I think I realised something, a reason for why I love about Neil Gaiman’s work so much that I never realised before. Many of his main characters are very…wallflower. At least,
they have been
in most of the stories I have read. They aren’t celebrated. They aren’t suave or extra clever or grand in any way. They just are. Richard is a man with an okay job and an iffy girlfriend. Shadow is a down on his luck ex-con. The Narrator in Ocean is a man questioning life in his late 40′s, in a not too different way from how one questions in their 20′s. Barbie too, is just a girl. They all lead wallflower existences, unnoticed by those not looking, easily passed over by the random on the street.
And then these wallflower heroes of his go on to see fantastic things, have reality warping adventures. Adventures on scales so abstract and so vast, and so, so beautiful. And then they come back. Then they come back to a normal life, or at least, a life normal enough. No one knows of what they’ve done. They aren’t congratulated or patted on the back. They come back and live more of their wallflower lives.
And I think the reason I really love this trope of his is because, as time goes by, I too feel more and more wallflower. As children, we dream big. I was going to be the next Tesla, re-invent electricity based technology for the world. Right now, I’d be happy to get a job out of uni that pays okay. Life lowers our expectations and makes wallflowers out of most of us, meant to go just watch the world swing madly on. We contribute to it, but in small ways, ways that seem insignificant. And when we pick up a book, we hide ourselves in awe behind heroes like Vin and Daenerys who can decimate armies and change the course of history in minutes. Which is fine - it’s a lovely escape. But sometimes, we need something a bit less from our heroes. Sometimes, we just need someone to see ourselves in, to stand by, to walk with, to fight with, and in the end, come back with to our everyday lives, with a world none the wiser, and feeling no more changed. Sometimes, we need Shadow, and we need Barbie, and we need Richard. And we need Gaiman.