Sunday, April 18, 2010

What Neil Gaiman said...

Oct 10, 2010 Note: If you've reached this page by following a link from Neil Gaiman's "Blog-on-a-train" post, I invite you to read my two responses to his post:
Friday, October 8: "Neil Gaiman on "a few dead Indians"
Sunday, October 10: "Part II---Neil Gaiman on "a few dead Indians"

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In a 2008 interview about his The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman said
"The great thing about having an English cemetery is I could go back a very, very, very long way. And in America, you go back 250 years (in a cemetery), and then suddenly you’ve got a few dead Indians, and then you don’t have anybody at all, unless you decide to set it up in Maine or somewhere and sneak in some Vikings.”

60 comments:

nathaliemvondo said...

Hi, Debbie. I haven't read the Graveyard Book yet, but I did think of Native Indians as soon as I read the excerpt of the interview. Looking for the whole article so I can also get the context, but yes, that remark does surprise me. Thanks for writing about it.

Melissa said...

It's definitely a thoughtless comment, but if he's talking about European-style graveyards with gravestones that have writing on them and all that (which I think he is, based on what I've seen of the Graveyard Book), it's kind of true.

Of course there were many other types of graveyards and burials in the U.S. long before those.

Neil said...

I was replying to a specific question about European-style graveyards in the US and who you'd find in them and why I didn't set THE GRAVEYARD BOOK in America, which was that they didn't go back far enough, and they didn't give me the dead people I wanted for the story to work. Obviously (or obviously to me) I wasn't saying or implying that the country was uninhabited prior to the arrival of Europeans, or trying to somehow render invisible hundreds of millions of people who had inhabited this content for tens of thousands of years -- especially after having very specifically written about them, and about that timespan in American Gods.

(And, of course, European Graveyards in the US go back much further than 250 years.)

A more sensible answer to why I didn't set The Graveyard Book in America was that I didn't want to, but I had a microphone stuck in front of my face by the Hornbook in front of a crowd of people at Book Expo or ALA, and I babbled.

Also apologies to any Icelandic or Norwegian readers who are offended by my imprecision. Obviously none of the Newfoundland settlers were Vikings.

Quetzal said...

Apologizing to Icelandic & Norwegian readers? Neil Gaiman must find his ignorance and sarcasm amusing.

Debbie Reese said...

Nathalie---If you click on 'interview' after the word 2008 in the first sentence, you'll go right to the interview.

Neil---It was obvious to you, and to me, but not to most people in the U.S. (and your homelands, too) who go about with astounding misconceptions and misinformation about who we (American Indians) are. Hence, it was a 'teachable moment' and I took it.

Though my husband and daughter are fans of your work, I don't know it myself. I don't know, for example, what American Gods is about. I'll check it out.

Debbie Reese said...

I'll also note that, thus far, I've been unable to find anyone that has commented on your remarks. I take that as evidence of my point about American/English ignorance.

Mordant Kitten said...

Mr. Gaiman is speaking of European-style graveyards that do not have American Indians buried in them, not a continent with no dead Indians. Your post could have been more analytical and less emotional about what you read and how you interpreted it.

Sarah Kirkpatrick

- an American Indian who wouldn't be caught dead being buried in a European-style graveyard

Angel Of Wrath said...

I'm part Native American and I didn't really glean any sort of racist lean from what he said.
And I'm really sick of people looking for reasons to be offended.
There are so many other travesties going on in the world today, you should better save your time trying to call attention to them and not caring so much about what an author says.
Get offended because gay marriage is still illegal in most states, get upset about the recession....do something a touch more productive. Seriously.

Daniel Burnett said...

I didn't take Neils response to be sarcastic at all. He brought up topics related to his book and sought to clarify an important aspect of them.

I feel like he's clarified his position rather clearly. Having read "The Graveyard Book," I can see his point- and even he admits he originally made the point badly and fumbled with words.

I wonder how articulate many of us would be when a microphone is placed in front of us.

Captain said...

i figured that he meant that in terms of the specific physical location, it wasn't very likely to find a large amount of burials of the people that the europeans had been systematically eradicating.

i just think that if they were killing all these people they basically thought were savages, they're unlikely to bury them along with the bodies of their godfearing families and forefathers.

i'm all for calling people out for clarification, which is what's being done, but i figured i would toss in my own little opinion as well.

YonosoyJIM said...

