Passive characters

Jo Zebedee

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Having recently devoured The Ocean At the End of the Lane, I've picked up and enjoyed Neverwhere and am currently making my way through American Gods which I'm loving in some sections and skimming in others.

I'm surprised at how passive Gaiman's mc - particularly the men - are.

It works well in Ocean. The narrator is recounting a childhood incident and the passivity adds pathos. That the narrator is never named makes him less the focal point of the story.

In Neverwhere, it wasn't a dealbreaker. Richard is thrown into a world outside of ours,he chooses to go to it, and as the book goes on he grows and becomes more active. Plus he is balanced by two very strong characters.

I'm struggling with American Gods, though. The mc doesn't ask the questions I think anyone would in those circumstances -like did Wednesday have anything to do with the death of his wife - he doesn't show anger. I'm hoping there proves to be a reason for this, but if so I'd have liked to see some hints by now (I'm on page 150.)

Anyone else bothered by this?
 

Brian G Turner

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It was one of the reasons I didn't enjoy American Gods. There's no attempt to make Shadow a realistic person with feelings, drive, motivations. He's simply an excuse for other people to tell short stories.

I don't know if I would have noticed this if I wasn't writing - but I realised afterwards that's why I didn't enjoy Anansi Boys either.

I did enjoy the Graveyard Book, and his comic series Sandman and Books of Magic, though.
 

The Bluestocking

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I'm surprised at how passive Gaiman's mc - particularly the men - are.

Anyone else bothered by this?
With Gaiman's work, it really depends on the story/book.

In "Stardust", the main characters (Tristan Thorn and Yvaine) are far from passive. Ditto for Odd in "The Graveyard Book", Coraline in "Coraline" - both are curious, intrepid children. And of course Dream in "The Sandman" (though his sister Death far outshines him in the personality department).

I do find Gaiman's female characters more vibrant and interesting than his male characters though - Death, Coraline, Yvaine et al. This is probably why I found "American Gods" a middling read.

If you haven't done so already, maybe have a look at "The Sandman" which is his breakout work. It's a phenomenal series of graphic novels, and also the first "mature" comic book series I've read that is immensely literate and does not resort to typical moves to make it "adult" such as gratuitous sex and senseless violence. Everything in that series, including rape scenes (which, though it is an utterly heinous act, can be sometimes be used indiscriminately by less skilled/nuanced writers as a shorthand for "the baddest bad thing to happen to anybody so I am going to stick in a rape scene to show that my baddie is EVIL!"), is always appropriately contextualised, a necessary component of the story and shows the horror of the act.
 

Mouse

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Oooh... you know I love the Gaiman.

I think Richard's a brilliant character. He's just a normal, every day bloke put into a very weird situation. I wouldn't describe him as 'passive.' What's he supposed to do?

And I've defended Shadow before. Again, I think he's quite a simple character, rather than passive. He's ponderous and thoughtful - the stuff with his wife, especially near the end, almost brought me to tears. Characters don't have to be angry, or intelligent, or 'go-getters' and frankly, I'm bloody sick of those characters.

Read Gaiman's short stories. Especially Keepsakes and Treasures in Fragile Things - the characters are spot on. (They also appear in an American Gods novella, which I think is included in Fragile Things).
 

Mad Alice

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I love the way Gaimon will bookmark a personality with his names. Its sheer genius. Gaiman's Shadow is quite passive at the start of "American Gods", but I think this is more a device. At Shadow's introduction he is, like his name, amorphous in character. Unformed and insubstantial, making little impact even within his own life.

He seems to me to be Laura's shadow or foil at first, then as Shadow starts moving away from Laura's shadow, Laura serves as the impetus for Shadow's changing and growing. On Shadow's and Laura's walk together, she is literally starting him on his journey or quest. Getting him to ask the questions that lead to his developing a deeper personality. At the end of this personal quest, he is a fuller, more vivid character.

He becomes much more dominant and Laura then fades into shadow, losing her status as the primary force in his life as he begins to take control.

Its really an exciting progression that I enjoy reading.
 

