Trigger Warning (Gaiman)

Trigger Warning:  Short Fictions and Disturbances
Neil Gaiman, 2015
352 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780062330260

In this new anthology, Neil Gaiman pierces the veil of reality to reveal the enigmatic, shadowy world that lies beneath.

Trigger Warning includes previously published pieces of short fiction—stories, verse, and a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the beloved series in 2013—as well "Black Dog," a new tale that revisits the world of American Gods, exclusive to this collection.

Trigger Warning explores the masks we all wear and the people we are beneath them to reveal our vulnerabilities and our truest selves. Here is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghosts stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explore the realm of experience and emotion.

In "Adventure Story"—a thematic companion to The Ocean at the End of the Lane—Gaiman ponders death and the way people take their stories with them when they die. His social media experience "A Calendar of Tales" are short takes inspired by replies to fan tweets about the months of the year—stories of pirates and the March winds, an igloo made of books, and a Mother’s Day card that portends disturbances in the universe.

Gaiman offers his own ingenious spin on Sherlock Holmes in his award-nominated mystery tale "The Case of Death and Honey." And "Click-Clack the Rattlebag" explains the creaks and clatter we hear when we’re all alone in the darkness.

A sophisticated writer whose creative genius is unparalleled, Gaiman entrances with his literary alchemy, transporting us deep into the realm of imagination, where the fantastical becomes real and the everyday incandescent. Full of wonder and terror, surprises and amusements, Trigger Warning is a treasury of delights that engage the mind, stir the heart, and shake the soul from one of the most unique and popular literary artists of our day. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Portchester, Hampshire, England, UK
Awards—See below
Currently—Lives near Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Early life
Gaiman's family is of Polish and other Eastern European Jewish origins; his great-grandfather emigrated from Antwerp before 1914 and his grandfather eventually settled in the Hampshire city of Portsmouth and established a chain of grocery stores. His father, David Bernard Gaiman, worked in the same chain of stores; his mother, Sheila Gaiman (nee Goldman), was a pharmacist. He has two younger sisters, Claire and Lizzy.

After living for a period in the nearby town of Portchester, Hampshire, where Neil was born in 1960, the Gaimans moved in 1965 to the West Sussex town of East Grinstead where his parents studied Dianetics at the Scientology centre in the town; one of Gaiman's sisters works for the Church of Scientology in Los Angeles. His other sister, Lizzy Calcioli, has said, "Most of our social activities were involved with Scientology or our Jewish family. It would get very confusing when people would ask my religion as a kid. I’d say, 'I’m a Jewish Scientologist.'" Gaiman says that he is not a Scientologist, and that like Judaism, Scientology is his family's religion.

Gaiman was able to read at the age of four. He said...

I was a reader. I loved reading. Reading things gave me pleasure. I was very good at most subjects in school, not because I had any particular aptitude in them, but because normally on the first day of school they'd hand out schoolbooks, and I'd read them-which would mean that I'd know what was coming up, because I'd read it.

One work that made a particular impression on him was J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings from his school library, although it only had the first two books in the trilogy. He consistently took them out and read them. He would later win the school English prize and the school reading prize, enabling him to finally acquire the third book in the trilogy.

For his seventh birthday, Gaiman received C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia series. Years later, he said...

I admired his use of parenthetical statements to the reader, where he would just talk to you.... I'd think, 'Oh, my gosh, that is so cool! I want to do that! When I become an author, I want to be able to do things in parentheses.' I liked the power of putting things in brackets.

Narnia also introduced him to literary awards, specifically the 1956 Carnegie Medal won by the concluding volume. When he won 2010 Medal himself, the press reported him recalling, "....It had to be the most important literary award there ever was" and observing, "if you can make yourself aged seven happy, you're really doing well – it's like writing a letter to yourself aged seven."

Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was another childhood favourite, and "a favourite forever. Alice was default reading to the point where I knew it by heart." He also enjoyed "Batman" comics as a child.

Gaiman was educated at several Church of England schools, includging Fonthill School in East Grinstead, Ardingly College (1970–74), and Whitgift School in Croydon (1974–77). His father's position as a public relations official of the Church of Scientology was the cause of the seven-year-old Gaiman being blocked from entering a boys' school, forcing him to remain at the school that he had previously been attending. He lived in East Grinstead for many years, from 1965–1980 and again from 1984–1987. He met his first wife, Mary McGrath, while she was studying Scientology and living in a house in East Grinstead that was owned by his father. The couple were married in 1985 after having their first child, Michael.

Early Writings
As a child and a teenager, Gaiman read the works of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, James Branch Cabell, Edgar Allan Poe, Michael Moorcock, Ursula K. Le Guin, Harlan Ellison, Rudyard Kipling, Lord Dunsany and G. K. Chesterton. He later became a fan of science fiction, reading the works of authors as diverse as Alan Moore, Samuel R. Delany, Roger Zelazny, Robert A. Heinlein, H. P. Lovecraft, Thorne Smith, and Gene Wolfe.

