Neil Gaiman’s Mythmaking Makes No Sense

 

I would like to examine a section in Gaiman’s “Reflections on Myth” published in Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art and republished in in his collected nonfiction The View from the Cheap Seats, which I have recently started to read. This is the chunk:

 

“Too often, myths are uninspected. We bring them out without looking at what they represent, nor what they mean. Urban Legends and the Weekly World News present us with myths in the simplest sense: a world in which events occur according to story logic-not as they do happen, but as they should happen.

 

But retelling myths is important. The act of inspecting them is important. It is not a matter of holding a myth up as a dead thing, desiccated and empty (“Now class, what have we learned from the Death of Baldur?”), nor is it a matter of creating New Age self help tomes (“The Gods Inside You! Releasing Your Inner Myth.”) Instead we have to understand that even lost and forgotten myths are compost, in which stories grow.

 

What is important is to tell the stories anew, and to retell the old stories. They are our stories, and they should be told.”

 

These sentences don’t present much to argue with on the surface. But through Gaiman’s actions/creations, we can see he undermines what he “preaches.” Gaiman goes beyond retelling myths, such as what he did with Norse Mythology, where he updated myths for the modern reader and arguably stayed close to source material (though I, like Ursula K. Le Guin, didn’t like how he went about it). I am speaking of American Gods and Sandman more specifically, where he assimilates myth into his own brand—taking it from a communal (read: cultural) form and turning it into a fandom-religion where he is the priest. My thesis, which I am still ironing out in this brainstorming exercise, is that he does not participate in mythology. He does not contribute to it or polish it as others, like Jo Walton in her Thessaly series, do, but breaks it apart and then takes the pieces he likes and melts them into something else entirely. He destroys the original, cultural beauty and theology of myth, as if there are no merits in seeing these stories as they are in their original time periods, contexts, and evolutions. Allow me to explain.

 

In Sandman, Gaiman plucks the gods from the myths and sticks them in the comic universe just like he plucked Marvel characters and stuck them in 1602. Gaiman is quoted in the Afterword’s script letter to Andy of Marvel 1602 as saying he didn’t want to “mirror the Marvel Universe here: we’re doing something that’s more fun than that—we’re trying to create it. We get to make up our own.” He just wants the characters, never mind the original contexts that made these characters what they are in our consciousness. He steals their history, making the familiar unfamiliar without having to work for it. It’s the equivalent of going to a film simply because your favorite actor is in it and associating all the characters they were previously with the new character, except Gaiman doesn’t even create a new character for the actor. He merely changes the setting and tells the viewer “this character is Jack Sparrow, Edward Scissorhands, the Mad Hatter all at once now tell me how clever I am.”

 

And this is exactly what he does with myth. He ignores the very roots of mythology while reaping all the benefits of seeming the well-versed mythologist. Never mind the fact he refused to read Joseph Campbell, saying: “I think I got about half way through The Hero with a Thousand Faces and found myself thinking if this is true — I don’t want to know…I’d rather do it because it’s true and because I accidentally wind up creating something that falls into this pattern than be told what the pattern is.” Gaiman actively avoids the mythology itself while ignoring mythology is the pattern.

 

In that same interview, Gaiman is quoted as saying, “But I tend to be more interested in the actual myth,” which doesn’t ring true. Gaiman, repeatedly, tends to ignore the myth and use the characters to shove his story along. This is seen in the way he treats the creation of myth. In American Gods, gods do not create the universe (leading to what I call a “scientific explanation” of things), but humans create the gods out of their belief. The very families of gods don’t make sense anymore (if gods are born from human belief, how are their divine children born? How is Zeus born from Rhea? He must not be, if he was actually formed from the collective consciousness of people). And let’s not get into how Shadow is Odin’s son (i.e. is he divine or not? Is he a demigod or not? Doesn’t matter). Instead, let’s look at how Gaiman doesn’t even allow the gods he deems worthy of his story to evolve with the times. He calls them “Old” as if the gods are not timeless (the very concept of a god). Gaiman creates “New Gods” that encompass our new collective consciousness—what we pay attention to in this modern age. Never mind that, historically, gods always evolve to incorporate new forms of worship and interests: Kronos shifts from child-eater to castrated Father Time figure, Greek gods are merged with Latin gods and Egyptian gods, the Hebrew monotheistic god turns into the Polytheistic Trinity—there are many ways the old gods evolve, yet they do not die from non-belief. Humans do not have that power. A sacrifice to the gods does not give them physical strength. It only gives them proof of one more bent ear for their own agenda.

