Neil Gaiman: ‘Whatever I Loved About Enid Blyton Isn’t There When I Go Back As An Adult’ | Books

My earliest reading memory
I was three years old, we lived in Purbrook, near Portsmouth, and if I had been remarkably good, my mother would order a book from the local bookshop and a month later we would pick it up. I remember a children’s party Hiawatha, a beautiful edition of The Pied Piper of Hamelin illustrated by Margaret Tarrant, and an illustrated Mikado I would learn the words of the songs without any tunes: “In anticipation of the thrill of a short sharp jolt of a cheap and chippy helicopter on a big black block” and so on. Glorious morbid stuff for a three-year-old.

Growing up my favorite book
If you had asked me for seven or eight years, it would have been the Narnia books, which I found infinitely rereadable – I wanted to live in them. But if you’d asked me at nine or ten, it was The Lord of the Rings. I was convinced that not only was this the best book anyone had ever written, but it was also the best book anyone would ever write. I just had to know how it ended because my school only had the first two books. When I won the English prize in school, I asked for The Return of the King as my prize book.

The Book That Changed Me As A Teen
Roger Zelazny’s novels Lord of Light and beings of light and darkness. He was a wonderful writer, with a beautiful prose style, and he just made it look so fun to write. I had already wanted to write, but Zelazny determined it.

The Writer Who Changed His Mind
It wasn’t until I was 22 that I realized I could stop dreaming of becoming a writer and become a writer instead. It was Harlan Ellison’s fault, from his introduction to a short story called Count the Clock that Tells the Time, in a collection called Shatterday. He wrote about wasting time, how you look around and time is up. It connected directly to everything I had ever thought or dreamed of becoming a writer and at that point I was determined to become a writer. I thought it was better to try and fail than not to try and let the time pass.

The book that made me want to be a writer
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer, but CS Lewis and his Narnia books definitely made me realize that these stories I loved were written by one person. Lewis didn’t pretend to be invisible, he was very happily present in the text and made these lovely kind remarks for the reader. I loved that so much, and liked the idea of ​​doing it too.

The book I came back to
Gene Wolfe was an author I respected but didn’t love, and when I was 20 I struggled to read the first in The Book of the New Sun series, The Shadow of the Torturer. I don’t know why I picked it up again, maybe a year later, but I was surprised to find that it was now the most interesting book in the world.

The Book I Could Never Read Again
I find it very difficult to go back to Enid Blyton. I even find her difficult to read to my children. It’s weird because I remember how much I loved Blyton, and I’m someone who likes to go back to beloved children’s books, and yet everything I loved isn’t there when I go back as an adult.

The book I discovered later in my life
Charles Dickens’s pale house a book I didn’t get into until my late 40s. I guess I was only there for the spontaneous human combustion, which isn’t really a very important part of the novel. But I fell deeply in love with the book – the plot, the prose, the techniques – the whole thing – and rediscovered a childhood love for Dickens.

The book I am currently reading
I am really enjoying Penn Jillette’s upcoming novel Random. And on Audible, I’m re-watching The Black Ridge: Amongst the Cuillin of Skye by Simon Ingram, narrated by Richard Burnip, a glorious book about Skye and the Cuillin Hills and the people who climbed them. I enjoy it so much as an audio experience, if only because everything is pronounced correctly, which wasn’t the case when I read it to myself.

My comfort read
Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun. I read it every decade and discover new things in it. Although a few years ago, during the lockdown, when I was alone for many months, my comfort books were mostly books I had loved as a child. The most interesting of the books I rediscovered were Nicholas Stuart Gray, now erroneously forgotten, but one of the most brilliant children’s authors of the 20th century at best.

Chivalry by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Colleen Doran, is published by Headline

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