Thursday, June 10, 2010

To Remain? Or Return?

In May, my book club selection was Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. Now, I have been a fan of Mr. Gaiman’s work ever since I discovered The Sandman. However, I had neglected to read this, his first novel. Reading something he wrote in 1996 after having read his more recent works made every blemish in this work apparent, creating some difficulty for me in completing it. I’m not writing this to focus on his writing, though. One of the questions asked at our club meeting rather intrigued me, but in order to progress, I need to explain a bit of the book’s plot first.

The main premise of the book is that there is a world below that in which we dwell, where those who slip between the cracks wind up. Being that this particular book is set in London, its counterpart is London Below, and our protagonist, Richard Mayhew, finds himself there after rescuing an injured girl. And, despite spending the vast majority of the novel trying to find a way home, trying to regain the sense of normalcy he had before the whole adventure began, once he has gotten his life back, he almost immediately seeks his way back to London Below.

Now, London Below is not some amazing Neverland, where one’s problems seem to disappear and every wish is granted. Rather, it’s a dark, dreary place where one must fight for his very survival day in, day out. And yet, our hero chooses to return there, after returning home to a promotion!

This prompted someone at book club to inquire, “Would you return to London Below?” Unsurprisingly, the vast number of those present said they would not. I wonder, though, how many people would return if it had been Neverland? Or Narnia? Or Oz? Or any number of other fantasy worlds? The primary reason so few of us wished to return to London Below was because life there is so very difficult. Why ever would one give up a good job and nice home to live in squalor? I certainly don’t understand it, although it was suggested that after having lived through such an adventure that Richard couldn’t settle into a desk job again and remain happy.

Personally, I would never want to go to London Below. Even as a child, I hated going outside and getting dirty, so I would be miserable wearing the same patchwork garments everyday, dirt and soot smudging my face. Eating pigeons and cats is also something I’d prefer to avoid! Not to mention all of the shady characters skulking about who might want to kill me for fun!

However, I might very well consider staying in a place like Neverland or Narnia, so long as it wasn’t always winter and never Christmas. It seems logical to remain in a place if conditions there are better than the life one would be leaving behind (which they certainly would be for me at this current point in time). Never having to grow up would also be an added bonus. So, what would you do? Remain, or return?

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