I don't know much about Native Americans. How many of those millions dead native americans were buried along european settlers in colonists graveyards? Because what Gaiman is saying is that he did not set his book in America because he could not find graves of a couple of years old besides graves 300 years old and beyond.

Jacinda Santora said...

Um, hi. I don't believe he was discounting the millions of people who have lived and died on the North American continent. He was not saying that the *land* was uninhabited, but that the *graveyards* themselves were not very populated.

Dan Guy said...

Or, perhaps, as evidence that most people didn't misunderstand or assume the worst possible interpretation?

Andrew said...

But Debbie,

You are still missing the point and specific context Mr. Gaiman was speaking in. His comment is focused strictly within the confines of "European-style Graveyards" and the kinds of bodies you can find in them - NOT who you can find buried across the whole continent.

AG

Julirose said...

What Neil Gaiman failed to recognise is that Europeans were present on this continent for closer to 500 years. The oldest cemeteries would be in Florida and Virginia.
I believe his real reason for his statement was his unfamiliarity with American history. It was not in any way "racist", simply uninformed.

Lee 'Spikey' Nethersole said...

It only really takes a bare minimum functioning IQ to see that the quote can only be taken one way. the historically factual way.

It is a fact that the type of graveyards being spoken about have a limited history in the United states. That being Europen settlers, that type of burial site with its attendant memento didn't exist.

So are you trying to claim otherwise for the native Americans? Is every piece of information on the subject wrong? Were native Americans secretly building graveyards that preserved the bodies individually with grave markers specific to individuals?

'cause if not ...

Taylor said...

Debbie, to put it bluntly, you need to calm down.

Neil's not discounting the deaths of millions of Native Americans. You jumped the gun, acted out of emotion, and didn't pause to really read what he said. There were no Native Americans being buried in European-style graveyards. Of course not.

What he was getting at is that a graveyard in England can go back a couple thousand years, to early AD, when the Romans first settled Britannia and earlier. There is more history. There are more peoples.

I'm part Native American myself, and I wasn't offended by this at all. What offends me are people like you who through the term "racist" around like it's nothing.

You admit, I believe, that you haven't read the book yet. If you'd actually read the story, you would see why it simply would not work to have such a young graveyard as one in America would have been in comparison to one that goes back thousands of years. You spoke out of slight ignorance and anger and made yourself out to be a very poor sport.

Bad move, my friend.

Wendy said...

Debbie, you weren't using this as a "teachable moment," you were being a jerk about a quote you took out of context.

If you'd read Neil's works, you'd see he has quite a grasp on American history. He's a pretty smart fellow, and a nice one too.

I think you owe him an apology for blowing this out of proportion.

ADHD Librarian said...

Wendy, Taylor (and others)

I think that you may need to re-read the original post that Debbie wrote. It was not she who decided to throw up the word racist, but rather that comes from the live journal post of Kynn (who has linked to the blog post).

I did think Debbie ran a bit too far with a snippet taken out of an interview (and perhaps out of context), but I don't think it is she who has blown things out of proportion. Albeit it is her post which has started the misreading of the quote.

WickedBunny said...

Wow... Ok don't mean to be rude, but why are you looking for offece every where? well americans do it offten the point of the book is not to deny indians, but obiously when you write a book and need reference people is easyer to relate to that more global known, because I only can mention crazy horse, and ... thats it I can't remember more, of course I don't demand that you know about moctezuma, malinche, cuahutemoc, and such... so I think this is realllly to much drama for such a small thing... and very out of context

Rob said...

'I take that as evidence of my point about American/English ignorance.'


Do you mean British ignorance?

Unless you mean Americans of English descent. Though it's difficult to split them from the Scots, Welsh, Irish etc.

And all the other Europeans.

It's remarkable how a hastily written blog reply, much like an impromptu interview, can lead to a number of interpretations.

Given the circumstances I don't think it's reliable enough to use as evidence of your depth or lack of knowledge of the history of UK though.

Anonymous said...

Of all the intentional discrimination and bigotry that could fill a coliseum, you've chosen to put your energy into this?

I don't read your blog and am only hear because I do read Neil's so I am an interloper here. But still surprised that after you've received an explanation for your outrage you won't let this go. You don't need to, of course. Who am I to dictate? It just seems like a waste of energy.

Anonymous said...

... so, through lack of context/ignorance/misunderstanding you post this. He responds... You choose to continued to misunderstand, continuing with your own interpretation after he has already shown you the intent/meaning...

