Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Beginnings and Introductions

Neil Gaiman. Harlan Ellison. Two wonderful writers, two gents who know whereof they write. And in this case, they are writing about pure awesome: Doctor Who. One man confrontational, argumentative; the other calm, reasonable. One comparative, while the other is emotional. In both cases, the love for the show shines through in scintillating colors.

Harlan Ellison recounts an event at a SF con where he introduced a whole crowd of people to the sheer, unadulterated find that is Doctor Who. In typical Ellison fashion, he manages to win friends and influence people. It's an interesting contrast to how he portrays his own first encounter with the series: two brilliant writers watching the telly, one an evangelist while the other is caught up in the magic. For many fans, I imagine that this was, indeed, very much like their own first encounter with the series: "Hey man, you've got to watch this!"

Gaiman, by contrast, speaks of the introduction of a good percentage more of fans when he talks about watching the series as it ran the first time, simply a part of daily life for a child growing up. For those fans, watching Doctor who is as natural as breathing. It's simply what you do. And it is those fans who often become the evangelists for the Ellison group.

There are, of course, more ways to encounter the series than these two ways. Yet for the lion's share of fans, this is how it is. Doctor Who spreads, as Gaiman points out, very much like a thought virus. "Viral" has become the catchphrase recently for any phenomenon that is spread from one person to another, any thought or experience or product to which one person alerts another by word-of-mouth. Seldom is that more true, however, that in the case of Doctor Who. Gaiman is aware of the truth of this; he speaks of his surprise in realizing that he, too, is spreading the appreciation for this wonderful series in that way and even of how shocked he was in realizing how deeply the series unconsciously imprinted his own work.

Ellison doesn't seem to note this. He simply gives reasons why he loves Doctor Who and expects the reader to share them. This essay was written at a time when Doctor Who was far less known in the United States than it is today. For that reason, Ellison contrasts the show to other television shows and movies of the time. His well-known dislike for television is not in question in this essay. This makes his argument for why the reader should watch Doctor Who far more compelling: if the man who wrote The Glass Teat can like a television show, it is by definition far more worth watching than your run of the mill TV fare.

Reading Ellison's essay is like having a conversation with the man himself. It is simple, direct, and to the point. Reading Gaiman's essay, by contrast, is more like listening to another story being told. At least for me it evokes the typical, dreamlike feeling that so much of his writing evokes.

So, which is more convincing to me as a reason to go on and read the Doctor Who novels and novellas? Or, more to the point, which one sets the mood for the story it precedes? It really depends on whether you are already a fan or whether you are encountering the series for the first time. Ellison's introduction is meant for the totally new reader. Gaiman's is meant for the existing fan, I think. Perhaps this makes sense, given that Ellison's essay is found at the beginning of mass-market paperbacks and Gaiman's at the beginning of a novella probably only those who already knew about the series would purchase. Both made me want to turn the page and dive into the story that follows.

So which kind of thing on, then, am I? As we begin this adventure of reading the books where the classic series left off, I think I am in an interesting middle ground. I am not an obsessive fan the way so many fans become. However, I have to admit that I have already begun to spread the Doctor Who evangelism: to my children, to my extended family, to friends. Even my older child is already spreading the word about Who to her high school friends.

I am the target of neither essay. Both moved me. Both inspired me to take on the journey that my husband and I are about to undergo. My reactions are likely to be more visceral than literary, despite the fact that my college major was literature.

If you are reading this, it is very likely that you, too, are in that middle ground with me. Take my hand. Come with me as we explore books of which you may never have heard before this blog. I know I am encountering many for the first time myself. As I take up Ellison's challenge and respond to Gaiman's dreamlike love, I hope you enjoy the journey with us.

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