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Bettie's Books

A Stuga On the Cusp of the Orust Riviera, tucked away next to a hobbit hole in the woods.

The Return of the Thin White Duke by Neil Gaiman (Goodreads Author), Yoshitaka Amano (Illustration)


Description: Over the years, David Bowie’s work and personae have inspired extraordinary art: Velvet Goldmine, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Starman, The Venture Brothers, and the greatest of all of Wes Anderson’s film soundtracks. But Neil Gaiman, of all of his fans, seems to be the one who tangles most directly with Bowie-as-superhuman. First, he made Bowie the obvious visual reference for his version of Lucifer in the Sandman series. But more recently, in last year’s Trigger Warning, Gaiman included a story called “The Return of the Thin White Duke,” which he has now made available on his site.

The story has a symbiotic relationship with some gorgeous Yoshitaka Amano paintings, which you can see here, but it also spins off into its own direction, giving Bowie a worth origin story worthy. Gaiman uses the Thin White Duke persona as a starting point, writing his way into the type of person who could embrace such an alter ego. And though the author refers to the story as “unabashedly fan fiction,” after a few paragraphs he makes the character his own, and creates yet another pocket universe for the Duke to test his bravery, create stars, and forge a new life for himself. It both is and isn’t Bowie, as Gaiman uses the idea of self-creation as the core of a story that could be about any one of us.

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Opening: He was the monarch of all he surveyed, even when he stood out on the palace balcony at night listening to reports and he glanced up into the sky at the bitter twinkling clusters and whorls of stars. He ruled the worlds. He had tried for so long to rule wisely, and well, and to be a good monarch, but it is hard to rule, and wisdom can be painful. And it is impossible, he had found, if you rule, to do only good, for you cannot build anything without tearing something down, and even he could not care about every life, every dream, every population of every world.

'"I'd rather write a something song than rule the world," he said aloud, tasting the words in his mouth. He rested his guitar case against a wall, put his hand in the pocket of his duffel coat, found a pencil-stub and a shilling notebook, and wrote them down. He'd find a good two-syllable word for the something soon enough, he hoped.'