And then, you make broad sweeping statements about the mental state of entire nations and cite that no one was overly concerned about the minutiae or had your bizarre interpretation as evidence?

All I can say is:
"When you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes into you"

-Kai

Nick R said...

I'm curious how you could be so bold as to actually remark on something like this when you have no knowledge about the source of the interview. Yes the words could have been put together better if Neil had time to prepare days in advance and had the opportunity to word it better, however he didn't, he said he was sorry they were fumbled so badly, leave it at that.

Instead you assume he was being racist (wether this was your idea first or not is irrelevant, you still supported the idea), then when he tries to set it right you attack him saying he is being sarcastic.

Feel free to read the book, I have many times over and I understood exactly where he was coming from with the quote. Again could have been worded better but don't assume you have the slightest inkling what you are talking about just because you saw an interview.

And Quetzal I assume you mean people like me who could never stumble upon this blog by accident? Why is it only right for your race to be slighted? The internet is a big place, don't go assuming that only Native Americans would be interested in a site like this, or would be the only ones who would find it. Furthermore if someone apologizes don't attack them, leave it be.

Micah said...

the usually gallery of internet opinions ubiquitous to discussions about American Indian issues: stop complaining because tribes have casinos, there's other things wrong with the world so this issue can't also be important, i am part native american and i am not offended, tribes lost so get over it, i am honoring indians, i didn't mean to offend anyone so no one should be offended....

Not persuaded

Anonymous said...

This is really really messy, but whenever I look back at it I also shudder at "a few dead Indians," especially as critic of Canadian literature :( That's just a really bad way to put it.

Yes, to those who have posted, more dreadful things have been said. But those words still make me ill. I love Gaiman's work, but we get mad at lots of dead white canonical authors for just this kind of offhandedness. He doesn't get a free pass for charm.

Anonymous said...

"And in America, you go back 250 years (in a cemetery), and then suddenly you've got a few dead Indians, and then you don't have anybody at all..." How could this not be read as anything except ignorant? Dr. Reese is not being emotional here. Mr. Gaiman specifically said "a few dead Indians." It's so tiring and stupid for people to continue to imagine that history in the Americas only began when Europeans invaded. Maybe Mr. Gaiman should have just specified that he wanted to write a book about werewolves or vampires or whatever and chose to situate the book in Europe since that continent has a long literary tradition peopled with such mythical creatures. That would have been preferable to disparaging Native peoples, as he did in the initial interview.

swisslet said...

Not wanting to get involved with the whole Neil Gaiman thing, what interests me is the modern response to books (in some cases) written many years ago (e.g the wizard of Oz was written in 1900 and Swallows & Amazons was written in 1930).

Yes, when viewed through our modern eyes, many of those remarks about native americans (or references to native americans), do seem at best dated and at worst eye-wateringly insensitive. But I don't think you can forget the context in which they were written and remember that those authors were products of their own time as much as we are products of our own, and they are often only reflecting the commonplace views of their time. Have you read any of Fleming's Bond novels? Apparently negroes can't whistle. It's laughable stuff (and of course, it's also a mistake to assume that the author's opinions are neccesarily the same as his characters). Arthur Ransome was not a racist because of the way he had some of his characters pretending to be Indians. In 1930 that was commonplace. Hell, in 1980, I used to put up my toy wigwam, put a feather in my hair and play cowboys and indians with my brothers. In 2010, I'm not sure that Ransome would have written in the same way, and I'm not sure I would have played those games in the same way. We're all products of our time and should be viewed as such.

What I'm saying is that you have to make allowances for some of these views and opinions as being period pieces.

Of course, the really interesting thing, and something I think you touch on, is that, context aside, these are the books that are being hailed as the very best of books for our kids, and we should be very careful to make sure that our children understand the context of those remarks.

Anyway. Enough of my rambling. At least I'm not talking exclusively about Neil Gaiman, eh? (and you should read American Gods - not because of the way Gaiman deals with pre-European American history, but because it's a bloody good read)

swisslet said...

