Richard Mayhew was not remarkable. He was quite passive about life. His troll collection was made of gifts from people who thought he really liked trolls. He had found one on the sidewalk and brought it to his cubical. His fiancée believed he could do more, be more. He was grateful to have a beautiful and successful woman take interest in him. Because they had met at the National Gallery, she assumed he liked art. They spent a lot of time walking around galleries.
Richard was to attend his fiancé's grand opening of a new exhibit when he comes across a bleeding girl on the street. He stops to help her in spite of her warnings and protests. He brings her home and his life disappears. His fiancée breaks off their engagement. His job disappears. People no longer recognize, then no longer even see him. He finds himself on the street, bewildered and uncertain. The girl, named Door, takes him along on her journey to another London where adventures and nightmares await.
"You man, understand this: there are two Londons. There's London Above--that's where you lived--and then theres London Below--the Underside--inhabited by the people who fell through the cracks in the world. Now you're one of them."Richard's story is a journey quest where he becomes more than the man his fiancée ever imagined he could be. He longs to return to the London Above where things make sense. But he will never be the same person again.
London Under is vividly imagined, a hostile environment full of nightmarish creatures. It is laid out along the London Underground, where Blackfriars has Black Friars and Earl's Court has an earl. There is horror and gruesome tidbits, there is dark humor and satire, and there are people who seek answers and truth.
I loved noticing little clues about this alternate London, like when Door and Richard are going through a gallery with statues of "dead Greek Gods". Were the Greek Gods ever 'alive'? one asks. There is no question; in the alternate world Gaiman imagines the Gods were all alive once. Richard is made fun of by the London Under denizens for wanting to return home, as if he were Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. They know there is no escape. But he finds he had discovered and held the key for his return.
Reviewers mention John Milton, Monty Python Doctor Who, George Lucas, and other precursors. I see Joseph Campbell's Quest of the Hero, Jung's night sea journey, and mythology in Richard's story. The descent into an underworld, the quest, the battling of monsters, the magical helpers, the transfiguration of the hero...it's all here.
My edition of the book includes a book group guide and interview with Gaiman who says,
"I wanted to write a story about someone growing up and changing; and about someone who goes through a book wanting something, and then, when he finally gets that thing finds he isn't the person who wanted it any longer. (The price of getting what you want, I had someone say in Sandman, is getting what once you wanted.)"I am not a big reader of genre fiction. But I am glad my genre fiction blooger son has directed my attention to Gaiman. Sometimes I just want to read something different. And Gaiman always delivers.