Neil Gaiman in conversation with Meg Rosoff

A Frances and Lynne Adventure
29th October 2012

“Fairy tales are not true, they are more than true. Not because they tell us that dragons exist; but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.
G.K. Chesteron

When we originally booked tickets for this event, it was titled “Phillip Pullman in conversation with Neil Gaiman.” Unfortunately, Pullman had a fall earlier in the day—a pretty nasty one—and so was unable to attend the event. We were both disappointed, but Gaiman was going to fill in and sign copies of his books (a bright silver lining in our eyes; if it had been anyone else, we probably would have asked for our money back).

We sat down in the balcony and had a really good view of the stage. We managed to snap a few quick photographs (yay!) before a steward told us off (boo!). A blonde lady appeared on stage first (we didn’t catch her name, but she worked for Penguin Publisher). She apologized for Pullman’s absence and introduced Gaiman and Meg Rosoff. She also told us a funny story about Pullman and Gaiman. They have apparently been trying to meet for the past eight years and have only managed 30 seconds despite agreeing to have dinner. Pullman contacted Gaiman and asked him to join him at this event. There must be something keeping the two authors apart because Pullman had a fall today, the blonde lady joked.

The blonde haired lady then welcomed Audrey Neiffer, the author of The Time Traveller’s Wife. This was completely unexpected and last minute. Neiffer proceeded to read a Grimm fairy tale from Pullman’s new book, Grimm Tales. Frances was surprised by how funny and personable Neiffer was. From her picture on the back of The Time Traveller’s Wife book, she looks strict and straight-laced. She read The Three Snake Leaves story. The story was interesting, although not much different from the original (according to Lynne who had just finished reading the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales), except being better written of course. She then returned to her seat in the audience.

The blonde haired lady joined Gaiman and Rosoff on the stage and acted as interviewer. They started off by talking about fairy tales and Pullman’s book. They talked about the original Grimm fairy tales and how they were filled with sex. Parents were buying the Grimm fairy tales to read to their children though, and they wanted the sex removed. For example, they didn’t like that the Prince in Sleeping Beauty originally had sex with the Princess while she was asleep. Nine months later she had twins. One of the twins suckles on her breast for sustenance, the other on her finger (sucking out the poisoned thorn). She then awakens. This was all replaced with the Prince waking the Princess with a kiss. So, the Grimm fairy tales were toned down. Now, authors are beginning to return the fairy tales back to how they were originally written – hence Pullman’s new book.

They then talked about how fairytales focus on the actions of people, and not their feelings and thoughts. As a result, children judge the characters for their actions and there are no extenuating circumstances. In The Snake Leaves, the girl changes after she returns to life, she is evil and so she is punished. The morals are very black and white. Rosoff talked about a fairy tale called Into the Woods. In this story, the mother tells the girl not to go into the woods. She is stubborn and goes anyway. The witch in the woods turns the girl into a wooden statue and burns her on the fire. This story is very black and white—the girl doesn’t listen and she is punished. This isn’t to say that there isn’t room to add in more psychological factors. You can think about why the girl didn’t love her husband anymore in The Snake Leaves, and you can think about how the girl is young and curious in Into the Woods. The interesting thing about fairytales is that people don’t seem to do this; they don’t add the extra psychological content. They take the stories at face-value. Gaiman went on to say that when you think about fairy tales rationally, they are a little strange. He talked about Snow White, and how Snow White has hair as black as coal, skin as white as snow and lips are red as blood. When she dies, she rests in a coffin (but doesn’t decay!). One year later, a Prince sees Snow White and kisses her (why would he do that? Unless he’s a necrophiliac). That is where Gaiman got his idea for Snow, Glass, Apples, a retelling of Snow White, where Snow White is a vampire, and the Prince is a necrophiliac.

Gaiman and Rosoff went on to talk about the heroes of fairy tales and how they don’t really exist. Gaiman commented that the heroes of fairy tales end up there accidentally. They don’t start out to rid the World of evil, this just happens. He explains that this is why superhero comics are not fairy tales, because these people set out to stop evil.

The attention turned towards Gaiman’s work, in particular, Coraline. Gaiman talked about the reception of the book in both the UK and the USA. In the UK, parents embraced Coraline and were excited that the story was quite scary for children. In the USA, however, parents said, ‘so you know it’s a little bit scary?’ Gaiman laughs at this point and says, ‘Yes. It’s meant to scare them.’ He said that if children aren’t scared, you will end up with sheltered (Rosoff chimed ‘and deranged’) children. Rosoff also commented that we sugar coat things for children and we shouldn’t—we all die eventually and the World goes on.

The interviewer then asked whether Gaiman and Rosoff had any superstitions. Gaiman admitted that he changes ink colour every day, so that he knows how much he has written. The interviewer asked him which colours, and commented that green ink always makes her think the person is weird. Gaiman quickly, and not so subtly, swoped a green pen from the left side of his jacket pocket to the right side. Rosoff said that she believes in all superstitions. She said that when she moved to England she was forever saluting magpies, and saying, ‘good morning.’ She told us a little story that was amusing. She said that her child asked her about God existing, and Rosoff had replied, ‘don’t be stupid’. She laughed at herself, explaining that she is superstitious and can’t walk under a ladder.

The event ended with Gaiman reading his ghost story, called The Click Clack Rattle Bag. In the ghost story, a young man is putting his girlfriend’s little brother to bed in a huge, creepy house. The boy asks the young man to tell him a scary story about Click Clack’s. The young man doesn’t know what Click Clack’s are, and so the boy explains what Click Clack’s are. The story is creepy and had us shivering in places. Gaiman did all the voices and when your eyes were closed, it really sounded like a child talking. The ending had Frances confused at first, and Lynne had to explain.

Final Verdict: While not the event we expected, a great time nonetheless. If you get the chance to see Neil Gaiman in person, jump at it, it is a great night out. And makes you appreciate slightly scary stories!


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