 

In American Gods, the New Gods squeeze out the possibility of the Old Gods evolving. Instead, they are the ones who offer the Old Gods chances to “rebrand.” This is what fundamentally doesn’t make sense about Gaiman’s theology. If the Old gods could always just rebrand, how could New Gods ever get the chance to exist in the first place? As if the Old Gods didn’t know what was coming if they didn’t choose to rebrand? It seems more like they’d be chomping at the bit to associate themselves with anything and everything. After all, if they aren’t diversified enough they will die.

 

We know that the goddess Easter is feeding off the Christian Holiday, so she was quick to rebrand. So was Vulcan, the new character created for the show, now the god of guns (which seems more like territory Ares would want, but I’ll let someone else rant…). The Old Gods seem to encompass a lot of modern ideas already (after all, it’s the gods who taught us how to do things in the original myths—like Prometheus giving us fire, they bring modernity to mortals, right?). For example: Vulcan would be a better personification of technology (BECAUSE: FEMALE ROBOT HELPERS) than Technical Boy. Arguably, Yggdrasil is the Internet itself (or you could call her a form of Maya, maybe?). And don’t you dare tell me that Dionysus wouldn’t be the god of films (he loved theater).

 

In myth, gods had sex with each other and made babies. Sometimes, accidentally. But that’s normally how you would get “New Gods.” Yet American Gods needed to create conflict and so created the “New God” strawman so Gaiman could stitch together the short stories he actually wanted to write. Though, if we were to give Gaiman some credit, we could argue his “New Gods” were to show that there is a scientific explanation for gods. If Gods are created from human consciousness (we create our own monsters, they are a shared delusion, reality isn’t real) then yeah, sure, they make a little more sense. And I’m willing to support that that is possibly how some things are created—in a Jungian, archetypal sense. Sometimes humans do help create myth—true or not, human propagate myth and mysteriousness. Lady Liberty—Libertas—is the personification of freedom. She was, at one point, erected for a political agenda. It could be argued that humans named her—created her. Or that they just gave a name to a personification—a personification controlled by a previously unnamed god. Or gave an old god a second name. I wonder if Gaiman would label her as “Old” or “New”?

 

It is my “belief” that sometimes gods lie and say they are another god if it makes you believe them or if the name expresses part of themselves they want you to see and understand. If we were trapped one day and a goddess heard our prayers why wouldn’t she call herself Libertas so we wouldn’t be afraid? Names give understanding.

 

Sure, we help shape them as much as they shape us. But saying that we created them does not make sense to me—not even scientifically. It is much more believable, to me, to take a Perelandraian view of mythology. Where the gods are gods of space and time. Where the gods are found in science itself. Where they caused the big bang and populate other worlds like a colonial race of aliens. Whatever. At most, I feel like I have the power to summon a demon. A demon who was already in existence. A demon who can tell me whatever name he’d like. But I cannot create. I do not want to create. I do not want to get my hopes up and be let down like that.

 

In episode 7 of American Gods, “A Prayer for Mad Sweeny,” it is implied that one person alone brings Mad Sweeny the leprechaun to America. If one single person can cause the existence of an imaginary being, then why aren’t more children’s night terrors running about (a happening I would say occurs more than their belief/understanding in God). There are too many holes to poke into Gaiman’s method of believing. Sure, there are plenty of holes you could poke in current thought processes (thus, atheism) but shouldn’t—if we are to suspend disbelief anyways—we account for what we believe gods are originally? If, for instance, we are to believe that leprechauns exist in the U.S. because one person believed in them, yet that person didn’t know to believe in them unless she was told about them in the first place this becomes the “chicken or the egg” scenario. Which is not what myth typically is. Mythology is already the answer to the “chicken or the egg” dilemma. Gaiman shouldn’t use mythology to answer his Big Questions if he makes his own answer irrelevant.

