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The Story of Neil Gaiman’s Cousin Helen

By Books & Authors, InspirationNo Comments
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Neil Gaiman, Image from The Byre Theatre.

The Writer Neil Gaiman used to think that making up stories for a living was trivial. That was until he learned the story of his cousin Helen. Here is Neil Gaiman sharing the story of his cousin Helen:

“Helen is 96 and now lives in Florida. At the end of World War II, Helen and her two sisters wound up in a refugee camp in Southern Europe having fled Poland. Homeless and displaced, they finally ended up in America.

In Poland, Helen had been smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto. There was a corpse run every morning, transferring the corpses out of the ghetto and she snuck back in on the returning transport. I think she snuck back out that way, amongst the corpses, too. Inside the ghetto, she started teaching the local girls arithmetic and grammar. At that point in time, books were illegal and there was a death sentence for anyone found possessing one. However, Helen had a Polish translation of Gone with the Wind and she kept it hidden behind a loose brick in the wall. She would stay up late every night reading so that when the girls came in the next day she could tell them what had happened in the chapters she had read the previous night and just for that hour these girls got out of the Warsaw Ghetto and they got to visit the American South.

Helen’s story – this story – made me realise that what I do is not trivial. If you make up stuff for a living, which is basically what I do, you can feel kind of trivial sometimes but this made me realise that fiction is not just escapism, it can actually be escape, and it’s worth dying for.” – Neil Gaiman

(From The UN Refugee Agency, Last accessed: Sunday 17th July 2016.)

People need stories, we always have. In ancient history, our ancestors sat around camp fires telling one another stories, illuminated by the glow of the fire. Then they began writing them down and having them printed and published in books. Today we still have printed books and ebooks are in their infancy.

In the future, people will still need stories. To understand why this statement is true, you need to understand why people read stories. We read stories to light up our imagination, for pleasure, for entertainment, to make us laugh, to make us cry, to be thrilled, to make us feel alive, to give us hope, to unwind, to escape and to learn.

Blog soon,

Antony



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