(sorry to weigh in like that - I stumbled across this post via Twitter as one of Gaiman's followers, and I love his books... but it wasn't your remarks on NG that caught my attention. Hope that's okay.... FWIW I think it's important that people are vigilant about this sort of thing)

Anonymous said...

i like how so many of these comments essentially crack up to "how could you be such a jerk? why would the phrase "a few dead indians" be offensive? it doesn't offend me, and my great-great-great-great grandmother was a cherokee princess! get over being a minority, because none of us can relate, and you're just picking on famous person of the week."

if people don't know why a comment that SOUNDED LIKE it downplayed the mass genocide of a people could be offensive, then i don't know what to say. the OP could only take this comment in the context it was given where she first saw it. neil explained its original context and it then made sense. but, in the context as it was from the blog she got it from, it seemed pointless and sensationalist to use the phrase "a few dead indians", which, historically, has been used malevolently. not to mention that it makes it seem that indians are a thing of the past, and that there aren't currently millions of those indians buried in european-esque cemeteries, thousands more with every passing year.

it must be nice to be unaffected by the constant derogatory comments about NAs, and to never have to wonder if someone you may respect is making one. i love neil gaiman, but he really worded this poorly. full stop. it seems like a lot of you are just being troll-y to get into his good graces.

Debbie Reese said...

Swisslet,

Yes, that's where I'm going with the on-going analysis. By that, I mean that, time permitting, I'll put Ransom's comments in their historical/societal context.

The real issue is that these are books that people today love. How are they passing along that love? Do the people who chose those books as amongst their top ten KNOW that those images are in there?

You're new to my site, but I do hope you'll spend some time on it. The uncritical embrace of negative and positive stereotypes here (in America) is incredible.

Delux said...

Hey Debbie.

I have to be amused at all the people rushing to put you in your place... by proving pretty much every point you make in you blog about ignorance of indigenous people and how that ignorance is created and is manifested.

Also lol at the idea that you *look* for things to be offended at. (I think black truth #7 applies here.) People? Go read the introduction to "A Broken Flute" and have an iced tea or something while you think about it.

ps: when did you actually use the word "racist" or "racism" in your original post? oh wait... you didnt.

Anonymous said...

I'm Native American and not offended at all. I think it comes from a negative place to want to nitpick everything you see or hear and make it about minority bashing. I always consider the source and look at it from broader terms, but generally, I try to be a positive person. We learn from history and move on. It's easy to get stuck in what happened so long ago and to project anger at everyone, but it's not getting us any place to dwell on it.

As for this particular instance, I think calling someone a racist based on them wanting to focus on European-style graveyards because they are more familiar with them, is pretty far-fetched and quite ignorant. When someone makes such a bold generalized statement based on one little thing someone said, I immediately think they are doing it for attention because it obviously isn't from detailing a history of racist comments by said person. Show me a history of Neil Gaiman bashing Native Americans and I'll gladly jump on your bandwagon.

By the way, you do realize Neil is an English author, not an American author? It seems odd to assume he'd write any of his books from an American viewpoint anyway.

swisslet said...

Debbie - consider yourself bookmarked! I totally agree with you on uncritical acceptance of stereotypes. I'm actually English and am currently stuck in San Francisco by the ash cloud over Europe. I've also got a Masters degree in history and I'm especially interested in "truth" and how it all depends upon perspective (so actually, there's no such thing as "truth" because everything we know has been filtered through at least one person's predjudices, even if that person is ourselves). I've just spent time in Australia and New Zealand, and have been really interested in how the non-European inhabitants are portrayed so differently in the two countries. I've blogged about it actually:

http://tinyurl.com/y5ucet4

(feel free not to publish this comment if you like, I'm not after hits but continuing our conversation)

I've not been in the US long enough to really sense the same kind of thing here, but I would be really interested to.....and was thus interested to read your post.

Ian Fleming though... good books, but the casual opinions on race are astonishing, even if in context for a man of his background for the time. Through my eyes, they're painful.

Anonymous said...

Get over yourself. His comment makes absolute sense in context. In an American cemetery, you'd be *extremely* unlikely to find the bodies of the countless millions of indigenous Americans killed by European invaders. It's simply a true statement, and it does nothing to diminish the value of those lost lives. Honestly.

Anonymous said...

to anon who said "When someone makes such a bold generalized statement based on one little thing someone said, I immediately think they are doing it for attention because it obviously isn't from detailing a history of racist comments by said person."

lolololol! you can only be racist or make racist comments if you do it more than once. duh, ndns.

Anonymous said...

get over *yourself*, anon. honestly. you're seriously ignorant if you think there aren't loads of indians buried in cemeteries right alongside white europeans, white americans, black americans, hispanic americans, etc. etc., ad nauseum. you do know we're not extinct, right?

why did he even need to differentiate between white people in cemeteries and indians anyhow? he could have just said, "you go back 250 years, and there aren't any more Americans buried there!", could he not have? how was that distinction relevant to his book? dead people are dead, not gendered or coloured or anything else.

adjunctmom said...

