31 Days of Halloween: Another Look at Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman and the Minnesota’s Beer and Wine Events

Neil Gaiman is a British writer now living in Minnesota, the author of many books, including but not limited to American Gods (soon to be a television event on Starz), its sidequal novel Anansi’s Boys, the Sandman series of comic books, Coraline, and The Graveyard Book. The latter of these is classified as a children’s novel in as much a horror and dark fantasy author can write a children’s novel. (A number of years ago, I read the first adult novel by a famous and well-respected children’s author also familiar with the genres of horror and dark-fantasy, and — to say the least — I finished the work because I cannot leave any book unfinished, though with that one I wish I’d never started it.) I have been dubious about transitioning between audiences (transitioning between genres, however, can prove serviceable in the hands of one who understands craft), and I should admit that had I known this was a book written for children, I would not have picked it up.

I’m glad I didn’t know then what I know now. The Graveyard Book is an absolute delight with a story that doesn’t read as though it is for children — kids nowadays must be either more desensitized or more worldly than I — but whose themes, allusions, and ideas would resonate with any young reader, in part because The Graveyard Book is not a wholly original tale, but rather the re-imagining and modernization of a classic.

Nobody Owens is a toddler when his family is murdered. A man Jack sneaks into the house late one night and, with his knife, snuffs out the lives of his older sister, his mother, and his father. He intends to kill the baby too, but in a moment of luck for the inquisitive child who figures out how to escape the confines of his prison crib, the would-be murderer misses the child who escapes up the hill to the town’s cemetery. There the baby meets two denizens of the graveyard, Mr. and Mrs. Owens, who agree to watch after the baby, and the enigmatic Silas who agrees to serve as guardian. The boy is given a name and is given the freedom of the graveyard, which allows him to walk with the dead.

As he grows older, Nobody meets the others interred at the old cemetery who become his teachers and his friends. He witnesses the Danse Macabre and meets ghouls and Silas’ friend, Miss Lupescu. There are werewolves and mummies and vampires and night shrieks and phantoms and bullies and, as true with a number of Gaiman’s works, a shadowy evil and ancient underground movement bent on the destruction of the hero in their quest for power.

As I said, this is a story that reflects another — Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book — intentionally. Nobody Owens mirrors Mowgli, and Silas is Baloo and Miss Lupescu is Bagheera the black panther. But as with any good adaption, this is not a linear copy, but Kipling’s stories serve as more a source of inspiration for Gaiman’s novel. The themes that resonate through both books — the search for belonging, for identity, and what it means to have a family — are themes that resonated with Kipling’s first readers way back when.

The story takes place in an unnamed English town, but a number of Gaiman’s works take place (even partially) in his current home of the American Midwest, most notably in and around Minnesota. After Chicago, I visited the festival in Minnesota, and I’ve posted a link to the Minnesota Beer Events website , which will introduce viewers to the slate of current and upcoming events happening over the next seasons.  The homepage is dedicated to current alcohol related news pieces, and there are pages to view upcoming events, a place where a body can submit an event of one’s own, feature pages for bars and restaurants and “beer stories,” and a page dedicated to home brewing, as well as many others. If you are a connoisseur of beer and are planning on visiting Minnesota anytime in the near future, peruse this page to learn of all the events available to you.

Finally, I would direct your attention to a wine-tasting and cocktail class in the heart of Minnesota, in Minneapolis. Monthly classes are offered the Monello Restaurant in the Hotel Ivy. I am not a wine connoisseur – though critics might call me a whino – but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The restaurant offers a plethora of fine-dining options and its classes are held usually one Saturday a month. Visit the website for more details, ticket info, and reservations.

I hope you get the opportunity to pick up a copy of Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, or at least another of his works to experience this wonderful storyteller, and if you make it to the wine-tasting or any other craft festival, perhaps you’ll run into the author. If so, tell him I said hi. (He probably won’t know who John Cross is, or even my author, Jeremy Billingsley.)



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