In the early 1980s, Gaiman pursued journalism, conducting interviews and writing book reviews, as a means to learn about the world and to make connections that he hoped would later assist him in getting published. He wrote and reviewed extensively for the British Fantasy Society. His first professional short story publication was "Featherquest", a fantasy story, in Imagine Magazine in May 1984, when he was 24.

When waiting for a train at Victoria Station in 1984, Gaiman noticed a copy of Swamp Thing written by Alan Moore, and carefully read it. Moore's fresh and vigorous approach to comics had such an impact on Gaiman that he would later write; "that was the final straw, what was left of my resistance crumbled. I proceeded to make regular and frequent visits to London's Forbidden Planet shop to buy comics".

In 1984, he wrote his first book, a biography of the band Duran Duran, as well as Ghastly Beyond Belief, a book of quotations, with Kim Newman. Even though Gaiman thought he did a terrible job, the book's first edition sold out very quickly. When he went to relinquish his rights to the book, he discovered the publisher had gone bankrupt.  After this, he was offered a job by Penthouse. He refused the offer.

He also wrote interviews and articles for many British magazines, including Knave. As he was writing for different magazines, some of them competing, and "wrote too many articles", he sometimes went by a number of pseudonyms: Gerry Musgrave, Richard Grey, "along with a couple of house names". Gaiman ended his journalism career in 1987 because British newspapers can "make up anything they want and publish it as fact."

In the late 1980s, he wrote Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion in what he calls a "classic English humour" style. Following on from that he wrote the opening of what would become his collaboration with Terry Pratchett on the comic novel Good Omens, about the impending apocalypse.

Comics and Graphic Novels
After forming a friendship with comic book writer Alan Moore, Gaiman started writing comic books, picking up "Marvelman" after Moore finished his run on the series. Gaiman and artist Mark Buckingham collaborated on several issues of the series before its publisher, Eclipse Comics, collapsed, leaving the series unfinished. His first published comic strips were four short "Future Shocks for 2000 AD" in 1986–7. He wrote three graphic novels with his favorite collaborator and long-time friend Dave McKean: "Violent Cases", "Signal to Noise", and "The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch". Impressed with his work, DC Comics hired him, and he wrote the limited series "Black Orchid". Karen Berger, who later became head of DC Comics's Vertigo, read "Black Orchid" and offered Gaiman a job: to re-write an old character, The Sandman, but to put his own spin on him.

"The Sandman" tells the tale of the ageless, anthropomorphic personification of Dream that is known by many names, including Morpheus. The series began in December 1988 and concluded in March 1996: the 75 issues of the regular series, along with an illustrated prose text and a special containing seven short stories, have been collected into 12 volumes that remain in print.

In 1989, Gaiman published "The Books of Magic" (collected in 1991), a four-part mini-series that provided a tour of the mythological and magical parts of the DC Universe through a frame story about an English teenager who discovers that he is destined to be the world's greatest wizard. The miniseries was popular, and sired an ongoing series written by John Ney Rieber.

In the mid-90s, he also created a number of new characters and a setting that was to be featured in a title published by Tekno Comix. The concepts were then altered and split between three titles set in the same continuity: "Lady Justice, Mr. Hero the Newmatic Man, and Teknophage".They were later featured in Phage: Shadow Death and Wheel of Worlds. Although Gaiman's name appeared prominently on all titles, he was not involved in writing of any of the above-mentioned books (though he helped plot the zero issue of Wheel of Worlds).

Gaiman wrote a semi-autobiographical story about a boy's fascination with Michael Moorcock's anti-hero Elric of Melniboné for Ed Kramer's anthology Tales of the White Wolf. In 1996, Gaiman and Ed Kramer co-edited The Sandman: Book of Dreams. Nominated for the British Fantasy Award, the original fiction anthology featured stories and contributions by Tori Amos, Clive Barker, Gene Wolfe, Tad Williams, and others.

Asked why he likes comics more than other forms of storytelling Gaiman said “One of the joys of comics has always been the knowledge that it was, in many ways, untouched ground. It was virgin territory. When I was working on Sandman, I felt a lot of the time that I was actually picking up a machete and heading out into the jungle. I got to write in places and do things that nobody had ever done before. When I’m writing novels I’m painfully aware that I’m working in a medium that people have been writing absolutely jaw-droppingly brilliant things for, you know, three-four thousand years now. And you go, well, I don’t know that I’m as good as that and that’s two and a half thousand years old. But with comics I felt like I can do stuff nobody has ever done. I can do stuff nobody has ever thought of. And I could and it was enormously fun.”