I have to say that I find the work you're doing fascinating. I've just, honestly, skimmed a few of your other posts and this is stuff I'm coming back to (when I'm not grading a gazillion 1st year English papers). Because, honestly, you're helping me figure out how to contextualize books that I want to read to my children, and I appreciate that more than you can possibly know.

I'm not sure that I agree with your point about this particular quote, but in the larger context of the work that you're doing, I can see how you got where you did and why you would want to highlight it.

I think, though, that had you read the book the quote was about, you might have seen why people who have read it wouldn't have objected to Mr. Gaiman's comment when thinking in terms of casts of characters and European-style graveyards.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Hello, Neil Gaiman fans : you aren't helping anybody. And since he explained himself already, it's sort of silly to keep trying to explain for him. People can either believe he made a stupid and not-well-thought-out comment when trying to explain what he'd find in a graveyard in the US compared to a graveyard in England or not. You aren't going to change that.

People can assume that this comment was malicious or shows Gaiman's sekrit racism (finally exposed, here and on LJ in the beginning steps of what you, too, can help turn into this year's version of RaceFail 2009) -- or they can say, "is he really so clueless"?

You aren't going to change anybody's mind by jumping in here or anywhere else to defend what your bff Neil, whose heart you know so well because you have read all his books and subscribe to his tweets and read his blog, said.

I love most of Gaiman's work. I also find his casual cultural appropriation problematic, but not surprising considering his age and where he was raised. I do think Dr. Reese would have done a greater service to her readers had she focused on something like that, rather than a quote that, if read with an open mind and the assumption of good will till proven otherwise, might not be anything other than reflecting a lack of thought and cultural sensitivity. There's a lot of room for that sort of critique, and this blog seems to do that rather well.

Kynn said...

Delux, you asked:

ps: when did you actually use the word "racist" or "racism" in your original post? oh wait... you didnt.

I was the one who used that word, and they're basically using my words to attack Debbie.

I'm really sorry, Debbie.

Charles said...

I have read American Gods, and the Graveyard Book. I take Gaiman at his word about his offhand comments.
This is a tempest in a teacup. If one chooses to find insult where none was intended, even after clarification, then by all means be offended. It's your god given right!

Noir said...

Wow. These responses. Wow. "Calm down"? The fuck? The woman couldn't sound calmer (not me though).

Wow, I wonder how many of these people came here before Gaiman's name was mentioned. Seriously, Gaiman fans, seriously.

bankuei said...

The number of anonymous folks who are hopping out of the woodworks to say, "Stop harshing my fan-squee, you're being over sensitive about genocide!"

...

Some people just love to be special, I guess.

Precision Grace said...

If it helps at all (and it probably doesn't) I did think, as soon as I've read the comment by Neil that he'll leave to eat his words. I could tell he was just making an off the cuff remark on the spot - one he probably wouldn't have made were he less jet lagged and lacking in sleep generally speaking, but, I also did think that he was probably answering a millionth question about the book and it was getting very difficult to be original and not flippant in one's answer. Not an excuse for this kind of blunder (and I say that only because I happen to care about the Native American history - most people probably and sadly don't), and shame you had to experience the backlash of an angry fan mob.

But still. I found your website via all this drama, and I'm very glad for it.

Noir said...

Yeah. You know, I can't find anything not problematic about his comment.

But you know Debbie was just uber sensitive because she was OMG "dissecting problematic things about Native American representation in media! Like she does in every other part of her blog!"

But you know how "graveyard" just means "European Graveyard," he didn't mean anything bad so his intend is all that matters, why is she being so emotional, she could just have focused on REAL racism, etc., etc.

So yeah: http://derailingfordummies.com/ <-- derailing for dummies. Some people need it.

c said...

The quote and explanation don't even vibe. It's not like europeans tripped off the boat and threw a couple of indians under some gravestones. Wouldn't the very first european style graveyards in america be filled with europeans? So you go back however many years and get the very first couple of europeans that died in america, not indians. There was no reason for "a few dead indians" to even leave his mouth if his explanation is what he was really trying to say with that quote. There is no way on earth that the first european style graveyard in america would be nothing but "a few dead indians." Look, if it makes y'all feel better to rationalize this away then do you but don't go around trying to tell someone they're overemotional and overreacting when they recognize fuckery. Which is what that quote is. He said something ignorant and now he doesn't want to own it. We can't be perfect at all times so instead of trying sidestep it with a weak WEAK explanation how about just apologizing for it and moving on.

