Neil Gaiman Brings A Multimedia Extravaganza To Carnegie Hall

Jun 25, 2014
Originally published on June 25, 2014 12:19 pm

Neil Gaiman has won a wide following with novels like “American Gods,” “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” and “Coraline,” and he’s read his works aloud numerous times.

But this Friday, at Carnegie Hall, he’s going multimedia: he’ll be performing his latest work, “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains,” (excerpt below) with a musical score provided by the FourPlay String Quartet, and illustrations by artist Eddie Campbell projected behind him. The work was commissioned by the Sydney Opera House as part of its Graphic Festival.

Neil Gaiman and Eddie Campbell’s work has also been published in book form, but as Gaiman told Here & Now’s Robin Young, the multimedia performance gives audiences the opportunity “to experience the same thing in very different ways with different parts of ourselves.”

“Human beings do not relate to written words in the same way that they will relate to spoken words, they do not relate to music in the same way do to pictures,” Gaiman said. “It’s all different parts of our head, different parts of our minds processing this. And then, when you put them all together, suddenly it’s as if you’re being given permission to make a movie in your head.”

Book Excerpt: ‘The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains’

From the book THE TRUTH IS A CAVE IN THE BLACK MOUNTAINS. Copyright © 2010 by Neil Gaiman. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Eddie Campbell. William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.

Guest

  • Neil Gaiman, English author. His latest book is “The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains: A Tale of Travel and Darkness with Pictures of All Kinds.” He tweets @neilhimself.
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW. Two men - one tall, one very, very short walk through a long-ago Scotland looking for a cave. And on the way, they meet a fortune-teller who tells them there was a woman in a tree, there will be a man in tree. And as the journey ends, so will there be. And never has such an innocent prophecy been so grimly realized. It's the story told in Neil Gaiman's dark and compelling graphic novella, "The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains." And this Friday, he'll tell it again at New York's Carnegie Hall accompanied by the FourPlay String Quartet with illustrations from the book by artist Eddie Campbell projected behind him. Here's a little of a previous performance at the Sydney Opera House. Neil Gaiman reading the opening - the words of the shorter man, foreshadowing key elements of the story we're about to hear - a missing daughter, a man left behind.

NEIL GAIMAN: (Reading) You ask me if I can forgive myself. I can forgive myself for many things - for where I left him, for what I did, but I will not forgive myself for the year that I hated my daughter, when I believed her to have run away, perhaps to the city. During that year I forbade her name to be mentioned. And if her name entered my prayers when I prayed, it was to ask that she would one day learn the meaning of what she had done, of the dishonor that she had brought to our family, of the red that ringed her mother's eyes. I hate myself for that.

YOUNG: Neil Gaiman joins us from the studios of Northeast Public Radio. And Neil, so many riddles but hearing that beginning again, I just got it. We're not going to give it away, but I know what happened to his daughter.

GAIMAN: You do?

YOUNG: Where did you come up with this story?

GAIMAN: There was a story by a lady named Otta F. Swire - a book on the myths of the Hebrides. And she talked about the black mountains on the isle of Skye - the Cuillin mountains. And how there was a cave in these mountains that contained gold. And if you went there, there were no monsters to guard the cave. There was nothing to stop you. You could always go in and you could take gold from the cave. But that it would take a little bit of your soul. It would make you evil. And I started thinking about that because that wasn't like any legend that I had ever heard. There's no legend where - well, yes, you can do this but you'll not be the same person afterwards.

YOUNG: Yeah. Which is true of your two characters. Who are your two characters?

GAIMAN: Calum MacInnes, who is a reaver. He's a tall, dangerous warrior of a man. Then there is a dwarf who is telling us the story. You're back in Jacobite times. And there's a king across the water. And there's political things happening, and maybe gold needs to be gotten. But there's also a very personal story being played out for a narrator and for the reader.

YOUNG: The tall reaver. Let's listen to a few sections of the multimedia performance that you're going to be performing again at Carnegie Hall. "Here The Day Begins." Let's listen.

