Celebrating Neil Gaiman: Our favorite quotes from ‘Sandman,’ ‘Stardust’ and more

"Oh, monsters are scared. That's why they’re monsters."

11:00 am EDT, November 10, 2015

We’ve picked our favorite quotes from Neil Gaiman’s works. What’s yours?

Neil Gaiman is one of our generation’s most iconic authors. From Sandman and Swamp Thing to Good Omens and Stardust, and again to Doctor Who and Neverwhere, it’s almost impossible not to be influenced by his writing.

It is impossible to pick a favorite Gaiman book, for not to mention a quote, but we’ve given it our very best shot. Add your own in the comments!

‘Oh, monsters are scared. That’s why they’re monsters.’ – The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Ocean

Written by Marama Whyte.

Just like the titular ocean, in Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane there is always more than one way to look at something. How perfect for a book for adults that is written about children.

Indeed, the wonder and whimsy that seems so inherent to Gaiman’s writing style is most superbly suited, in my mind, to stories about childhood. That is not to call him facile; rather, he has the ability to reveal striking truths about everyday occurrences with great restraint and simplicity, the same way a child can before their mind is clouded with the conventions of adulthood (another message of Ocean).

It is for that reason that I love Ocean so dearly, which is both a mediation on depression and a nostalgic exploration of a surreal, half-remembered childhood. In Gaiman’s world, it can be both. This quote highlights the duality of Gaiman’s narrative style that I find so intriguing. Even in such an introspective book, his empathy forces us outside of our own self-absorption. After all, a boy might fear a monster, but what does a monster fear? As with the best writing, it is a question that stays long after you have finished the final page.

‘We save our lives in such unlikely ways.’ – Inventing Aladdin, Fragile Things

Fragile Things

Written by Natalie Fisher.

“Inventing Aladdin” is Gaiman’s lyrical interpretation of the story of Scheherazade, the teller of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. According to Arabic legend, a king whose first wife had been unfaithful married and beheaded a new woman every day to prevent any furter opportunities for infidelity.

This went on until wife-of-the-day Scheherazade cleverly saved herself by entrancing the king with storytelling, promising a little more of the tale every night until he eventually fell in love and spared her.

My quote is the poem’s final line, and it applies to more than just Scheherazade’s situation — it’s a stunning metaphor for the ways we find to look after ourselves, and the things that end up helping us, and the power of story.

‘Cats don’t have names. We know who we are, so we don’t need names.’ – Coraline

Coraline

Written by Ariana Quiñónez.

I know this book is supposed to be creepy for children, but when I read it when it was 11, I found it to be oddly comforting. This quote in particular struck out to me, and has stuck with me ever since.

Unlike most people, I’ve never had a strong attachment to my first name — probably due to the fact that most people I encounter pronounce it incorrectly. So I liked the imagery of a name as a label for humans to try and make sense of the world. A name isn’t who we are — it’s who the world wants to try and make us be.

‘Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?’ – Stardust

Stardust

Written by Selina Wilken.

What does it mean to be human? I certainly couldn’t tell you. But I’ve got a feeling that Neil Gaiman has it figured out… at least, better than most people.

In another brilliant quote, this one from Sandman, one of Gaiman’s characters speculates, “We all not only could know everything. We do. We just tell ourselves we don’t to make it all bearable.”

And here’s my theory about life: There’s no big secret. There’s no big idea, or reveal, and the answer isn’t 42. Stars are stars and life is life, and when Gaiman’s philosopher in Stardust ponders on stars and humanity, it is to illustrate that a question — any question — only exists because someone’s developed the consciousness to ask it.

We gaze at the stars. We are human. There is no ‘because.’ Or maybe there is — in which case, it’s up to each individual to work out their own because. Why do you gaze at the stars? Probably not for the same reason I do.

‘Death’s a funny thing…’ – Sandman

Sandman

Written by Donya Abramo.

When I first read Sandman, I never really paid much mind to this quote. I was too young, I believe, to really consider it with the thought it truly required — though, in retrospect, my experiences with death during my childhood fit it more aptly that I’d ever previously contemplated. When my Gran was diagnosed with vascular dementia — which later was re-diagnosed as mixed dementia — she became another person, unrecognizable from the woman that had brought me up during my childhood. Caring for her was an incredibly harrowing time, emotionally, and losing her slowly to her own mind was excruciating.

After she passed, I picked up Sandman again. When I stumbled over this quote, I couldn’t bear to look away, even when it brought me to tears. There was nothing that quantified exactly what this kind of death meant, and I’d always had difficulty putting it into words. I still do. My Mum had always maintained that it was as though someone had been stealing my Gran away, slowly, in the night, so coming across these words affected me more than I can ever really state. Death is an inelegant and cruel thing, but is ultimately inevitable, and having something to articulate my grief was immeasurable to helping me manage it on the more difficult days.

People far smarter than I am have exalted the true power of words. These ones gave me a small comfort during a time that irrevocably changed my world view, and for that I’ll always be grateful to Neil Gaiman for them being immortalized on the pages of Sandman.

Neil, you have truly have enriched our lives in more ways than we can count.

What is your favorite Neil Gaiman quote?

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