Neil Gaiman on Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton…

Map of Narnia, by Pauline Bayes

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m late to the party of those who admire Neil Gaiman. I’ve only read a few of his graphic Sandman novels, and shared them with my children.

Today, though, a friend shared a post from Gaiman’s website in which he acknowledges the debt he owes to three giants of literature, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and G.K. Chesterton,  as well as to the treasures that can be unearthed in libraries. It’s a confession, of sorts, that he made in a speech given in 2004 to a body of literati known as the Mythopoeic Society.

What little I know about Mr. Gaiman, I like. I suspect you’ll enjoy meeting him in his own words too.

I thought I’d talk about authors, and about three authors in particular, and the circumstances in which I met them.
There are authors with whom one has a personal relationship and authors with whom one does not. There are the ones who change your life and the ones who don’t. That’s just the way of it.

I was six years old when I saw an episode of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe in black and white on television at my grandmother’s house in Portsmouth. I remember the beavers, and the first appearance of Aslan, an actor in an unconvincing lion costume, standing on his hind legs, from which I deduce that this was probably episode two or three. I went home to Sussex and saved my meagre pocket money until I was able to buy a copy of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe of my own. I read it, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the other book I could find, over and over, and when my seventh birthday arrived I had dropped enough hints that my birthday present was a boxed set of the complete Narnia books. And I remember what I did on my seventh birthday — I lay on my bed and I read the books all through, from the first to the last.

For the next four or five years I continued to read them. I would read other books, of course, but in my heart I knew that I read them only because there wasn’t an infinite number of Narnia books to read.

For good or ill the religious allegory, such as it was, went entirely over my head, and it was not until I was about twelve that I found myself realising that there were Certain Parallels. Most people get it at the Stone Table; I got it when it suddenly occurred to me that the story of the events that occurred to Saint Paul on the road to Damascus was the dragoning of Eustace Scrubb all over again. I was personally offended: I felt that an author, whom I had trusted, had had a hidden agenda. I had nothing against religion, or religion in fiction — I had bought (in the school bookshop) and loved The Screwtape Letters, and was already dedicated to G.K. Chesterton. My upset was, I think, that it made less of Narnia for me, it made it less interesting a thing, less interesting a place. Still, the lessons of Narnia sank deep. Aslan telling the Tash worshippers that the prayers he had given to Tash were actually prayers to Him was something I believed then, and ultimately still believe.

The Pauline Baynes map of Narnia poster stayed up on my bedroom wall through my teenage years.

I hate to pry you away from your other duties, but you’re going to want to read the entire speech.You’ll probably want to bookmark Gaiman’s Jornal, while you’re at it.

  • Darren

    Make sure you read “Seasons of Mist” if none others, you will like that one.

    “American Gods” is really good as well, in the novel category.

    • Zoe

      American Gods, Neverwhere and Sandman are awesome!

  • Maggie

    “Coraline” is a terrifying little fairy tale that is well-worth a read… though not at night… I haven’t read his other works, though.

  • Elmtree

    You must read “Neverwhere”. I quite like some of his short stories as well. The first Gaiman I picked up was “The Graveyard Book” which is really wonderful. But Neverwhere is probably my favorite.

  • Marc

    The Sandman character “Fiddler’s Green” is an homage to Chesterton as well. His novel “Stardust” is one of my favorites, and seems often to be overlooked in favor of his darker books, but I love its whimsy.

  • Elizabeth

    I have a great affection for Gaiman, but I’m still a little mad at him for writing “The Problem of Susan,” a short story that’s sort of a dark spinoff of the Narnia books. Don’t read it–it’s rather obscene. Guess he was working out his issues with Lewis on that one. I have to say the germ of the story is pretty compelling–the fact that Susan is left behind after every other member of her immediate family is killed in a train wreck. Pretty grisly.

  • Will

    This guy and his wife are nothing but puppets of the Xenu cult. If he read the great authors that are named in this piece, he certainly got nothing out of it… Scientology is a direct decedent from Alister Crowley and we know where that came from… You can do better than praise this guy Marine…

    • Frank Weathers

      I’m going to be charitable and figure you’re not violating the comment policy, because you’re not really a Pharisee (with a capital “P”), but that you are really, truly, concerned about the fate of the Gaiman’s immortal souls.

      Yes, as it turns out, Neil Gaiman was raised in a household headed by a Scientology cult member father. In fact, little Neil was interviewed at the tender age of 7, sort of as a “looky here! A model of the wonders of our beliefs!” As the article notes, Gaiman doesn’t discuss his past in this regards much, though he has said he is no Scientologist.

      It would be an interesting read for him to elaborate upon questions of Christianity, and how it informed the big three of Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton.
      And then to ask if what informed them, informs him. That would be a heck of an interview.


  • Richard Aleman

    Scientology is a cult, Will, and you are correct that Hubbard was a devotee of Crowley. Most scientologists are unaware of his background and only discover Xenu in OT 3 (and Hubbard’s anti-Christianity in OT 8). From what I have read Gaiman is a former member of the Church of Scientology who was indoctrinated from the age of five. Today he refuses to discuss his past membership. Like many former members Gaiman is probably concerned with the cult’s litigious nature. Cut him some slack.

  • Will

    Not so clear that he left from what I have read… Besides these guys lie about their religion more than Mohammedans…

  • deepoctave

    Just finished reading “Neverwhere” based on these recommendations. I don’t think I’ll read anything more by him. Somewhere C. S. Lewis, commenting on one of the problems with our culture, refers to its “decayed sensibility” which I understood to include a number of things one finds in literature which are totally absent from Chesterton, Lewis and Tolkien. Vulgar and crass speech, obscene references, language which depicts what is evil and disgusting in explicit and graphic terms rather than through implication. Reading writing of this sort leaves one feeling sullied in the process. Books I include in this category, some of which are considered great by many, like Walker Percy’s “The Second Coming”, cause me to fling the volume away in disgust. Those I consider great writers are quite capable of depicting evil and depravity honestly, but without degrading themselves or their readers in the process. And, on the other hand, truly great authors impress me with images of beauty and grace that last.