I wrote about the remark on April 18 in "What Neil Gaiman said" and
His fans, angry at me and
Meanwhile, he smoothed things over with
Over at http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2010/04/what-neil-gaiman-said.html Debbie Reese correctly called me out earlier this year on something particularly stupid and offensive I said last year when I was asked at ABA about why I hadn't set The Graveyard Book in the US. I think I mostly was trying to answer with my Author Head rather than my Being Interviewed Head -- trying to describe how I perceived my potential cast of characters in a European Style graveyard in a small US city (like the UK one in The Graveyard Book). I remember thinking at the time that it was a remarkably stupid thing to have said, but stupid things come out of your mouth when you're being interviewed, and you press on.
I was put out of sorts by Deb's initial post (mostly because I was reading it going "but that OBVIOUSLY wasn't what I meant"), and was idiotically grumpy on
People have asked how I would have felt about the phrase "a few dead Jews" in the same place in the interview, which made me feel additionally guilty, as one of the things I missed about The Graveyard Book was that I didn't actually put any Jews in my graveyard. I wanted to, but couldn't make the history and the burial customs work.
Probably I should write a Graveyard Book story with some secretly buried Jews in it, and some dead Native Americans a very long way from home.
Anyway, apologies to all concerned, particularly to Debbie Reese.
People are glad that he finally wrote about his remarks in that interview. I am, too, but I wasn't after an apology. I did want him to address the ease with which such a remark could be made and that the remark would go unchallenged for months and months (the interview took place in October of 2008; I came across it in April of 2010).
To his credit, Gaiman did reference "the only good Indian" phrase, but his source has its own set of problems. If you clicked on the link, you were taken to an entry at Trivia Library.com. There, you read that the phrase originates with General Sheridan, but that information is incorrect. More reliable than Trivia Library.com is a 1993 article by Wolfgang Mieder. Titled "'The Only Good Indian is a Dead Indian'": History and Meaning of a Proverbial Stereotype" Mieder's article was published in the Journal of American Folklore. (Send me an email request and I'll send you a copy.) Mieder carefully traces the phrase and its use. I cite Mieder's findings in a chapter I wrote about its use in Little House on the Prairie. The phrase, by the way, was not in common use during the time Laura Ingalls and her family were in Indian Territory.
Just prior to the apology line, Gaiman says that he should write a Graveyard Book story with some dead Native Americans that are far from home. He could, in fact, because many Native peoples ended up in England. Some by force (Squanto) and some by choice (
Once this post is uploaded, I'll tweet the link. It may or may not bring closure to this particular episode, but I do hope that Gaiman's readers, friends, colleagues, and editors (as well as anyone else who followed this episode) come away with a more thoughtful reflection on the ways that we speak---intentionally and not---about American Indians.
Final comment added at 3:24 after initial upload:
Thanks, Neil, for being willing to reflect on the interview and your response to my initial post about it. And, a heartfelt thanks for acknowledging your reaction and emotion, and, your understanding of a
Update: October 9, 2010, 7:11 PM
I read ithiliana's entry at her LiveJournal and see that I've made an error above. I confused Pam Noles and Kynn. On realizing the error, I crossed out Pam Noles above and inserted Kynn. I'm also working on a stand-alone post about ithiliana's analysis.
Update: October 10, 2010, 10:55 AM
I've followed up with another blog post, "Part II --- Neil Gaiman on "a few dead Indians" because I was holding back yesterday, unsure of how to say all that I wanted to say. ithiliana's analysis (noted in my first update above) helped me get my thoughts together.