Prescott, Tara, Ed. Neil Gaiman in the 21st Century: Essays on the Novels, Children's Stories, Online Writings, Comics and Other Works

By Miller, Jennifer L. | Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Winter 2016 | Go to article overview

Prescott, Tara, Ed. Neil Gaiman in the 21st Century: Essays on the Novels, Children's Stories, Online Writings, Comics and Other Works


Miller, Jennifer L., Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts


Prescott, Tara, ed. Neil Gaiman in the 21st Century: Essays on the Novels, Children's Stories, Online Writings, Comics and Other Works. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015. 272 pp. Softcover. ISBN 978-0-7864-9477-4. $35.00.

In 2012, Neil Gaiman gave a speech to the graduating class at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, which was subsequently printed as a stand-alone work, "Make Good Art." In this speech he says,

Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it's all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn't matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art. (117)

References to this speech appear frequently throughout Neil Gaiman in the 21st Century, an essay collection that examines Gaiman's works starting with American Gods (2001) and ending with Sandman: Overture (2014). The frequent invocation of Gaiman's 2012 speech, both in the acknowledgements and introduction to the collection as well as throughout the essays themselves, speaks not only to the thematic importance of imagination and creativity throughout Gaiman's recent works, but also to the myriad ways in which readers and scholars see good art taking shape in them.

Tara Prescott arranges the essays in her volume chronologically, grouping them based on which of Gaiman's works they address. The collection begins with two essays on American Gods. In the first, Jenn Anya Prosser compares American Gods to Homer's Odyssey, while in the second, Michael B. Key examines the anxiety over shifting cultural centers exemplified by Gaiman's novel. The collection also covers The Wolves in the Walls (2003) and Blueberry Girl (2009), Anansi Boys (2005), The Graveyard Book (2008), "Nightmare in Silver" (2013) from Doctor Who, The Ocean at the End of the Lane (2013), A Calendar of Tales (2013), and finally, Sandman: Overture. Most of the essays approach Gaiman's work using a scholarly framework, though the collection also includes an interview with J. H. Williams III (the artist who illustrated Sandman: Overture) as well as a more personal, reflective essay by Nadia Eshraghi, a new reader of the Sandman series.

Although the overall organization of Neil Gaiman in the 21st Century is based on the publication date of specific works rather than on their themes, there are several key issues explored in multiple essays that give the collection an overall sense of unity and cohesion. Several authors address Gaiman's use and adaptation of source material, including Prosser's argument that American Gods presents an updated, Americanized version of the pantheon of gods found in The Odyssey; Danielle Russell's analysis of the similar importance of oral culture in both Zora Neal Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and Anansi Boys; Jennifer McStotts's exploration of the connections between The Graveyard Book and Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book; and Tom Zladinger's look at the wide variety of musical influences found in the Sandman series.

A number of essays also discuss feminism and the representation of women, which is not surprising, considering that Prescott previously edited Feminism in the Worlds of Neil Gaiman (2012). For example, Renata Lucena Dalmaso's essay, "Toward a Feminist Reading of Gaiman's Picture Books," connects The Wolves in the Walls with Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" and argues that the illustrations in The Blueberry Girl complicate the traditional representation of woman as maiden/mother/crone. Both Monica Miller and Courtney McLandis tackle this tripartite representation of women as well, analyzing the figures of the three Hempstock women in The Ocean at the End of the Lane. McLandis's essay, "'The essence of grandmotherliness': Ideal Motherhood and Threatening Female Sexuality," stands out here as the rare essay that critiques Gaiman's work, arguing that in The Ocean at the End of the Lane, "Gaiman engages in a rework of Freud's Madonna-whore dichotomy that only allows female sexuality to exist as the unnatural threat" (176). …

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