When I was little, I played a game with a friend of mine who was a very talented artist. We would design a house for her iguana (his name was Mikey) and draw rooms on different sheets of paper. She and I would hatch different designs, and she would turn our ideas into pictures. We’d end up with pages and pages of rooms and hallways that we could move and reshuffle to make a mansion-sized house of cards. In Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (Kindle here), Door’s family’s entryway to everywhere reminds me of this game. When Door enters this room, she sees images of all the rooms her family has access to as part of their home. No matter how far away these rooms are, Door’s family can open the door and walk in.
Door’s family can open doors, and this game opened our imagination. (Essentially, I guess, that’s the same thing.) When you’re little and playing pretend, the world is full of possibilities. But as Richard Mayhew finds out, the adult world can often leave you feeling trapped–trapped in a loveless relationship, a dead-end job, or without a home and on the street.
When Richard stops to help Door, he opens his heart and mind once more to new possibilities–but like any new opportunity, it begins with Richard facing extreme difficulty and unimaginable torment.
Because after Richard recognizes Door as a person, one who happens to need help, he is thrust from his world in London Above and into her world of London Below (which are, pretty much, exactly what they sound like). As a result, no one in London Above notices Richard is even there. His ex-fiancee draws a blank, his desk at work is gone, and his home is sold right out from under him despite his cries of protests. (Is there anything more demoralizing than being completely ignored?)
So Richard heads to London Below, where he finds the rest of those who slipped through the cracks. Like Croup and Vandemar, two peas in a murderous pod, or Hunter, the beautiful guard focused wholly on her prey. (I’d have to watch my back, but I feel like I’d like to meet almost everyone in London Below.) Richard does his best to find his way, but this world is completely new to him and he doesn’t understand what everyone else seems to inherently know.
Everyone, at some point or another, has felt like Richard Mayhew. We’ve all felt ignored and abandoned, and hopelessly lost.
But Richard has the gift of recognizing the humanness in others (even if, in London Below, they aren’t all exactly human). To recognize another person, to say, “I see you, and I respect you, and I accept you,“ is the greatest gift we can give and sometimes the hardest thing to do. But respect saves lives (and souls), and this is what keeps Richard safe through his journey in the underworld of London.
Richard has a gift, but he let it get buried in the everyday nothings of everyday life that can weigh us all down. Lucky for him, and for those who pick up Neverwhere, Door opens his imagination once again to fun–and funny!–adventures.
Illustration is pen and ink; links are affiliate.