It's A Neil Gaiman Universe; We Just Live In It How familiar are you with the Gaimanverse? The author of Coraline, American Gods and Sandman tries to stump a superfan with fake descriptions of fantastical characters.

It's A Neil Gaiman Universe; We Just Live In It

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You are listening to ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR and WNYC. I'm Ophira Eisenberg and with me is our one-man house band Jonathan Coulton and our puzzle guru Art Chung. But now, let's welcome our very important puzzler Neil Gaiman.


EISENBERG: I read your most recent novel, which I love - "The Ocean at the End of the Lane." I have to admit that I found it pretty scary at times. I couldn't read it late at night alone.

NEIL GAIMAN: Do you normally read books late at night alone?



GAIMAN: And this one you didn't?

EISENBERG: I had to read it during the day.

GAIMAN: I was going to say - I just wondered if you had like five people and you were calling friends and reading - please just come and be with me.


EISENBERG: Yes. I had a support group (laughter). But I love the fact that this novel started off as something you wrote for your wife, Amanda Palmer - she was away in Australia - and you wanted to do something to make you feel closer.

GAIMAN: It was meant to be a, sort of, weird combination of romantic gesture and just love letter. She was off making an album and I was in Florida. And I thought - I'll send her a short story. But it was - it was really interesting. I'd never written something that, sort of, peculiarly personal before - had no idea, while I was writing it, what it was. It was only when I finished typing out and did the word count that I sent a rather apologetic e-mail to my editors saying - I appear to have written a novel that nobody wanted.


EISENBERG: And they said - yes we want it.

GAIMAN: And - and they went - we want it.


EISENBERG: So I love this idea that you wrote this with your wife in mind. "Coraline," which has a female protagonist - but that also really appeals to women and girls. And "Sandman" series was known to bring in a lot of female readers. Do you ever think of writing for a female audience?

GAIMAN: Well, "Coraline" was very specifically written for my daughters.


GAIMAN: I started it for Holly who, at the time, was about four or five years old and would come home from kindergarten and climb on my lap and start dictating these nightmarish stories (laughter) to me in which, you know, her mother would be replaced by an evil witch who would force her to stay in the basement with the dead children. And I just thought this stuff was so cool. So I, you know, I went down to my local bookshop and said - what have you got in the way of horror for little kids and...


GAIMAN: They looked at me. So I went away and wrote her "Coraline" so that she would have a book that was filled with the kind of stuff that she liked. With "Sandman," I was just trying to write it for people.


GAIMAN: I put lots of women in it and doing the things that women do and normally wearing the kind of clothes that women wear and having the kind of bodies that women have. Because I thought, you know, women in comics - how novel.



GAIMAN: And I didn't realize how peculiar it was until I'd go to comic conventions and nice, large gentlemen in stained T-shirts...


GAIMAN: Would come up to me and take my hand and start pumping it and saying - you brought women into my store. I've got to thank you.


GAIMAN: And, you know, the urge was always to say - well if you sweep it, they will come back.


EISENBERG: Neil we're going to subject you to your own Ask Me Another challenge a little later in the show. But right now you are going to help us out with a game. So let's bring on our contestant, Serene Lim.


EISENBERG: Hi, Serene.

SERENE LIM: Hi, Ophira.

EISENBERG: Now are you familiar with Neil Gaiman's work?

LIM: Yes. Not familiar to a stalker-ish extent.


EISENBERG: Is that how it always starts, Neil? Is that the first line they always feed you?


GAIMAN: They always say that, and then you find them hanging around in the attic.


EISENBERG: This game is called It's a Neil Gaiman Universe. We Just Live In It. Which, I think, that is a great universe to live in. Neil has created some of the most extraordinary, peculiar and eccentric characters that have ever graced the page and screen. So Neil is going to read descriptions of some characters and you have to tell us - is this a character from one of his books or stories or did our writers make it up? And remember, if you get it wrong, Neil is right beside you judging you.


LIM: I'm sorry.

EISENBERG: (laughter) Are you ready?

GAIMAN: I will forgive you. It's them.


LIM: I know. I'm sorry.

GAIMAN: Miss April Spink and Miss Miriam Forcible - two elderly women who tell tales of their former lives performing in the theater. But, in an alternate reality, are two beautiful young ladies who perform in the theater for dogs.

LIM: Hm (laughter).You made it up.

GAIMAN: It's real. They're from "Coraline."

LIM: See? I told you I'm not a stalker.



EISENBERG: Yeah, that's right. You just proved your case. Good job.

GAIMAN: The Sleer - an ancient, very large snakelike creature with three heads and a body composed of creepy bits and bobs - distorted faces of the dead, the corpses of various species, that sort of thing.

LIM: Well, I know this very well. It's from "The Graveyard Book."


GAIMAN: It is indeed.


EISENBERG: Were you a dark child, Neil? You were describing that your daughter came to you with all these stories.

GAIMAN: I'm not sure. I was a bookie child. I was much more bookie than dark. I was the kind of child where my parents would frisk me before family events and find the book and lock it in the car. And, then, be disappointed when somewhere at the event I would find a book and just sit under a table where nobody could get me - and go back into book land.

EISENBERG: So, yes, a dark child.

GAIMAN: Dr. Wainscott and Sutsby - a palsied phrenologist and his mute assistant, whose primary duty is to collect specimens of Londoners bad memories. On the weekends they play trombone for passersby in Covent Garden.

LIM: Hm. Well - I think you made it up.

GAIMAN: It is from a novel called "Dusk Gardens," which was made up by the writers of this show.


LIM: Phew (laughter).

GAIMAN: I just thought it amusing that they - your writers came up with the name "Dusk Gardens," which is almost impossible to say without hawking on somebody.


GAIMAN: I would never call a book "Dusk Gardens" because booksellers, gobbed on, all over America would be complaining.


GAIMAN: Canticle Foster - a short, squat man who carries a white cane and who literally sings for his supper. Any food he croons about will magically appear. He dislikes boats.

LIM: He dislikes boats? Do you dislike boats?

GAIMAN: I quite like boats.

LIM: Then I think it's made up.

GAIMAN: It is from the BBC TV production "Left-hand Road," which, again, was made up completely.


GAIMAN: And our last one - Merv Pumpkinhead. A wisecracking pumpkin-headed man of rude disposition who performs odd jobs and oversees construction tasks - often seen smoking a cigar.

LIM: I don't find this character familiar at all. I would say you wrote it?

EISENBERG: Think again. Think again.

GAIMAN: That was good. That was edging off one way and then veering back.


LIM: I've learned my lesson.

GAIMAN: And you would be right. Merv Pumpkinhead is in "Sandman."


EISENBERG: Well done, Serene. Congratulations. And your prize is - you get and ask me another Rubik's cube that has been autographed by the one and only Neil Gaiman.

EISENBERG: Thank you so much for helping out. And, Neil, we will see you in the puzzle hotseat a later in the show.


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