Neverwhere: Author’s Preferred Text by Neil Gaiman
Neverwhere began with a kernel of an idea. In the mid-1990s, the BBC asked Gaiman to write a television series based upon tribes of homeless wandering the London streets. He decided that a metaphorical rendering of this idea would be more interesting, and thus was born London Below.
A shadow world existing beneath the London that Richard Mayhew knows. London Below is a world of fiefdoms and baronies, monsters, rat-speakers, and all manner of unusual characters who have fallen through the cracks from the city above. Alongside a powerful huntress and a slippery Marquis, our hero, unable to return home, joins Lady Door (of the House of Portico) in her quest to discover who it was that murdered her family.
“I wanted to talk about the people who fall through the cracks, to talk about the dispossessed – using the mirror of fantasy, which can sometimes show us things we have seen so many times that we never see them at all – for the very first time.”
The Neverwhere BBC series was mediocre at best. Gaiman was particularly disappointed in the studio’s version of the Beast of London, a 17th century legend that Gaiman co-opts about a pig that had escaped into the city’s sewers years, decades, or even centuries ago. Gaiman writes the beast as a fearsome monster, an enormous, evil boar with razor sharp tusks and the broken -off ends of spears and swords protruding from its vile hide. In the hands of the BBC, the Beast of London was played, in Gaiman’s words, by a “large, hairy, and rather amiable-looking highland cow.” This, along with other edits to the television series, provoked the author into action. Gaiman hadn’t wanted to write Neverwhere as a novel, but faced with what he felt was the butchering of a really good story, he knew he had to.
Neverwhere (the novel) was published in 1996 by the BBC, the same year that the television series was aired. Subsequent editions have been published, for which Gaiman was persuaded to change much of the text. This latest edition of Neverwhere, the “Author’s Preferred Text,” is meant, by Gaiman, to be the definitive edition. If you’re new to Neverwhere, this is the one you should pick up, as Gaiman has reinstated passages, jokes, and even a prologue introducing the monstrous Croup and Vandemar.
“Somebody wasn’t dead,” said Mr. Croup.
“Is now,” said Mr. Vandemar, and he ate another slice of raw puppy. He had found his lunch lying dead in a ditch, while they were walking away from the monastery. He liked the sixteenth century.
“What’s next?” he asked.
Mr. Croup grinned, with teeth that looked like an accident in a graveyard. “About four hundred years from now,” he said. “London Below.”
Mr.Vandemar digested this along with some puppy. At length, he asked, “Kill people?”
“Oh yes,” said Mr. Croup. “I certainly think I can guarantee that.”
In the back of the book, “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back,” a short story featuring the slippery trickster and Neverwhere favorite, the Marquis de Carabas, is icing on an already delicious cake, whetting our appetite for an eventual sequel.
Imagine a Tim Burton version of Alice in Wonderland in which Alice is a bemused London office worker. Now add a dash of British humor, a la The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and you’re beginning to scratch the surface of Neverwhere, which of course is all about what lies beneath the surface. Here is London as only Neil Gaiman could imagine it. A real Earl in Earl’s Court, a mountainous blacksmith named Hammersmith, a deadly Night’s Bridge in Knightsbridge, and a secret, moving bazaar known as the Floating Market, where Door recruits Hunter, a legendary female bodyguard to protect her as she seeks out the Angel Islington.
Neverwhere is a fantastically dark and funny novel and, as Gaiman’s debut (aside from 1990’s Good Omens, cowritten with Terry Pratchett), was a harbinger of the magic yet to come in novels like American Gods and The Ocean at the End of the Lane.