Bob the Mole said...

I found your blog through Neil Gaiman's twitter.

I've been wondering about the appropriate use of characters from indigenous cultures in my own fiction, and your posts have given me a lot to think about. Thanks for providing this resource.

Anonymous said...

I'm a huge Neil Gaiman fan, but unlike most fans, I can admit that he stuck his foot in his mouth and said something very insensitive. His half-apology doesn't cut it. He's not infallible, he's not perfect. What he said was thoughtless and he deserved a kick up the bum for it.

Neil's human, don't put him on a pedestal and worship him like a faultless god please. When he stuffs up, he should apologise for it.

Danielle said...

Wow... There were no comments when I clicked on this before. Do the Gaiman fans realize how ignorant they're sounding? For one thing, Gaiman has already clarified what he meant and Debbie has addressed that. And for another, she didn't use the word racist/racism once in her post.

And to Angel of Wrath would claimed that Debbie should be doing better things with her time, considering that on average less than 50% of Native Americans even graduate from high school and that one of the reasons behind it may very well be the way that Natives are represented in literature, movies, and mainstream media I think her blog serves a very important purpose.

hari-mirchi said...

Debbie,

I've been a long-time lurker on your blog. As one of the other kind of Indians (you know, the subcontinent, not first nations), cross-racial solidarity is important to me, and I've learned so much from reading you.

I'm sadly not surprised by the backlash of defensive fangirls and fanboys here. I love Gaiman's work and own just about all of his books, but damn. The initial comment betrayed an ignorance of (or possibly apathy towards) Indian history. The so-called apology was shameful though. I don't understand why people can't just admit that they don't know or didn't think about Indians, instead of trying to justify their ignorance.

Anonymous said...

He panicked and misspoke without having days to analyze the historical implications of a couple dozen words. Not that big of a deal.

~Steve.
Sent from my iPhone.

NewOZlibrarian said...

In context, I'm rather certain that there wouldn't have been terribly many Indians buried in European style graveyards before European settlement...so "a few" is probably an accurate representation of the number of Indians in European-style graveyards over 250 years ago. Not having a particularly thorough understanding of American history (since I come from a country with its own systematically institutionalised genocide to concern itself with) I could be wrong.

But whatevs, it's the internet. Everyone's wrong some time...just that on the internet there's more people with nothing better to do than call you out on it.

And when it comes to representing american-indians...the whole quote boils down to the fact that he set his book in an entirely different country, thus avoiding representing them at all (a fiendish plot, no doubt, to rob them of just representation!). I suppose sometimes you just have to cope with the fact that you're not relevant to the plot.

Or perhaps he should have gone out of his way to represent the original inhabitants of his adopted country for no other reason than to avoid an inflammatory blog post several years after publication...since he'd be safe, as you'd never have read the book anyway.

Liz Pennies. said...

Debbie, I think you have good intentions, but fear all this kind of nitpicking does is teach others to put up fences and cause a continuation of name calling between races.

Point in case?
"Evidence of my point about American/English ignorance." Dissected, as you did Neil's sentence, shows how you have seemed to classify the whole of the American/English peoples as nothing but ignorant.

If you try hard enough one can take any conversation and find SOMETHING racist within in SOME way. Neil's was such a small comment. Was it worded poorly? Perhaps. As was yours.

I won't defend whether or not Neil has prejudices. I do not personally know the man. But in addressing his ONE sentence, I do believe he was simply trying to illustrate that cemeteries in America do not have the same feel as ones in Europe. Personally I would agree. I've visited both styles of grave sites, and anyone that has, understands the difference as well as the context in which he was making this statement. U.S. graveyards simply do not have the same atmosphere as the ones in Europe.

It's sad to see you can use a single miss-worded sentence to stir a battle between persons that held no ill will toward one another.

To you all, I ask to please remember, where as it is important to teach tolerance and understanding to our children, it is just as equally important to teach FORGIVENESS and ACCEPTANCE. Or this war will never end.

And remember, we writers are not perfect. We are just human. Race and Creed aside. We can phrase a sentence wrong just as anyone else.

nonnymouse said...