Zoe Mackay

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Not a helpful comment: in a flat I shared we penned a face onto a corkscrew and called it "The Neil Gaiman Male Protagonist" corkscrew, because of the way it flapped its arms up and down and did little else. :giggle:
 

Mad Alice

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Not a helpful comment: in a flat I shared we penned a face onto a corkscrew and called it "The Neil Gaiman Male Protagonist" corkscrew, because of the way it flapped its arms up and down and did little else. :giggle:
Actually that is a fair summation of a friend's comments about the abilities and depths of performance of the actor playing Tristian upon our seeing the movie "Stardust". :D
It worked out well for me though. The friend had brashly declared previous to our viewing the picture that 'this movie will blow everything else we have seen this year out of the water, or i will buy you a month of movies'. I got to see quite a bunch of movies, gratis.
 

HareBrain

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I must have missed this thread when it came out. I've only read Sandman, but you're right -- he does almost nothing. I can't work out what the appeal is.
 

EPT Henry

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Having recently devoured The Ocean At the End of the Lane, I've picked up and enjoyed Neverwhere and am currently making my way through American Gods which I'm loving in some sections and skimming in others.

I'm surprised at how passive Gaiman's mc - particularly the men - are.

It works well in Ocean. The narrator is recounting a childhood incident and the passivity adds pathos. That the narrator is never named makes him less the focal point of the story.

In Neverwhere, it wasn't a dealbreaker. Richard is thrown into a world outside of ours,he chooses to go to it, and as the book goes on he grows and becomes more active. Plus he is balanced by two very strong characters.

I'm struggling with American Gods, though. The mc doesn't ask the questions I think anyone would in those circumstances -like did Wednesday have anything to do with the death of his wife - he doesn't show anger. I'm hoping there proves to be a reason for this, but if so I'd have liked to see some hints by now (I'm on page 150.)

Anyone else bothered by this?
Hi Jo,

American Gods is one of my favourite Neil Gaiman books and it didn't bother me actually. I think Gaiman's main characters are often just a vehicle (not in a bad way) for a larger story and in a way they are often the most boring character in the book. Richard in Neverwhere is an interesting example, he basically just lets things happen around him but as you say he has two very strong supporting characters to pick up the interest. I think the 'quietness' of Mr Moon in American Gods is built into his character and it is deliberate, he isn't the sort to ask a lot of questions.

Hope you enjoy the rest of it though. :)
 

Jo Zebedee

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Hiya, welcome to the chrons, (don't think we've met yet...) - I gave up on it, I'm afraid, and then donated the book to the local free-book swap... Hopefully someone else will have given it a loving home. :)
 
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It was one of the reasons I didn't enjoy American Gods. There's no attempt to make Shadow a realistic person with feelings, drive, motivations. He's simply an excuse for other people to tell short stories.

I don't know if I would have noticed this if I wasn't writing - but I realised afterwards that's why I didn't enjoy Anansi Boys either.

I did enjoy the Graveyard Book, and his comic series Sandman and Books of Magic, though.
I, at points, found myself talking out loud to the lead in Anansi Boys (whose name I've forgotten) telling him to man up and act! It infuriated me how passive he was. It almost made the book unreadable, but I made it all the way through.

I finished American Gods, too, but only after taking a break, about half-way, for a year. When I went back to it, I adopted the mindset about not caring about Shadow at all and focusing my attention on the stories of the gods. That made it much more enjoyable.
 

Son of Valhalla

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Having recently devoured The Ocean At the End of the Lane, I've picked up and enjoyed Neverwhere and am currently making my way through American Gods which I'm loving in some sections and skimming in others.

I'm surprised at how passive Gaiman's mc - particularly the men - are.

It works well in Ocean. The narrator is recounting a childhood incident and the passivity adds pathos. That the narrator is never named makes him less the focal point of the story.

In Neverwhere, it wasn't a dealbreaker. Richard is thrown into a world outside of ours,he chooses to go to it, and as the book goes on he grows and becomes more active. Plus he is balanced by two very strong characters.

I'm struggling with American Gods, though. The mc doesn't ask the questions I think anyone would in those circumstances -like did Wednesday have anything to do with the death of his wife - he doesn't show anger. I'm hoping there proves to be a reason for this, but if so I'd have liked to see some hints by now (I'm on page 150.)

Anyone else bothered by this?
More somewhat dead threads... anyways!

I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane and loved the MC's passiveness. It made for a fun read to understand the strange illusory fantasy in the character's childhood.
 
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