GAIMAN: For breakfast I made porridge and threw in some dried plums to soften them. The mountains were black and gray against the white of the sky. We saw eagles - huge and ragged of wing circling above us. Calum set a sober pace. And I walked beside him, taking two steps for every one of his.

YOUNG: Neil Gaiman, you've certainly done a lot of readings, but what's it like to have this accompaniment?

GAIMAN: It's amazing. When the Sydney Opera House got in touch with me and said, would you read a story? They suggested the FourPlay String Quartet. I listened to some of their stuff. They are imaginative. You heard in that little extract that they were creating the noise of hawks. It's like a strange, sort of beautiful soundtrack. Sometimes it's musical and sometime it's just amazing noise. (Reading) The rocks were black and slippery. We walked and climbed and clambered and clung. We slipped and slid and stumbled and staggered. Yet even in the midst, Calum knew where he was going. And I followed him. One thing that I found was that I started relating - on the stage - to the words in a different way. As they would start creating musical rhythms, I would myself going into the text and just echoing the rhythms that they were doing - finding a different beat, hitting different words in different ways. And actually, from my perspective, almost exploring the music of the words in a way that I would never do if I were unaccompanied and just up on the stage.

YOUNG: So it gives it a whole new understanding. And you talk about sound. Let's listen to another portion when the two men, again, walking up this mountain, heading towards this cave, and Calum MacInnes falls.

GAIMAN: (Reading) He tested the rope, pulled on it, motioned me to follow him when the stone gave way beneath his foot, and he slipped on the wet rock and fell into the abyss. The rope held. And the rock beside me held. Calum MacInnes dangled from the end of the rope.

YOUNG: Neil Gaiman, it's true of a lot of graphic novels - it's small. This is a thin book. But what is it about - this is "Moby Dick," you know, at some points - what is it about this genre that makes it so rich?

GAIMAN: I think it's because we get to experience the same thing in very different ways with different parts of ourselves. Human beings do not relate to written words in the same way that they will relate to spoken words. They do not relate to music in the same way that they do to pictures. It's all different parts of our head, different parts of our minds processing this. And then when you put them all together, suddenly it's as if you're being given permission to make a movie in your head. And it sweeps you up. And it gets the heart pounding in a way that I don't think sitting and reading a story on its own would actually do, although, that is a wonderful, pure and perfect experience of itself.

YOUNG: You're well-known for loving being in this place of bleakness and heart-pounding. And the ending this book - the cave book - is chilling. You told the New York Times that fiction allows us to take our little bits of poison and safely ingest them so when the real thing happens, we're prepared. That's a grim expectation - that you're going to be poisoned.

GAIMAN: I think it's a true one. I mean, the analogy - I was talking to the New York Times about the poisoners in the 17th and 18th century who would ingest tiny, little bits of their own poisons so that then if they were with somebody and they poisoned their dinner, and the person said, well, I hope you will have some of this wine with me. They could go, of course I will and swig it back with essentially no ill effects. And I was thinking one of the great things about fiction is we, as a race, only get to look out of our own eyes at the world. And fiction is a fantastic way of looking out through somebody else's eyes. You get to experience loss and tragedy and death but experience these things in a form which means when you close the pages and put the book back on the shelf, it's over. And you're home. And you're safe. It takes us to places that we would never otherwise go, and puts us behind eyes that are not our own.

YOUNG: Neil Gaiman's new book is "The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains." He'll be reading from it at a multimedia performance at New York's Carnegie Hall. Neil Gaiman, thank you so much.

GAIMAN: Well, thank you so much. That was really enjoyable, Robin.

YOUNG: And by the way, you can see some of Eddie Campbell's illustrations in "The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains" at hereandnow.org. And Jeremy, Neil Gaiman's next book - he's going to take on Hansel and Gretel.

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

Wow.

YOUNG: And tell that story again. I cannot wait. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.