Thank you for another interesting post, Debbie. I'm sad to see the vicious backlash from Mr Gaiman's fans. I hope some of them are capable of having second thoughts, even if they don't have the decency to come back and apologise. I've certainly learned a lot of worthwhile ideas about history and literature from your blog. Keep up your good work!

Sara H. said...

Hi Debbie. I'm glad you plan to read The Graveyard Book and/or other Gaiman books because you will be reassured that Gaiman is promoting diversity and faith and imagination and magic and community as well as good will toward all people and cultures.

With specific reference to teaching children about Native American traditions: I have been writing some lesson plans for middle school students based on The Graveyard Book.

- One lesson ties a figure from Gaiman's book to the Sisiutl: "In traditional stories and art of the Kwakiutl Indians of the Pacific Northwest, the powerful Sisiutl is usually shown as having three heads: two snake heads and a human-like head in the middle."

- Another lesson about themes ties a statement by a Gaiman character about consecrated ground to Native American beliefs. (The character says, "There are those who believe that all land is sacred. That it is sacred before we come to it, and sacred after.")

- A lesson about mood will discuss Gaiman's use of colors as symbols as compared to Plains Indians use of colors and the four directions.

So, the good news is, that Gaiman's writing provides great opportunities for making cross-cultural connections, and for dispelling the stereotypes we all abhor. The zillions of words of thoughtful good will in Neil Gaiman's writing will quickly outweigh his clumsy comment in that interview.

Alma Alexander said...

I was born in old Europe. I know all about church graveyards where there are gravestones so old that the information that used to be carved on them is worn down to nubs and it's impossible to read or decipher any more - and you will never know again who lies in that grave. Such graves tend to RATHER OLDER than any in the "New World", by definition, because European-style burials which the white folks brought over the water with them are by definition MUCH younger than the graves left behind in Europe. And before that, in the country that would become America, for all the PHSYCICAL markers that were left behind (in the sensibilities of the colonist folk and in their knowledge and understanding) those colonists would have no idea, unless directly involved in a massacre themselves, just how many Indians there were or had been before they got there and how and where their dead were disposed of. When Gaiman said "before that there was nobody at all" he meant that there were few bodies buried in "proper" graves with "proper" memorials and gravestones, before the white settlers arrived and brought that idea with them. In such graves, three or four hundred years ago in America, Gaiman was right - there was pretty much "nobody at all".

There are far too many reasons out there to take offence at idiots who really have an agenda to push. Please, please, let's stop trying to scratch out something offensive at EVERYTHING anybody utters, even when there was no real reason for it at all once you unpack a remark or put it into its context...

ThreeOranges said...

A friend of mine pointed me to your post, and I think I see the disconnect: Gaiman, as a white Brit, is even more clueless than a white American would be of the politics of the word "Indian" to describe Native American people.

Furthermore, he's probably unconsciously quoting a Monty Python sketch (you know Monty Python? Countless Brits quote their sketches as a substitute for wit) in which the electricity board man brings a complimentary gift to the house - a "free dead Indian, as advertised".

So there's Neil, thinking he's ever so amusing to have dropped a Monty Python reference in there... And there's everyone else, who winces at the racefail of it. (Someone please tell Gaiman the world has moved on since 1970, which is when that sketch was first broadcast?)

I applaud your restraint on blogging this issue. Thank you.

Elusis said...

I was very glad to see today that Neil has publicly apologized on his blog, and acknowledged that your points were quite correct. Its timing seems a bit random, other than that it was perhaps triggered by a Chinese reader asking him about an offensive bit in the Graveyard Book that turns out to have been created by the translation, but I thought it was good that he said you were right in criticizing him.

http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2010/10/big-blog-on-train.html

swisslet said...

Following on from what Elusis says, well done to Neil Gaiman for (finally) apologising properly for his remarks. Better late than never, and good for him for being big enough to own up long after most people have forgotten.

Anonymous said...

You are very clear that Mr. Gaimen is wrong in his comment that there were no European-style graveyards on American soil, with internments spanning more than 250 years, and with a notable Native American population. I personally have no idea whether or not that's true, though like other commenters I would have guessed that he was correct.

As you apparently know otherwise, and have stated that you intended this to be a teachable moment, perhaps you could teach us something about it? Some history on Native Americans being interned in European-style graveyards during the 1700s and earlier would be more informative than an opinion piece. Pointers on where interested visitors should go to find such graveyards or explore this part of history. Showing people how they are wrong is much more effective than just telling them that they are wrong.