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Thoughts on Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere

I started re-reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban last night. Also re-watched the BBC production of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere (which actually predated the novelization). I really do like that one, but then, I generally do like magical realism. I like the way that it forces the viewer to question perceptions and perspectives: is the whole thing in Richard's head, as suggested in the ordeal, or is this real? I also like the wonderful subtext about currency: Richard's bank card is no good, and in the world of London Below, the residents have no money, so other things have value and merit: a favor, the credibility of someone's word; bravery. The structure of the world differs, and, understandably, more closely resembles fiefdoms and systems of barter from times without contemporary monetary transactions.

The series leaves me wanting to know more, and it's my understanding that the book adds a few sequences that are not in the television version. For example, what, exactly, are Croup and Vandemar? We know they are not quite men, both from comments and observation (they do not bleed). Are they demons? They seem, to a degree, lawful evil, to borrow a term from D&D (at least Croup does); in one of his comments about Islington, it seems that even though Croup operates on the side of evil, he at least knows what good is, despite not subscribing to it.

For that matter, the Marquis de Carabas doesn't seem quite human, either. From trying to learn more about the symbolism and influences in the series, I've read that the title Marquis de Carabas is the title given by Puss to her master in Puss in Boots. It also seems that in the hierarchy of London Below, titles are rewarded on merit, for some special ability or talent. Door's family is a line of openers. The Marquis clearly has special abilities (I surely can't put my life in a box for convenient storage). Richard is given a title after defeating the Beast of London. Status seems to appropriately correlate with the aforementioned different system of values in London Below.

Names mean a lot in Neverwhere (and mean more to me since having traveled to London). Indeed, we noticed how incredibly literal the British were in naming things, and their Underground stations in particular. It was a frequent topic of amusement for us. Going to Bath? Well, hey, by gum, there's a bath there! Temple station? Why, yes indeed, there's a temple near there. Gaiman plays beautifully with this literalism with the abandoned station names by giving them symbolic significance and personifications, and the series gives us a nifty peek into many real settings. Night's Bridge, under Knightsbridge, is a particularly nasty neighborhood in London Below, which is cheekily deliberate, given the posh, ritzy neighborhood of Knightsbridge in London Above. Character names have importance, too: Anasthesia is Richard's first guide in London Below, and a comforting initial contact for the bewildered stranger in a strange land. Down Street with its dizzying pit and staircase descent, confronting Richard's fear of heights . . . very enjoyable wordplay.

I first saw it shortly after reading Reliquary, the sequel to Relic, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. It dovetailed nicely in topic: that book was very loosely tied into some research into "the mole people" that lived under New York City, and NYC apparently has its own abandoned subway indulgences as well. Personal train passages for the Rockefellers and such, now decaying far from the sunlight, deep below, from what I read. Unfortunately, I haven't read the original source material, so I'm not 100% sure what's fictionalized and what's not, but given the prime minister's own personal underground stop in London, I certainly wouldn't be surprised at similar structures here in the US.

I'd really love to find a site that covers all the references in Neverwhere. Do any of you Gaiman fans reading this have a good resource? Maybe I'll dig a little deeper on Google when I get home from work, and I'm about to do just that.

7:29 pm - Afterthoughts in the car on the way home . . .

I may have answered my own question, about Croup and Vandemar. I was thinking about the Velvets, the lamia, in Neverwhere. Devourers of life, more than the comparatively weak vampires, who merely feed on blood. Blood has been reduced to just another bodily fluid, though in older times, it was a more powerful representation of the life force. In Neverwhere, the lamia vividly draws Richard's life essence out of him.

I was wandering on this tangent, and thinking of Croup eating the Tang dynasty pottery the Marquis procures for him. Vandemar is cruel to animals of all sorts throughout the series: he plays golf with toads, and is frequently hungry, snatching pigeons and rats up and eating them (heavy counterpoint to the Old Bailey's care for the birds, and the Ratspeakers' deification of London Below's rat population, not to mention Door's use of both as messengers). Are they, then, devourers? Eaters of beauty, creativity, and happiness? Are they simply embodiments of appetites, hunger, and cruelty? There are these presences in London Below, consuming, and sucking the life out of their surroundings. Indeed, Vandemar and Croup are in a colorless, depersonalized grey space that is reminiscent of the regular banality often described in Pink Floyd's lyrics . . . London Above seems almost a synthesis of their space/origin and the rest of London Below, in certain respects. Humdrum routine, in sharp contrast to the colorful, organic, dirty, fluid, vibrant surroundings in other parts of London Below? After all, the train containing Earl's Court is not the regimented timetable of the London Underground. The train does not run on time in the abandoned realm: it stops at the mercurial, monarchical whim of the humans aboard it.

As a further postscript, Croup, Vandemar, and Islington feel particularly Sandman-esque.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
hokiegirl1
Jan. 15th, 2004 09:34 am (UTC)
AGH - how did I not hear they were doing a production of "Neverwhere"? When Dh wass trying to get me into fantasty he introduced me to this book. Did you know there is a Neil Gaiman page? www.neilgaiman.com
pointedview
Jan. 15th, 2004 02:13 pm (UTC)
First off, thank you so much for responding to this. I really appreciate it. I thought it was one of my more analytical posts of late, and I was rather pouty that nobody had replied, so thank you. :)

*smiles* I do know of neilgaiman.com -- did you know of the nifty RSS feed of his online journal? You can add this link to your LJ Friends list, and have posts from Neil show up on your Friends page every time he posts. :)
hokiegirl1
Jan. 16th, 2004 01:46 pm (UTC)
How cool - I added it :)

I liked and appreciated your analysis on the book. I feel bad that I couldn't really contribute much to it as it's been about 4 years since I've last read it. You mentioned a BBC production - are they planning on reairing, do you know?
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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