remains one of my most treasured possessions.

What was it I loved so much about Pratchett's writing? He was funny, to be sure, but there was more to it than that. He had a marvelous ability to satirize almost any target, but not all subjects were equal. The well-meaning were gently spoofed, while the selfish, tyrannical, or just downright mean were giving a more blistering treatment. In Pratchett's Discworld, there was no greater virtue than trying to do right, even though trying to do right didn't always achieve the desired result and frequently ended with a visit from a gentleman who spoke in all caps.

So, even though I didn't really know Terry Pratchett, I know and love his writing and I miss him even though we only briefly crossed paths. I expect his books will remain beloved for generations, and that expectations makes me smile a little, but for right now, it doesn't dull the sadness of knowing that someone who gave me so much enjoyment and insight is gone before his time.