In 2009, Gaiman wrote a two-part "Batman" story for DC Comics to follow "Batman R.I.P." It is titled "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" a play off of the classic Superman story "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" by Alan Moore. He also contributed a twelve-page "Metamorpho" story drawn by Mike Allred for Wednesday Comics, a weekly newspaper-style series.

In a collaboration with author Terry Pratchett (best known for his series of Discworld novels), Gaiman's first novel Good Omens was published in 1990. In recent years Pratchett has said that while the entire novel was a collaborative effort and most of the ideas could be credited to both of them, Pratchett did a larger portion of writing and editing if for no other reason than Gaiman's scheduled involvement with "Sandman".

The 1996 novelization of Gaiman's teleplay for the BBC mini-series Neverwhere was his first solo novel. The novel was released in tandem with the television series though it presents some notable differences from the television series. In 1999 first printings of his fantasy novel Stardust were released. The novel has been released both as a standard novel and in an illustrated text edition.

American Gods became one of Gaiman's best-selling and multi-award winning novels upon its release in 2001. A special 10th Anniversary edition was released, with the "author's preferred text" 12,000 words longer than the original mass-market editions. This is identical to the signed and numbered limited edition that was released by Hill House Publishers in 2003. This is also the version released by Headline, Gaiman's publisher in the UK, even before the 10th Anniversary edition. He did an extensive sold-out book tour celebrating the 10th Anniversary and promoting this edition in 2011.

In 2005, his novel Anansi Boys was released worldwide. The book deals with Anansi ('Mr. Nancy'), a supporting character in American Gods. Specifically it traces the relationship of his two sons, one semi-divine and the other an unaware Englishman of American origin, as they explore their common heritage. It debuted at number one on The New York Times Best Seller list.

In late 2008, Gaiman released a new children's book, The Graveyard Book. It follows the adventures of a boy named Bod after his family is murdered and he is left to be brought up by a graveyard. It is heavily influenced by Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. As of late January 2009, it had been on the New York Times Bestseller children's list for fifteen weeks.

As of 2008, Gaiman has several books planned. After a tour of China, he decided to write a non-fiction book about his travels and the general mythos of China. Following that, will be a new 'adult' novel (his first since 2005's Anansi Boys). After that, another 'all-ages' book (in the same vein as Coraline and The Graveyard Book). Following that, Gaiman says that he will release another non-fiction book called The Dream Catchers. In December 2011, Gaiman announced that in January 2012 he would begin work on what is essentially, American Gods 2.

Literary Allusions
Gaiman's work is known for a high degree of allusiveness. Meredith Collins, for instance, has commented upon the degree to which his novel Stardust depends on allusions to Victorian fairy tales and culture. Particularly in The Sandman, literary figures and characters appear often; the character of Fiddler's Green is modelled visually on G. K. Chesterton, both William Shakespeare and Geoffrey Chaucer appear as characters, as do several characters from within A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest. The comic also draws from numerous mythologies and historical periods. Such allusions are not unique to Sandman; Stardust, for example, also has a character called Shakespeare.

Clay Smith has argued that this sort of allusiveness serves to situate Gaiman as a strong authorial presence in his own works, often to the exclusion of his collaborators. However, Smith's viewpoint is in the minority: to many, if there is a problem with Gaiman scholarship and intertextuality it is that "...His literary merit and vast popularity have propelled him into the nascent comics canon so quickly that there is not yet a basis of critical scholarship about his work."

David Rudd takes a more generous view in his study of the novel Coraline, where he argues that the work plays and riffs productively on Sigmund Freud's notion of the Uncanny, or the Unheimlich.

Though Gaiman's work is frequently seen as exemplifying the monomyth structure laid out in Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Gaiman says that he started reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces but refused to finish it: "I think I got about half way through The Hero with a Thousand Faces and found myself thinking if this is true – I don’t want to know. I really would rather not know this stuff. I’d rather do it because it’s true and because I accidentally wind up creating something that falls into this pattern than be told what the pattern is."

British Fantasy Award
British Sci-Fi Awards (2)
Bram Stoker Awards (4)
Carnegie Medal
Eisner Awards (19)
Geffen Awards (3)
Hugo Awards (4)
International Horror Guild Award
Locus Awards (5)
Nebula Awards (2)
Newberry Medal
Mythopoeic Awards (2)

(Author bio from Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/27/2013.)

Book Reviews
A prodigiously imaginative collection.... The best of these clever fantasy metafictions explore the mysteries of artistic inspiration.
New York Times Book Review

[Gaiman]’s prolific, like Stephen King, and apparently inexhaustible: He dreams up stories as naturally as he breathes.

