Note to Teachers

Neil Gaiman has long been considered a graphic novel mastermind and one of the most creative writers of our times. His popular and award-winning series of graphic novels, The Sandman, established Gaiman as one of the most innovative and thoughtful writers in the field of contemporary fantasy. His novel, Good Omens (written with Terry Pratchett) further distinguished Gaiman as a writer of high quality and extraordinary imagination. In Neverwhere, his darkly absorbing and hypnotic first solo novel, Gaiman delivers on the promise of his earlier works, drawing the reader into a subterranean world of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, and taking them on a journey beyond their wildest imaginations. Richard Mayhew is an unassuming young businessman living in London when he stumbles across a girl bleeding on the sidewalk. He stops to help her—and the life he knows vanishes. Several hours later the girl is gone too. And by the following morning, Richard Mayhew has been erased from his world. His bank cards no longer work, taxi drivers won't stop for him, his apartment has been rented out to strangers. He has become invisible and inexplicably consigned to a London of shadows and darkness, a world that exists entirely in a subterranean labyrinth of sewer canals and abandoned subway stations. Here, he begins a bizarre and terrifying adventure with a young woman named Door (the same girl he helped in the London Above). Together with a quirky guide who calls himself the Marquis de Carabas, they begin a quest to find the evil entity who had Door's family killed and who threatens the stability (such as it is) of London Below. On their journey, they encounter ruthless assassins, extreme physical and mental challenges, mysterious labyrinths, and mythical beasts. In dark yet often witty prose, Gaiman creates a parallel universe, a world where long-forgotten parts of historic London are populated with people who have fallen through the cracks of society, as we know it. London Below is filled with bizarre anachronisms and dangerous incongruities that often exist in hidden corners of stalled time. These juxtapositions allow Gaiman to weave an incredibly believable tale, in which the reader, along with Richard, is swept into a reality that defies logic. Filled with fascinating literary and historical allusions, this suspenseful and richly imagined work elevates the category of fantasy/science fiction to a new level. As Stephen King acknowledges, "[Gaiman] is, simply put, a treasure house of story, and we are lucky to have him in any media."

Questions for Discussion
1. In the Prologue, Gaiman foreshadows the dangers that await Richard in London. First, his friends give him an umbrella with the London Underground map on it, and then an old woman warns him that London can be a dangerous place, saying, "It starts with doors…. I'd watch out for doors if I were you." (p. 3) How does this set the tone for the novel? Did you make the connection when Richard meets Door? 2. There seems to be some sort of social code in London Below, i.e. the rat-speakers, the truce at the Floating Market, the owing and repaying of favors, etc. Discuss social order, class systems, family and community in reference to London Below. How does it compare to London Above? How well does Richard understand the social mores of the world he has been thrown into? Is it frustrating to watch him put himself in jeopardy with his ignorance? 3. Door and company are never quite sure whom they can trust. What sort of message is the author sending? Do men and women seem equally untrustworthy? What does that say about gender roles in London Below and/or in our own society?

4. The author uses lots of interesting and original names in this novel (i.e. Door, Mr. Croup, Mr. Vandemar, Marquis de Carabas, Islington, etc.) What effect do these names have on your reading of the novel? Do they help you to mentally conjure up an image of each character? Do you recognize the literary and/or historical origins of some of the names? Discuss. 5. In his life in London Above, Richard Mayhew is a rather boring, ordinary fellow. Discuss his transformation as he journeys through London Below. Can you pinpoint the moment that he seems to let go of the old Richard and become the new one? 6. There is no exchange of money in London Below; instead everything seems to work by favors, or on a barter system. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this situation. Can you imagine our own society operating on such a system? 7. Gaiman uses a lot of religious imagery in the novel, including angels, cathedrals, Black Friars, crucifixion and resurrection, etc. Discuss these and other religious images and how they shape your reading of the novel. How are these images used by the author and for what purpose? 8. The Marquis de Carabas is killed quite convincingly by Croup and Vandemar, yet he improbably comes back to life. How do you account for his resurrection? Did you find it believable in the context of the 'reality' of London Below? 9. The Angel Islington turns out to be the evil menace in Neverwhere. When Richard expresses surprise at this the marquis tells him, "When angels go bad Richard, they go worse than anyone. Remember, Lucifer used to be an angel" (p. 274). Were you surprised to discover that Islington was behind the murder of Door's family or did you suspect him? If so, what made you suspicious of him? 10. Door sends Islington through a dark, faraway passage-perhaps to hell, but perhaps not. Do you think he is gone for good or do you think he could turn up somewhere down the line? 11. What do you think about Islington's connection to Atlantis? Is it a plausible connection within the world of London Below? Did you find Islington's imprisonment and Lord Portico's refusal to help him a satisfactory reason for having Door's family slaughtered? Why or why not? 12. At the end of the novel, after returning to London Above for a brief while, Richard decides that he now belongs in London Below and returns to help Door on her new quest to continue her father's work to unite their world. Were you surprised by Richard's decision? Do you think he made the right one?

Research and Writing Projects
1. The London Underground is a vast subway system sprawling throughout one of the world's great cities. Write a research paper about the building of the Underground and about the naming of the tube stations. Are there any myths or stories associated with the construction of this subway?

2. Critics have compared this novel to The Wizard of Oz. Write a paper discussing the similarities of the conceit, the characters, the journey and the outcome. In what ways are they different? 3. The job of a science fiction / fantasy writer is to transport the reader to another world and make it believable. Write a paper discussing the ways that Gaiman accomplishes this in Neverwhere. 4. It turns out that the Angel Islington at one time presided over Atlantis and was responsible for its destruction. Research the 'myth' of Atlantis and write a paper discussing the history of this ancient civilization, and explore a few of the theories about its disappearance. Feel free discuss your own theories about whether or not Atlantis ever really existed, and how you think it may have been destroyed. 5. At the end of the novel Richard returns to London Below. Write the next chapter of the book as you imagine it would play out when he returns to the other world. Does he help Door? How does their relationship evolve? Does he regret leaving London Above? Does he miss anything about his old life?

For Further Reading
Neil Gaiman, American Gods. Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Clive Barker, Hellraiser: Collected Best.

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