Neil Gaiman is one of my biggest heroes, shaping my teens and early 20s in a way no other author has quite done so. I also picked up a good deal of his sensible pagan understanding of things, which I had use of until I found Christ (that is, He found me) less than 20 months ago.
Literal gives way to literary
Reading ‘The Sandman’ at 14 opened me to the fascinating world of archetypes in which every thing including or particularly religion could be classified as mere points of view. It was fiction, sure, but I didn’t even realize how it influenced me, a Christian with poor foundation for my faith, into treating God as a fiction, the particular characteristics of which depended on one’s culture. And Gaiman himself has said in interviews that God is real, that is, real in the DC universe alongside Superman and friends. God is assumed as the antagonist of his Lucifer character, who is based on the Bible/Dante/Milton/Göethe, and on whom the Netflix series is based. Whatever religious sense Gaiman had growing up, has long been discarded by him. Or rather, it’s taken a different form, in his work.
I love Gaiman’s ‘Books of magic’ mini-series.’ There are few books I’ve treasured the experience of in such a way. In its second issue, Gaiman has skeptic Doctor Terry Thirteen give a modern view that claims of magic are all logically explainable by physical laws and coincidence, to which John Constantine explains another view, of relativism, that the existence of magic has to be chosen for it to be real to someone.
Magic is real, and not good
Something also stressed in the series, and in other Gaiman stories, is that names have power. I’m sure Gaiman used much of world literature in his discussion of the power of names — which he differentiates yet from that which someone is called by — but I find it so significant to my Christian faith, in which Jesus’ name stands above all else and is used to drive out demons both in the Bible and in true stories of exorcism. To think that I found out only very lately that demons are a real thing and not just something explainable by psychology.
Another important point that Gaiman himself probably treats only symbolically is that magic has its price, usually great suffering in the long term. As a Christian, I now see such gravity in getting into things such as Ouija boards, tarot cards, even positive affirmations, anything where we shift our attention away from God to other things, including ourselves, wherein we stop trusting Him and in effect make idols of creations rather than Him our Creator.
Faith in disguise
It is notable though that one of Gaiman’s literary heroes is also one of the most influential Catholic writers of the 20th century, G.K. Chesterton. Long before I read Chesterton — and in hindsight, doing so probably gave me the extra shove I needed to accept Christ within a year’s time — I encountered his likeness in the character of Fiddler’s Green, a dream figure in the realm of the Sandman. Fiddler’s Green was a sweet chap, and I probably will resemble him a good deal when I’m older, if not in bulk then in attitude to life, generally humorous and hopeful amid great evil in the world.
The ‘Sandman’ original run ended with Gaiman doing his second story centered on William Shakespeare, ‘The tempest,’ wherein Will does as Prospero in the play does, breaking his staff so to speak and renouncing the magic that had sustained him. Might this be a portent of Gaiman eventually ceasing to treat his stories as magical worlds divorced from reality, their own escape for escapism’s sake?* Might a life of faith yet await him?
* Gaiman has used this wonderful Chesterton quote though.
For me, being Christian has meant hoping and praying for everyone to accept Christ, knowing all the while that the evil one is still setting up traps for me, waiting for a weak moment to strike. If Gaiman ever does turn to Jesus our Lord and Savior (JoLaS), I will know that the signs were all there in his books, long before he recognized them as pertaining to himself.
My new book, ‘How to be Catholic during your rebellious years,’ is available on Amazon Kindle, and FREE until the end of Monday, April 26, PST.