Hill House Publishing
US Hardcover Signed Limited
Publication Date: 10-15-04
146 Pages; Free With Subscription to Hill House Neil Gaiman Preferred
Date Reviewed: 11-05-04
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2004
of a book can be nearly as fascinating as the work itself. Exactly
552 people are going to be able to get their hands
on 'A Screenplay' by Neil Gaiman. Produced as a bonus and given
away to the subscribers of Hill House's Neil Gaiman Author's
Preferred Editions series, this history-making artifact takes
publishing expertise to new heights. It's one thing to offer
extended, author's preferred texts in gorgeously deluxe editions.
thing entirely when the author excavates a legendary manuscript
from "a dusty and cobwebbed place on my hard disk, where people
never go" and offers it up at no cost for the subscribers
to a series of deluxe editions. It's pretty much unprecedented
in my experience.
House offers an amazing piece of art that looks exactly
like a book, and even better is in fact a book -- written
by Neil Gaiman.
As for the reader's experience, 'A Screenplay' is also unprecedented.
'A Screenplay' seamlessly melds the writer's life with the
writer's words, as the light, which enables us to read this work
over our collective experience of reading Neil Gaiman's work.
As you read 'A Screenplay', you're re-reading nearly everything
previously read by Gaiman.
'A Screenplay' by Neil Gaiman offers a melancholy look into the
mind of one of the world's most talented writers. There's the text
itself, and the many subtexts that can't help but flit about the
readers' minds as they enjoy this authentically mind boggling gift.
Let me say that again: A gift.
Yes, you needs must subscribe to Hill House's Neil Gaiman series,
and no, that's not by any means cheap. If you're not up to speed
on this, it's worth talking about. Expensive, yes. Still, it's
a bargain by any evaluation. Just the texts printed in a trade
paperback format, carefully corrected, edited and extended by the
author would be worth the cost. And you get that as part of the
series; the taqueria copies, I'll call them.
But Hill House's limited editions are something else entirely,
books as sculpture, say. They have the heft, the weight, the look
of the pages. They're clean and precise monuments, inscribed with
runes by the artists, each page a new revelation, adding nearly
infinite layers of diverse emotional impact. For those of us who
love the physicality of books, Hill House stands alone.
image for a gander at the real deal.
Or, as Hill House collaborator Peter Atkins put it: "I'm a
I'll admit it. I love the
actual physical presence of books. Pages and paper. The smell
pleasure of holding them in your hands. Hill House provides
precisely what I crave in this regard.
The point here being, that just the series of corrected and extended
versions of previously published works is a gift to readers, to
book collectors who look upon their shelves as more than stacks
of words, but rather compact art galleries. That's all we really
need to keep us happy, to take our reading experience to levels
of purity that few experiences of human art can match. The connection
between the reader and work being read is heightened on so many
levels, personalized on so many levels that the reading experience
takes on hidden dimensions and reveals new mental pleasures that
ordinary reading only hints at. (As long as you wear your Demco
a baseline that's above the peaks of most publishers, with 'A Screenplay',
Hill House adds a poignant and fascinating
dimension to the proceedings. Gaiman's frank though brief introduction
offers some insights into the screenwriting process that you
might have heard elsewhere, but not quite so straightforwardly. Combined
with the text of the screenplay itself, they turn 'A Screenplay'
into a rewarding, unusually personal reading experience. It's
chance to chat with Neil about a time not so long ago when
the first blush of fame had come his way, and he was a younger writer.
"In February of 1991 it was cold and rainy in Los Angeles,
and Sovereign Pictures flew Terry Pratchett and me from England
to LA, to talk
about turning our book Good Omens into a film."
"It was a very odd time. In the afternoons and evenings Terry
and I would write outlines for the movie. In the mornings we would
have meetings with a tableful of producers and studio development
people, where they would ask us questions that would indicate that
they hadn’t read the latest draft of the treatment, and
ask for changes in the next draft of the treatment."
"It was not much fun."
melancholy at work here, that of a now-famous writer -- who has
'Mirrormask', a brand-new movie coming out next
-- reflecting back on his early career. What's interesting
is what followed.
"Eventually, Terry and I went home and we wrote a script...We sent
it in...'It's too much like the book,' said the Sovereign
pictures person on the phone, as if this was the worst crime a script
was capable of committing....Terry, extremely sensibly, resigned from
the project at this point. I probably should have as well,
but I didn't. I was curious. I wanted to see what would happen next."
sealed and delivered. I can't guarantee that your copy
will be personalized.
happened next was 'A Screenplay'.
want Good Omens...They wanted something
else. Something heartwarming. Something small.
Something relatively straightforward.
for reasons I no longer remember, the producer desperately
wanted an abandoned pier with a miniature town in it.
