The cult novelist hero Neil Gaiman is the beloved talent behind the book version of American Gods, which is poised to become the next TV obsession for viewers who like a little supernatural sex mixed in with their sociopolitical commentary. As a writer, Gaiman is appropriately a literary chimera — not quite a sci-fi writer or an epic fantasist — he is instead a master of myth and fairy tales, none of which he’ll ever write conventionally. With rare exceptions Gaiman’s approach to any story is effused with his distinct brand of oddness.
And so, the master of weird had a correspondingly weird writing career. But, it hasn’t been shadows and creepy broken toys for Gaiman all along. Here are five things you probably didn’t know Neil Gaiman wrote; all of which solidify his versatility and weirdness at the same time while being totally outside the box for him.
1. A Biography of Duran Duran
Back in 1984, when Gaiman was only 22 years old, he wrote a book about the band Duran Duran. Naturally, it’s a collectors item now, with the cheaper editions starting at about $200 bucks. Gaiman considers the book terrible and in 2015, told the Telegraph it was “the worst thing I’ve ever written.” Fans of Gaiman will probably agree, but fans of Duran Duran are totally cool with it.
2. A Sherlock Holmes/H.P. Lovecraft Mashup
What if the Victorian world of Sherlock Holmes was ruled by the many tentacled Cthulhu of H.P. Lovecraft’s imagination? Gaiman mashed-up Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with H.P. Lovecraft in his short story “A Study in Emerald.” The murder of a green-blooded (emerald, get it?) Cthulhu isn’t even the weirdest thing here. Instead, the heroes of this story aren’t Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, but instead implied to be Professor Moriarty and Col. Sebastian Moran.
3. An Episode of Babylon 5 Where Penn and Teller are in Space
In a truly terrifying Neil Gaiman piece of writing, comedians Penn and Teller guest star on a late-in-the-game episode of the space-epic Babylon 5. Though the vast majority of the teleplays for Babylon 5 were written by the show creator J. Michael Straczynski, the episode “Day of the Dead,” was penned entirely by Gaiman. To be fair, Penn and Teller aren’t in the episode that much, and the title does deliver: plenty of the crew of B5 are visited by ghosts. The strangest thing about this episode is the odd ways Gaiman’s sensibilities intermingle with epic science fiction.
4. The Most Popular Matt Smith Doctor Who Episode
Okay, you probably knew this one: Neil Gaiman wrote the acclaimed season 6 Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife,” which was not about the Doctor’s actual wife, but instead, the spirit of the TARDIS. This one has a lot of continuity stuff in it, including a scene where Matt Smith mentions that Time Lords can regenerate into other genders. Gaiman’s propenstiy to give his characters non-names is on full display here, including someone named “Auntie,” and someone else named “Nephew.” But really, the lasting greatness of this episode is easily the spirit of the TARDIS, Idris, played charmingly by Suranne Jones. The cosplay she inspired continues to grace comic cons to this day.
That CGI Beowulf Movie With Angelina Jolie
Remember this one? This all CGI movie adaptation of the classic story of Beowulf was probably most famous for Angelina Jolie’s turn as a part-snake monster. Though the movie came out in 2007, Neil Gaiman originally wrote the script in 1997 with Roger Avary. Director Robert Zemeckis told the pair to “go wild!” when revising the script for the eventual movie. And boy did they. In a way, with its twists on ancient myth, Gaiman’s contributions to Beowulf make a lot of sense. And in terms of lessons about retribution which circle the supernatural, it is vaguely reminiscent American Gods.
American Gods hits Starz on April 30.