 

I am starting to disagree that myths are “compost” as Gaiman states, for this overlooks myths as living, breathing plants woven into current stories. Gaiman does not weave into what already exists—American Gods is not another branch on the tree. Allow me to be dramatic: it is a stolen piece of nature. And when you chop off plant parts, yes, sometimes the seeds and stems can take new root. You can graft something new. But the old trunk you stole from is still sitting there. Or the plucked fruit shrivels up. Or you get a bad seed.

 

Parts of American Gods can’t take root. Instead of nurturing the plant-that-is-world-myth that is already firmly planted, Gaiman whacks away at it. He does the very “dissecting” he claims to avoid. He wants to “create it” as if it is not already in existence and as if myth is not a communal, cultural act. As if picking flowers here and there to make his own floral bouquet (that will eventually wilt) will somehow give him a clearer understanding of what he has destroyed. And perhaps it does give a clearer view. It got me talking about mythology, for sure. But it is so much more satisfying when the author works within the constraints of what is already established—grows from the same tree rather than try to be an entirely new plant all together. Myths/stories are not compost. We are the compost. We are what they grow from. We are what the stories live in and sprout from.

 

Mythology is not like the fairy tale. Fairy tales are retold in countless renditions. They are the story archetypes whose characters (more so, story structure) can be pasted into other contexts. Mythical characters/stories cannot have this done to them so well because mythology is the context.  The characters are myth/religion/reality itself–representations of forces of nature and culture. If you take such characters, you automatically change nature and culture (rather, you try and fail to, because let’s be honest, your story is weaker than the reality). It doesn’t translate. When the lines between fable, fairy tale, and myth cross and blur, there could be excuses made.  But unless those excuses are called upon, the story fails to really talk about myth as it is. 

 

Arguably, this myths-as-compost has been done long before Gaiman (read: Thor and Wonder Woman), but never has mythology been so controlled by one man. Arguably, comics before him were a communal art form. Now Gaiman slaps his name on them and creates his monomyth according to his own selection. In his Columbia essay he states American Gods “will be, for me, a way of trying to pin down myths—the modem myths and the old myths, together—on the huge and puzzling canvas that is the North American continent. …I have lived here for six years, and I still do not understand it: a strange collection of home-grown myths and beliefs, the ways that America explains itself to itself.” And this is part of the problem too—his trying to pin down the myths. America needs no outsider to explain their myths to them. America, yes, needs to look inward sometimes. But perhaps let us have a say in our own cultural mythmaking? But that is the Gaiman brand—colonialism.

This post was updated on 6/26/17.

BOOK REVIEW: Ragnarok by Kai Mjaanes is about grandparents

This book was a DNF for me, because I’m just not the reader for it. What first attracted me to it was the Norse myth the book is based on, but it didn’t seem to be an interpretation I could really champion theologically. It could also be the translation? I don’t know. It seems to also have been written in Norwegian first.

This book also opens with a dream sequence, which made me work hard from the start. The Norse myth in the book doesn’t…make sense to me. It’s kids saving the world from Ragnarok and Ragnarok isn’t something you can really avoid in Norse mythology… I find when books try to tackle this subject, it’s problematic, but I always want to give them a shot.

I will probably give this to my little cousins who will probably appreciate it more. Maybe it’s a good fit for those who like the Percy Jackson series (I am not one of them). It had a very Stranger Things vibe — kids on bikes and solving mysteries. It was almost too precious of a novel to let me keep going.

The main character has a grandfather with alzheimer’s–or maybe it was another form of dementia–but it was very nice to see a relationship between grandkid and grandparent played out in a story. I love my own grandmother and think that there isn’t enough “elder” representation in stories these days.

Buy the book here.

Read more about it on Goodreads.

I was sent this book in exchange for an honest review.

How VHEMT is like Christianity – a post on race and suffering

I recently stumbled upon a photo on facebook that has now been deleted (I don’t know why, maybe because someone reported it?). You can’t see from my screen shot, but the post is based on the ten things from this other blog post. 

And number 10 (which you can’t see here because I couldn’t enlarge because it had been deleted) states “Recognize that you’re still racist. No matter what.”

There were a lot of angry white folks commenting on that post because of number 10. Some wanted to understand better, saying “So if we’re all racist and can’t change, what’s the point of even trying?” There wasn’t a lot of hope there.

So, I shared it with my own commentary and commented the same:

If that’s too small for you to read:

If you were to tell a white Christian that we are all sinners and “fall short of the glory of christ,” they would accept that no problem. They believe we can never be perfect. Yet when you show them number 10 they hiss and spit.

