By Mick Krever, CNN
Neil Gaiman is many things: A writer, a screenwriter, a storyteller. But before all that, he is first and foremost and defender of imagination.
And imagination, he says, is under threat.
“The imagination – it's a muscle,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday. “It's a really important thing. If you want to build the future, if you want to create a literate generation, if you want to create a generation that is not criminal.”
Gaiman says that libraries – those endangered stockpiles of, yes, physical books – are a critical wellspring for imagination.
“I was a booky kid,” he said. “I will never forget the joy of getting my parents to drop me off at the local library on their way to work, and just going in and reading my way through the children's library, going and exploring in the card catalog back when they had card catalogs.”
“Pulling books off the shelf and then nervously edging out into the adult world” – and “discovering the joy” of the inter-library loan system!
It was – and is – “absolute magic.”
Penny pinchers and technologists alike, he said, are mistaken to think that we can do without libraries.
“You can have a million books on your iPad, so why would you worry about this thing? Let's close it and save money.”
“It misses everything I think that libraries are good for, and librarians are good for.”
Libraries, he said wistfully, are bastions of discovery.
Of course, imagination is not just about finding new books at the local library.
Parents, he told Amanpour, have an “obligation” to read to their children.
“The joy of reading to children, the joy of doing the voices, the joy of finding some time where you are not being distracted by telephones, by televisions, by all of the glorious distractions of the twenty-first century – you make some time and you read and tell stories – is huge,” he said.
“It tells children that they can go into these books, into these forests of words,” Gaiman said. “They can take these 26 symbols and a handful of punctuation marks and build them into stories themselves.”
One of Gaiman’s most well-known works was Coraline, a novella and later a movie that was nominated for an Academy Award.
But the name “Coraline,” he said, was the result of a mistake – not deep thought.
“I remember typing a letter to somebody named Caroline and looking down and I'd mistyped it into Coraline,” he told Amanpour. “And I thought, that should be a name – what a great name! I wonder what somebody like that will be like?”
It’s an important lesson for any aspiring artist, he said.
“There's nothing wrong with mistakes. Mistakes demonstrate that you're actually out in the world and you're doing something. You are active. You're engaged.”
For too many young artists he meets, he told Amanpour, the fear of mistakes is paralyzing.
“They're sure it has to be perfect; and that terror of trying to be perfect stops them doing anything.”
“What I try and tell people is use your mistakes,” Gaiman said. “Treasure your mistakes.”