When reading the wildly imaginative works of Neil Gaiman, one can’t help but wonder, “How does he think up this stuff?” The Coraline and American Gods author revealed a bit of what may be an answer to that question Monday when he chatted with Steve Inskeep on NPR’s Morning Edition.
The interview was part of the public radio station’s “Watch This” series, which has featured pop culture recommendations from the likes of Sherman Alexie, Kevin Smith and Lisa Kudrow. Read on for what Gaiman had to say about four favorites of his – and where EW can see these influences in his own works.
The Muppet Show
The British author talked about the three extra minutes U.K. viewers got to see of in each episode of the 1970s Muppet Show due to the longer English broadcast hour. One installment that stands out guest starred John Cleese – and had Miss Piggy singing about being left at the altar. “She has a pillow stuffed up her dress, to make it appear that she is pregnant,” Gaiman told Inskeep. “It’s one of those glorious moments where I think they just thought, ‘I think we can get away with this on English television; we couldn’t get away with this on American television, but we will never show it on American television.’”
Gaiman’s often dark, racy humor has been on display in most of his works, perhaps most memorably in the opening chapter of American Gods.
Gaiman’s second selection features the work of another Python, Terry Gilliam. The whimsical fantasy he directed in 1981 is just one of the author’s favorites of Gilliam’s films, which he says are “always about pushing the bounds of imagination.
That’s certainly something Gaiman does time and time again in his own writing. Time Bandits also has a kid at its center, swept on a universe-crossing adventure, not unlike the venturesome children who lead Coraline and The Graveyard Book – and also not unlike Gaiman’s works that wrangle Average Joes onto grand quests, as in Stardust, American Gods and Anansi Boys.
And with two Pythons making an appearance on this list, perchance could Gaiman have also found influence in Monty Python and the Holy Grail? The 1975 movie’s deliberately anticlimactic ending – when modern police arrest Arthur and his knights as they’re about to attack the French castle – may be to thank for Gaiman’s own amusingly anticlimactic conclusions to books like Good Omens, American Gods and Stardust.
Next on the list is Alice, a 1988 adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland story by Czech animator Jan Svankmajer. Gaiman told Inskeep he found the film fascinating because “it’s profoundly nightmarish.” He forgot to warn his daughter about its fear factor when she watched it at age 3, but she never appeared scared. “Kids are so much braver than adults, sometimes, and so much less easily disturbed,” he said. “The important thing in fiction, if you’re giving them nightmares, is to demonstrate that nightmares are beatable.”
From Coraline to The Graveyard Book, Gaiman has never been one to pull back the reins on the nightmarish, supplying young readers with ghosts, a knife-gripping murderer and Coraline’s creepy “other” mother, who bears black buttons where her eyes should be – but also with presenting them brave, ultimately triumphant characters.
The Twilight Zone: “The After Hours”
Gaiman recommended a 1960 Twilight Zone episode about the unsettling happenings in a department store after closing. “It’s just a classic Twilight Zone, and the ones that work just sit there, in the back of your head, creeping you out and making the world a slightly more interesting place.”
Anyone who has read Gaiman’s short story collections probably still have clawing at that back of their mind tales of a world-altering drug, a man who hires contract killers in bulk and a wicked, twisted Snow White.
The author also noted on Twitter one other pop culture favorite that didn’t make the cut in the interview: Doctor Who – a series he grew up loving as a fan and now as a sometime-writer.
2013 is already shaping up to be a big year for Gaiman. His children’s book Chu’s Day was released earlier this month, and Ron Howard recently began talks to helm the once-troubled adaptation of Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Gaiman also has an adult novel hitting shelves this summer (he revealed the beautiful and mysterious cover art on New Year’s Day), and a prequel mini-series to his acclaimed comic book series The Sandman is in the works.
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