Sunday, January 24, 2010

Neil Gaiman

The January 25 NEW YORKER has a long profile of Neil Gaiman. I was struck in particular by one observation by the author, Dana Goodyear, that Gaiman's children's books bring back the genuine horror that was a part of Victorian kid lit, but had largely been watered down in the decades since.

Certainly CORALINE is horrific; the alternate "parents" of the little-girl protagonist seek to gouge out her eyes and replace them with sewn-on buttons. When I saw the movie version of CORALINE, I thought, Parents will take little kids to this? It will traumatize them! I was wrong. The kids, Gaiman points out, handle CORALINE just fine; "it's the parents who are frightened."

I think he's right. Since then, at least three sets of parents have told me that their small children loved CORALINE. And when I think back to my own childhood (in the early Triassic), I remember being darkly thrilled by reading GRIMM'S FAIRY TALES. Not the sanitized version, but the original in which Cinderella's wicked stepsisters are punished in a way too gruesome to relate here. Well, too gruesome now -- I'm an adult.

I see the same thing with teens, who watch the most blood-soaked movies without flinching or, apparently, turning into sociopathic monsters. After seeing KILL WITH ME with a sixteen-year-old, I was appalled. She said gently, "Nancy, it's okay, it's just a movie."

Perhaps we get less tough as we age. Perhaps that's a good thing, since tenderness is needed to raise the next generation. Perhaps that relish for horror and blood that seems to exist in even the nicest child serves some psychological purpose. Whatever it is, Neil Gaiman knows how to tap into it.


TheOFloinn said...

I recollect reading once that psychologists of the time were appalled at the idea of "Teddy's Bear" being given to children as a toy. Oh, the horror!

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marcinko said...

Well, I can say CORALINE pretty much scared my child last year. He was OK up till the part where the otherworld-parents said the needle is so sharp it will hardly hurt at all.

Then: "Can we watch the Discovery Channel? We have the DVD; we can finish this movie anytime."

bluesman miike Lindner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bluesman miike Lindner said...

I have no children, but I'm good with little ones. Parents trust me to watch.

And children are tiny savages, God love and protect them. They have no idea of consequences.

Teenagers? Squared and cubed. Teenagers are immortal, of course. Nothing can hurt them, so...LET'S GO!

It's a wonder Humanity has lasted this long.

Neal Holtschulte said...

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw makes a similar observation in his review of the video game Manhunt and its graphic content. In most places anyone younger than 17 can't buy the game, but, ironically, most people older than 17 no longer shamelessly enjoy wanton blood shed. Maybe we're just all more repressed.