Neil Gaiman has never seen the third film in the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy, and he spent much of his adult life trying to avoid David Bowie.
The acclaimed author shared these and other pieces of his life with the Lied Center on Monday at “An Evening With Neil Gaiman” sponsored by the Hall Center for the Humanities.
The Lied Center was full for the sold-out show. Hall Center Interim Director Marta Caminero-Santangelo took the stage first to introduce author and University of Kansas English professor Kij Johnson, who joked about having only five minutes to introduce an author with as expansive a body of work as Gaiman’s.
“[Gaiman] gave a face and voice to a cluster of subcultures, nurturing a place where we — and I do use 'we' advisedly — could find one another, and know that we were not alone,” Johnson said.
Gaiman treated the audience with humility and respect from the moment he stepped on stage. He spoke to the thousands of people in attendance with a soothing familiarity — emphasized by his resonant English accent.
“I've never been here before,” he said after the first thunderous round of applause. “This is brilliant.”
Back to David Bowie: Gaiman didn’t dislike Bowie — the opposite. He didn’t want to spoil his idealized image of the musician, which he had held since childhood. Gaiman has a similar philosophy about “Return of the King.”
“I've met so many of my heroes, and I've discovered when you meet your heroes sometimes they disappoint you, sometimes they're even cooler and more interesting,” Gaiman said. “But either way they replace the thing that was in your head.”
Gaiman later did meet Bowie, and even became good friends with his son.
Ahead of the show, audience members had a chance to submit questions for Gaiman to answer on stage. Gaiman would answer a few questions and then read a passage from one of his books. He answered a least a dozen questions by the end of the night and read from four books.
The first question was from 13-year-old Isaac, who asked what was Gaiman’s favorite book he wrote. Gaiman said it was the 98 pages he’d completed of his current project.
“I'm always convinced that this time I'll get it right, and this time the beautiful, wonderful, perfect thing that's in my head will actually make it onto the paper,” he said. “And of course that never happens.”
The second passage of the evening was from Gaiman’s “Art Matters," a collection of his writings on creativity and artistry. He read an essay about the importance of libraries, literacy and daydreaming, which was well received by the bibliophile audience.
“If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom,” Gaiman said. “You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.”
Later on, Gaiman read another question.
“How did the first wave of British punk rock influence your life?”
“Can I just say these are the best questions of the tour?”
British punk rock was an “enormous” influence on him, he said, because the philosophy of punk rock is that you do it, whether you think you can or not.
Kansan writer Nicole Asbury gives her review of "Crimes of Grindelwald," the latest addition of the "Fantastic Beasts" franchise.
“Good Omens,” one of Gaiman’s most loved books, came up at the tail end of the show. Amazon Studios will debut a six-part series based on the book next year with Gaiman as show runner. He said he and his late co-author Terry Pratchett always wanted to adapt it for television, and he promised Pratchett he’d get it done.
“And then the bastard died,” Gaiman joked. “Which moved it from something he’d just asked me to do to a status of a last request.”
Gaiman has been hard at work preparing the show ever since. It’s scheduled to air in 2019.
The evening ended with a poem. Gaiman wrote “The Mushroom Hunters” for his wife, the musician Amanda Palmer, to read at "The Universe in Verse", last April’s night of poetry written about science and nature in Brooklyn. Gaiman’s poem is a tribute to women in science.
Danny Caine, a University graduate and published poet, bought the Raven Book Store in August 2017 after being an employee at the store while earning his graduate degree.
The crowd was reverently silent as he read:
The scientists walk more slowly, over to the brow of the hill
and down to the water’s edge and past the place where the red clay runs.
They are carrying their babies in the slings they made,
freeing their hands to pick the mushrooms.
It was a beautiful, poignant end to Gaiman’s time in Lawrence, the last stop on his speaking tour. He insisted it was also the most fun he'd had.
“Thank you all so much, and I hope I get to come back.”