BANGALORE: Best selling author Neil Gaiman surprised fans at a Skype chat session at the recently concluded Bangalore Comic Con by revealing his huge fascination for Indian mythology. Gaiman told a rapturous audience that his favourite Indian mythology character would be none other than Hanuman.
Many years ago, Gaiman revealed, he was approached by DreamWorks to do a version of the Ramayana. "I wrote my first draft of the Ramayana and presented it to them. But they didn't like it too much and wanted me to give the ending a happy twist, which I refused to do. The kind of things they were suggesting would be the equivalent to suggesting that instead of Christ dying on the cross, we should have him jump off it and wield a machine gun and march off on the long road," he laughed incredulously.
He ended up writing three different versions of the Ramayana finally, none of which impressed DreamWorks and they finally agreed to make the movie if Sindbad, the movie they were working on then, did well at the box-office. In what worked out well for most people finally, Sindbad tanked and Gaiman's Ramayana never got made. "I'm happy that I was left with my love for the epic intact. And hopefully, it will creep into one of my later stories," he said.
Indian mythology first made its appearance in Gaiman's novel American Gods, where both Ganesh and Kali make brief appearances. "I've never ever wanted to be a part of the 'mythology of the month' club. What I love doing though is re-telling and exploring mythology, preferably respectfully," Gaiman explained.
Currently, Gaiman said that his "weird little side-project" is just re-telling a few myths for a book on world mythology. "Towards the end of the book, I think I'll roll-up my sleeves and nervously tip-toe over to Indian mythology. You people definitely have the best stories," he said to a roaring applause.
Gaiman attributes his love for Indian mythology to Roger Zelazny's book, Lord of Light, which he read at a very young age. The book set in a futuristic world, sees a planet that is inhabited by various races, and how a group of people decide to carve a place for themselves on the planet by assuming features and powers of the Hindu pantheon. They are then taken on by one of their own members who decides to fashion himself as a Buddhist. "I read it and thought I want to write like this one day. But Roger Zelazny did it better than anyone else and I don't think I can ever surpass that," he said.
In what was another surprise revelation, Gaiman confessed that if one were to ask George R R Martin about Neil Gaiman's career, he would tell you that it was all his doing. "In 1987, at a science fiction convention, I pitched my idea to George, who was editing a series called Wild Cards, which basically started out as a collection of super-hero short stories," said Gaiman.
This idea was of the epic Sandman series that turned into a 10 volume series. It sold millions of copies world wide for more than 25 years. "I want to do a Wild Cards story and I have a character who lives in dream, I told George that day. But he turned my idea down," he says.
And this is the reason why George to this day takes sole responsibility for Neil Gaiman's entire career. "And I think it's pretty fair for him to say that," laughed Gaiman.
On working with Terry Pratchett
At some point, Neil Gaiman got the idea that he wanted to write a humorous horror novel. "I wrote the first 5000 words and took it to a few friends for their opinion, including Terry Pratchett," he narrated.
But as things go, Neil Gaiman got busy with the Sandman series and for the next eight months did nothing but work on the series. But one fine day, Gaiman woke up to a call from Pratchett and the acclaimed fantasy writer asked Neil Gaiman to either sell the book to him or let him write the book with him. It only took Gaiman a fraction of a second to jump at the chance and agree to co-author the book with Pratchett.
"It was a little like Michelangelo calling and asking you to paint a ceiling with him. It was the best possible apprenticeship one could have," says Gaiman.