We have always found a way to hate each other. That’s why, if you approach the word “racist” intersectionally, it can be replaced with a whole train of other words.

If white Christians can be sinners and still find hope in their religion, they should be able to find hope with this post. I think this is one reason why groups like the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT) form– because they view humans as inherently flawed and see the only way of ending suffering/racism as ending reproduction. That’s a version of hope in itself.

I had never thought about the ways in which Christianity and VHEMT were similar before seeing this post and reading the comments. It made me queasy and got me thinking…

Both view humans as things that can’t be fixed without some sort of salvation/end of days or end of human race. But one view hopes for a gentler exit from the world (versus an apocalypse where there is unspeakable suffering).

It is my opinion that Christianity and VHEMT can go hand in hand:

It might be objected that the Fathers could not have wished marriage to die out because this would mean that the human race could not continue. That was no problem to the Fathers for procreation was by no means seen as a Christian duty. ‘Leave that to the pagans,’ Tertullian said tersely. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, a great admirer of Tertullian, said that the first commandment given to men was indeed to increase and multiply, but now that the earth was full there was no need to continue frenetically this process of multiplication. Augustine was clear that if everybody stopped marrying and having children that would be an admirable thing: it would mean that the Kingdom of God would return all the sooner and the world would come to an end. By continuing to propagate the human race we were simply holding up Christ’s glorious return. 

But so far, that has not been the case.  VHEMT is often an angry hate-fueled group on its worst days, and Christianity doesn’t seem to have the whole birth-control thing down.

Just thought I’d catalog my ideas here in case I ever needed to go back to them.

Maybe I’d do OK in Seminary after all…

TBR – People of the Sun by Jason Parent

All life comes from the sun. Sometimes, death comes with it.

Filled with hope and driven by fear, four would-be heroes are driven from their home planet in a desperate bid to save their civilization from extinction. But survival takes on a whole new meaning when a malfunction sends their ship plummeting toward Earth.

Surviving the crash is only the first obstacle on their path to salvation. The marooned aliens soon discover that Earth’s beautiful exterior masks an ugly foundation, a place inhabited by a warrior race that’s on a path toward self-destruction.

Brimming with action and intrigue, People of the Sun is sure to entice fans of dark fantasy and sci-fi thrillers such as Watchmen and I Am Number Four.

You had me at Watchmen. I’m going to overlook the reference to the book packaged I Am Number Four.

Read more on Goodreads.

BOOK REVIEW: Marvel 1602 is just boring fanfiction

This was a DNF for me. I read it because a co-worker mentioned it for a project he was doing. I didn’t realize Neil Gaiman had written it when we were talking about it.

I don’t really respect Neil Gaiman’s work,  but I just wanted to confirm my own biases against him. I feel like he tends to steal his characters in a lazy way to get his story across, like he does with myth while ignoring the actual mythology behind the characters–this is exactly what he does with the Marvel ones. It’s appropriative in a way that makes me angry. I’m still working out why. Probably because he gets literary recognition for it while fanfiction writers don’t.

I didn’t find the story that interesting, so I just stopped. I’ve never read a Gaiman story that was ever actually satisfying. His concepts are usually more interesting than the work itself. And it doesn’t mean a whole book needs to be written about it.

Other reviews I agree with:

I can’t tell you what I hated most: Neil Gaiman’s insistence on being precious to the point of absurdity…the contrived meta-story about time travel, or the convoluted historical tie-ins that didn’t even make any sense, let alone enhance the story (dinosaurs, Neil? Really?).

 

This book feels a bit painting-by-numbers to me, or as if it was done by Gaiman as an intellectual exercise rather than because he had a story he wanted to tell. It never really takes off or becaomes particularly exciting or interesting, and unusually for Gaiman, I can’t think of one quotable line of dialogue from this book. Dull, dull, dull.

 

Never quite got past the “this is just a dumb gimmick” stage for me. Like so many Gaiman projects, its strength lies in little striking moments but the overall story arc is pretty unsatisfying.