And all this
does come to pass in Gaiman's screenplay. But something else
arrives in the reading
of Hill House's
the content of the screenplay itself, Gaiman's short
introduction and our own knowledge of what's happened
in the intervening
years, Gaiman achieves more with the current publication
of his screenplay
than the screenplay itself.
In large part, however, 'A Screenplay' itself does
the work. First and foremost, Hill House presents this
format, but uses a large font courier type and a large
page size to make reading particularly easy and pleasurable.
is a one
afternoon read. Find a slot of time when you will have
enough wine / bubbly water / beer and will not be disturbed.
winter evening or a rainy weekend day. (Gaiman apparently
conceived much of this whilst trapped in the rain in
hotels away from
home. There's some of that feeling here.)
If you think that the screenplay format and style is
by definition anonymous, you might be in general correct.
are anonymous, and perhaps that's why most movies are
is certainly not the case with Neil Gaiman's 'A Screenplay'.
Readers who enjoy his humorous monologues, filled with
will find that Gaiman's entertaining voice is largely
intact. Even his stage directions make fun of themselves.
'A Screenplay' has three major elements. There are
the stage directions, nicely rendered in Gaiman's usual
Then there's the
story, which by and large, reads as Gaiman himself
says in the introduction as "a parallel universe Good
nabbed the essentials of the story that he and Pratchett concocted
and done the best he could to shoe-horn them into the rather
bizarre constrictions he was handed by the pencil-sharpeners
as he got
his wish to see what happened next.
As one reads 'A Screenplay' there's a strong and sincere
sense of melancholy running through it. The alternate
introduces Aziraphale, the angel, and Crowley, the
demon. They've been around for a good 6,000 years.
Good and evil have managed to not only co-exist, they've
and become rather good friends, while those in their
charge -- that's Us -- are, if not completely perfect,
happiness. That is, until Satan decides it's time to
bring an end to it all by handing his child off to
him. Accidentally taken by an aging hipper-than-thou
club-going queen, the Antichrist is raised in comparative
in a small English seaside town. Eleven years after
child to Crowley
-- eleven years during which Crowley's been unable
to find the child -- Satan announces that the time
into the Family Business. Crowley, helped by Aziraphale,
must find the child and somehow stop the Apocalypse
in a heartwarming
act. It's a tall order, even for a supernatural being.
and the box. Dueling dual spines.
One can sense that Gaiman himself identified with his
lonely Anti-Christ, trapped in a small town with
a decrepit pier.
Gaiman nails the
atmosphere of these places in 'A Screenplay', and
he successfully evokes the loneliness of his unlikely
it's here where he manages to be authentically heartwarming,
in the Hollowood-ified
scenes. Yes, there are a couple of moments in here
where Gaiman bends the plot to the pressures at hand,
does his best
given the constrictions he was working under. The
story is strong, shot-through
with a sadness and homesick feeling even if the protagonist
never leaves home. In certain scenes, 'A Screenplay's'
plot does stray
from the type of writing that Gaiman's readers expect.
Oddly enough, one feels Gaiman's genuine affection
for his anonymous
most in these scenes. He wants it to be a
successful movie-type Movie. But it's just Gaiman
-- which is so
much better than Movie.
The third -- and major -- element of 'A Screenplay'
is the dialogue. Here, Gaiman readers will find themselves
You crack a smile as you start reading that will not
go away until after you close the book. They can lock
in North Carolina during a rainstorm but they apparently
cannot lock up his subtle, enjoyable wit. The demands
of the form
do exert a certain gravity. Readers will find words
that do nothing
more than the scene requires. But by and large, as
in the screen directions, Gaiman's style seeps through
Reading 'A Screenplay' is a pretty peculiar experience.
It's thoroughly enjoyable, but on a blurry level
that's not quite
fiction and not
quite non-fiction. As a reader, the movie I manufactured
for myself reading 'A Screenplay' was not the movie
but rather the documentary about Gaiman writing the
screenplay, expressed in the form of the screenplay
itself. I know
quite parse, but then -- does reading a screenplay
parse? Only if you can step back from the screenplay
itself and wrap yourself
in the writer's prose, in your knowledge of what
the writer has written since. Years of Sandman; novels
Gods' and 'Coraline'
all play on our inner-big screen as we read these words.
'A Screenplay' is a small piece of the past that slots
into a large part of our reading present.
In the proper conditions, a small figure can cast an
enormous shadow. 'A Screenplay' allows readers to step
shadow, to know
the small things that create the large darknesses.
Shadows and darkness, the endless rains from Los Angeles
Carolina, anonymous hotel rooms, Aziraphale and Crowley.
our intimate friends now. Even more so as we get to
see what casts those shadows.