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Neil Gaiman tells ghost stories late in the night at TED2014

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By daylight, Neil Gaiman is captivated by someone else's story at TED2014. Photo: Ryan Lash

By daylight, Neil Gaiman is captivated by someone else’s story at TED2014. Photo: Ryan Lash

If you walked up the twisting mahogany staircase of the Vancouver Club on Tuesday, past an ominous portrait of a man in a kilt and an empty ballroom with its curtains dancing in the wind, you’d happen upon a dimly lit room filled with TED2014 attendees. Here, about 100 gathered to hear Neil Gaiman read ghost stories at midnight. Lit by candles and the glow of his iPad, Gaiman invited the audience to gather around him on the floor.

“Make yourselves comfortable,” he says. “It may have been a little while since anyone told you a story.”

But this being TED, Gaiman took a few minutes first to chew on the question: Why do we tell scary stories? He sees them as filling a vital role in our lives.

“Ghost stories are a very peculiar tradition. They’re one of the three different kinds of stories that human beings tell each other that you find out if it’s working physiologically. If your flesh is creeping and you’re starting to feel uncomfortable, the story is working,” says Gaiman. “As long as human beings have been telling each other stories, they’ve been telling each other really scary stories. They’d be sitting there in the cave with the fire burning, and they’d tell each other about the things that were even more scary than the things they normally encountered out there.”

For him, the purpose of horror stories crystallized from the reaction young women have to his book Coraline, which he calls “a very scary book for little kids, intentionally.” Gaiman says he wrote the book for his daughter, Holly, who planted the seed of the idea in his mind when she was in kindergarten. (“I remember going to the local book shop and asking, ‘What have you got in the way of horror for 5 or 6 year olds?’ And I got looked at in a way that meant I was going to have to write one.”) To this day, Gaiman often meets women who tell him that Coraline helped them through their darkest times.

“That’s what it’s for. It’s there because a little bit of fear in a safe place is like being inoculated,” says Gaiman. “It gives you something you can go through and be sure that you’ll come out the other end. It teaches you to be brave.”

And with that, he begins the story of “Click-Clack the Rattlebag.” It starts: “Before you take me up to bed, will you tell me a story? »