TBR – The Holocaust and the Henmaid’s Tale

“Brilliant, devastating in its analysis and hopeful in its premise.” —Carol J. Adams, author, The Sexual Politics of Meat

“Compelling and convincing…. Not to think about, protest against, and learn from these twin atrocities–one completed in the middle of the last century, the other continuing every day–is to condone and support the fascist mentality that produced them. I thank Ms. Davis for writing this bold, brave book.” —Charles Patterson, author, Eternal Treblinka

In a thoughtful and thought-provoking contribution to the study of animals and the Holocaust, Karen Davis makes the case that significant parallels can–and must–be drawn between the Holocaust and the institutionalized abuse of billions of animals in factory farms.

Carefully setting forth the conditions that must be met when one instance of oppression is used metaphorically to illuminate another, Davis demonstrates the value of such comparisons in exploring the invisibility of the oppressed, historical and hidden suffering, the idea that some groups were “made” to serve others through suffering and sacrificial death, and other concepts that reveal powerful connections between animal and human experience–as well as human traditions and tendencies of which we all should be aware.

Find it on Goodreads. 

 

TBR – Grand Theft Octo by Niels Saunders

When Jonathan Doe is fired from his office job for stealing too much stationery, he becomes an entrepreneur of businesses the world has never seen. After a disastrous start at freelance taxidermy, he moves onto professional octopus teasing. Will he fail again or make his fortune? Is he really a professional or just a con artist? Desperate to succeed, his plans become more outlandish, from stealing theme park mascots at gunpoint to fighting deranged restaurant tycoons. As the enemies he makes seek revenge, both his life and business are threatened, until his world spirals into mayhem and violence. Set in the fictional city of Vestibue, England, Grand Theft Octo is a wild and hilarious ride that strikes at the heart of aspirational culture.

People will write and read anything. I swear to god.

Read more on Goodreads.

On Animal Sacrifice:

Similarly, ritual animal sacrifice, which may at first seem unrelated to interspecies sexual assault, is not unrelated. Ritual transference of transgressions to a sacrificial animal victim is, in my view, a kind of rape. Just as nonhuman animals are deemed fit receptacles for the depositing of human diseases in biomedical research’s quest for health, so they are deemed suitable receptacles for human sin in the quest for spiritual cleansing. In both cases, the animal victim is made to appear as an aspect of the victimizer’s identity, even a willing participant in being used as a depository for human diseases, sins and vices. Humans, by virtue of a shared verbal language, can challenge the profanation and misappropriation of their bodies, identity and will. A nonhuman animal, such as a hen, is powerless, short of human intercession, to protect herself from being besmirched, as when she is represented by her abusers as an “egg-laying machine” or as a symbolic uterus for the deposition of human spiritual filth.

Read the rest.

TBR – CALL A SPADE by D. M. Griffin

CALL A SPADE is set in the near future, in bombastic President Charles Wolfe’s America. Eight year old Jasper Brown has Apert’s Syndrome, a genetic condition that results in severe physical deformities and numerous other health issues. That’s why, when his family receives word that he has been accepted as a participant in a new medical trial run by famed French geneticist Jean Thierry-Delvoix, they rush to accept. What Jasper and his parents don’t know is that this medical trial could potentially change the course of history.

In fact, Thierry-Delvoix’s new form of genetic therapy produces very different results than anyone expects – results such as telekinesis, telepathy, and even the ability to spontaneously produce raging fireballs and lightning bolts. But this inevitably draws the attention of people in power – people like Charles Wolfe, who will do anything to add these capabilities to his already-vast arsenal of weapons. Jasper, who is the reluctant leader of his peers, must find a way to deal with Wolfe while simultaneously guarding against a far more potent threat – one that neither side has anticipated. When the clash between these forces inevitably takes place, Wolfe’s wish to “see some fireworks” is granted – in spades.

Sounds like fun.  Reminds me of the book Geek Love.

Buy on Amazon.

TBR – Enchanters by K.F. Bradshaw

The people of Damea are no strangers to magic. They have wielded it for years – woven it into their societies and everyday lives. It is a part of them, it breathes with them. But the magic is dying, and taking Damea with it. Andrea, an enchanter’s apprentice, is determined to bring it back. It will take her as well as the help of a skeptical stranger from another world to find and restore the magic before the land suffocates.

 

Did a god take a sh*t in a well? You might check that as the source. #TheMagiciansJoke #HAHAHA

But seriously this sounds good.

Read more on Goodreads.