The chapter in which the hero of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere drops out of the everyday reality into the fantastical world of London Below is seriously spooky.
On his way to the office one Monday morning, Richard Mayhew discovers that taxi drivers no longer see him, ticket vending machines reject his coins, he is invisible to the other passengers on the train and, upon arriving at the office, that his desk is cleared and none of his co-workers know who he is. In fact, they don’t even see him unless he addresses them first, and then it takes them mere seconds to forget he’s there. When his fiancée fails to recognize him and he makes his way back home, he finds that his apartment has already been rented to someone else. His existence has completely slipped the world’s mind.
This has always been one of the book’s most vividly magical moments for me – when its protagonist slips from the normal world to begin his extraordinary adventure among the warriors, beasts, noblemen tricksters and supernatural assassins of London Below. So for this mosaic I chose the scene that precipitated it all: Richard’s finding of the wounded Lady Door.
On his way to an important dinner with his fiancée, Richard stops to help an injured girl who seems to have slumped to the pavement right out of a blank brick wall – someone his girlfriend can’t even see at first and when she does, she demands that Richard not waste time on this ragged lowlife. Despite this, Richard takes the girl to his flat to recover and hide from those who wounded her.
A place of fables, London Below is unseen by the residents of real London, who rush through its streets and underground stations on their daily commutes, unaware that side-by-side with their world there exists another – in which there is a deadly bridge at Knightsbridge, an aging Earl at Earls Court, and an actual angel called Islington.
The morning after he brings the bleeding girl to his flat, Richard discovers that her name is Door, and that she has the power to open doors where none have existed before. Which is how, in a last desperate attempt to escape a pair of nightmarish assassins who have been pursuing her for days, she ended up opening a door through the boundary separating London Below from London Above, and tumbling to the pavement in front of Richard.
Neverwhere was the first Neil Gaiman novel I read, and it has stayed my favorite after I’ve read all the others. Oddly enough, it was a BBC miniseries before it was a book. In March of this year a radio play adaptation of it was also released, resulting in record-breaking listening figures for BBC streaming radio – no doubt due not only to Neil Gaiman’s popularity, but also to a stellar cast, which included Benedict Cumberbatch and Christopher Lee. Supposedly it’s very good. Still, I’ll take my stories printed on a page over radio adaptations any day.
A wall and a dark form of a collapsed girl seemed both a simple and a compelling image for the mosaic. An indication of something extraordinary, I hope, is given in both the striking perspective of the wall, and the fantastic glass I was lucky to find for the bricks. The same stained glass also turned out to be marvelously suited to represent the pool of blood on the pavement. An expanse of wall is a boundary, and a monotony. The monotony of the ordinary, with a hint of something magical hovering just out of sight.