There’s much to revel in here, especially for those who’ve never read anything by Gaiman.
Huffington Post

Each short piece serves as an exciting foray into some macabre microcosm of his mind.... It’s a testament to Gaiman’s versatility that he exhibits so many different styles of writing in this single anthology.
Harvard Crimson

There is something for every type of Gaiman fan here, and those new to his work will find this to be a solid introduction to the type of stories he crafts: lyrical, literary, sometimes quite chilling, and always strange and provocative.... This is a book to savor and enjoy.

Those who want to greet and shake hands, or settle in for a conversational catch-up with Gaiman’s delightfully dramatic minstrel’s tale-by-the-campfire style will love everything in Trigger Warning, naturally.

Everything that endears Gaiman to his legions of fans is on display in this collection of short stories (and the occasional poem): his gift for reimagining ancient tales, his willingness to get down into the dark places, his humor.... [T]his collection will thoroughly satisfy faithful fans.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Neil Gaiman begins the introduction to Trigger Warning with two seemingly dissimilar ideas: taking a journey and wearing a mask. In what way is beginning a book like beginning a journey?

2. He writes, "We are all wearing masks. That is what makes us interesting. These are stories about those masks, and the people underneath them." Does this idea illuminate anything about the characters in the book for you? What does the idea of mask-wearing mean for you as a reader?

3. Also in the introduction, Gaiman refers to short stories as "small adventures" he can take as a writer. Are short stories also small adventures for readers? What are some of the pleasures and surprises one can find in a short story that aren’t found in a novel?

4. Gaiman shares some background or inspiration about each story at the beginning of the book. Did you read this section before or after you read the stories themselves? How did reading these introductions before the stories color your reading of them? Or, how did the introductions enhance your understanding or appreciation of the stories after having read them? Did the introduction section and "Making a Chair" help you understand Gaiman’s writing process and storytelling intentions?

5. What is a "trigger warning"? Why is it an apt reference and title for this collection? Gaiman explains that the book is "filled with stories in which things happen, and many of those stories end badly for at least one of the people in them. They are not safe, even if they are friendly." What triggers might the stories pull for readers? In this instance, can the emotional challenge of the tales be a positive thing?

6. In "The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains…" the narrator states "everything has its cost." What does that mean for the characters in this story in particular and for characters in other stories in the collection? Which characters lost the most or paid the highest costs? What do they gain in exchange, and does the high cost ever seem worth what they gain?

7. Secret, prophetic or mystical knowledge seems to be a trait shared by many of the characters in Trigger Warning. How trustworthy are characters like the guide in "A Lunar Labyrinth," the mother in "Adventure Story" or the wife in "Jerusalem"? Do you take their perspective at face value or look for a deeper cause or origin of their beliefs and actions? Do fantasy and horror stories need to be read with a suspension of disbelief, or can they be read from a purely psychological perspective as well?

8. In reading "And Weep Like Alexander," did anything come to mind that you think should be uninvented? What would be the consequences of uninventing it? Do you imagine uninvention, as Polkinghorn does, as "for the good of all" or as a more selfish or self-motivated act? Are we always stuck with the mistakes we’ve made or the disasters we’ve created? How would the world be different if we could change the mistakes or erase the disasters?

9. "Nothing O’Clock" and "Diamonds and Pearls" which appear back to back in this collection, are very different types of stories. The first is a science fiction story starring Doctor Who and the second a fairy tale, but both take the bones of their respective genres and add new elements. In what ways do these stories seem familiar and referential, and in what ways are they surprising and inventive?

10. How do "Observing the Formalities" and "The Sleeper and the Spindle" play with the Sleeping Beauty and Snow White fables? Did you readily see this connection?

11. There are many and diverse dangers described in Trigger Warning. Some are physical and others metaphysical, some are emotional and some involve a threat to reason or logic. Which kind of danger do you find the most frightening and why? Which story was the scariest, the most chilling or the most disturbing?

12. The Queen in "The Thin White Duke" tells the Duke, "We are the end of everything, where nothing exists but what we create, by act of will or by desperation… You do not have to die. You can stay with me. You will be happy to have finally found happiness, a heart, and the value of existence. And I will love you." Do you think her promise is of the kind that most of the characters in the collection are searching for? If so, why does the Duke reject her offer? What motivates the characters in Trigger Warning the most, and what are they seeking or hoping for?

13. Think about the love letter that is "Feminine Endings" and compare the deceptively simple desires of that narrator with both the Queen and the Duke in "The Thin White Duke."

14. In what ways do the poetic pieces in this collection tell stories as full as the short stories? In what ways are the short stories as evocative and lyrical as the poems?

15. In the introduction, Gaiman writes that short story collections "should not, hodge-podge and willy-nilly assemble stories that were obviously not intended to sit between the same covers." He goes on to say that this particular collection "fails this test." Do you agree or disagree? What did you enjoy about the variety of styles and genres found in Trigger Warning?

16. What is your favorite story in the collection and why? Did you respond to it emotionally, intellectually or aesthetically?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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