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Literature / Neverwhere

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That's okay. I'll put it in the book.

On Friday I had a job, a fiancee, and a life that made sense. (Well, as much as any life makes sense.) Then I found an injured girl bleeding on the pavement, and I tried to be a Good Samaritan. Now I've got no fiancee, no home, no job, and I'm walking around a couple of hundred feet under the streets of London with the projected life expectancy of a suicidal fruitfly.
Richard Mayhew

Neverwhere is an Urban Fantasy story by Neil Gaiman about an Unlucky Everydude named Richard Mayhew, whose life is going uneventfully until one day he stops to be a Good Samaritan to an injured young homeless woman named Door. He discovers that Door is being targeted by two assassins named Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, and is trying to escape them with the help of the eccentric Marquis de Carabas. As a result, Richard finds himself pulled into the Dark World of London Below, populated with a colorful and often deadly cast of characters with strange ties to London and its environs, as he struggles to protect Door and find his way back to his own reality. One thing's for sure: you'll never look at The London Underground the same way again.

The story began life in 1996 as a television series for the BBC, co-developed with Lenny Henry. While the end result was reasonably well received, Gaiman felt that it was not entirely true to his vision due to Executive Meddling and budget constraints, and wrote a novelization to reflect the story as it was in his imagination, indirectly launching his career as a novelist.note 

It was later adapted by Mike Carey and Glenn Fabry as a miniseries for Vertigo Comics. (The series was explicitly based on Gaiman's novel, rather than the BBC's televised version.)

A movie version has been in Development Hell for a few decades now.

There have been several stage adaptations, most successfully a 2010 adaption by Robert Kauzlaric, which has been performed by several professional theaters. Gaiman was not involved in the adaptation, but gave it his thumbs up.

In March 2013, BBC Radio 4 aired a radio play version, adapted and directed by Dirk Maggs, and starring an astounding who's-who of British actors, led by James McAvoy as Richard and Natalie Dormer as Door. The radio play can be heard here.

There is also now a short story in the same universe, How the Marquis Got His Coat Back. Gaiman has teased for a while that he may be writing a sequel novel with the working title The Seven Sisters.

Tropes used in this work include:

  • Above Good and Evil: Islington likes to think of themself as this.
  • Absurdly-Spacious Sewer: There are entire clans of people who make their homes and livelihoods in the sewers and Tube tunnels of London Below. The Sewer Folk are trustworthy enough if you don't mind the smell.
  • Accidental Truth: Towards the end, Richard pretends to have a key the antagonists want. He lies so badly that they assume (correctly) that he's trying to protect Door and ignore him. Unbeknownst to him, she'd slipped the key into his back pocket.
  • Action Survivor: Richard by the end of the story, to the point where the Marquis would like to keep one of his bones after he dies as a good luck charm.
  • Afterlife Express: An especially gruesome variant, in the form of a subway car filled with the rotting corpses of people who had committed suicide.
  • All Wishes Granted: Neil Gaiman freely admits to cribbing from The Wizard of Oz. Everyone gets their wish. Door learns who killed her family and avenges them. Richard gets a way home. The Marquis is owed a significant favor by Lady Door. Even Hunter gets her wish, which was the chance to hunt the Beast of London Below.
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: For no real reason, the comics show Anaesthesia (an otherwise normal human, mind you) as being blue. An otherwise normal human who was born in London Above. In that same comic, the Marquis, described as having very dark skin, has solid, pitch black skin. Like Papa Lazarou.
  • Anachronism Stew: London Below. It's described a fair bit in the book, and is especially evident in the TV series.
    "There's a lot of time in London, and it doesn't all get used up at once".
    • Door's family home is an "associative house", a hodge-podge of rooms stolen from forgotten buildings of completely different eras that are all linked by portals that only her family can travel though. Or so they thought... Her father's study also contains an 18th century steampunk video journal.
    • Door makes a passing reference to a group of Roman Legionnaires camped out by the Kilburn River.
    • The Earl holds a medieval court on a Tube train with his courtiers armed with both crossbows and assault rifles. Banquets and toasts are had with fizzy drinks and chocolate bars from vending machines.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The Marquis answers Richard's call, they step together through a door in the wall that wasn't there seconds ago into London Below, and the story ends.
  • Animal Stereotypes: Croup and Vandemar are described as giving very clear impressions of "a fox and a wolf". The rat-speakers are sneaky and live in the sewers with the rats they serve, and their leader is described as being hunched over with his wrists clasped to his chest like a rat standing on its hind legs to paw at something. Lady Serpentine is, well, serpentine. Hunter is often compared to a lioness. The Marquis de Carabas is generally described in catlike terms, even being compared to a panther at one point, and, of course, his name comes from Puss in Boots. He even has more than one life, in a fashion.
  • Animalistic Abomination: The Beast of London, which is based off the legend of the Black Sewer swine.
  • Apothecary Alligator: In Lord Portico's study.
    "the stuffed crocodile hanging from the ceiling; the leather-bound books, an astrolabe, convex and concave mirrors, odd scientific instruments..."
  • Arc Words: Sometimes, there's nothing you can do.
  • Badass Boast:
    • Hunter has slain the great alligator who lives in the sewers of New York, the bear that lurks beneath Berlin, and several others, and now she's going after the Beast of London.
    • Croup and Vandemar also never tire of telling people how many, and how painfully, they've killed.
    Mr. Croup: We have assassinated a dozen kings, five popes, half a hundred heroes and two accredited gods. We are utterly professional. My point? My point is that we are assassins. We are cutthroats. We are not scarecrows.
  • Batman Gambit: Three of them.
    • One by the Marquis. He goes to see Croup and Vandemar for information, knowing they'll kill him and gloat. However, he has arranged the means for his revival, meaning he can get potentially valuable information from their gloating.
    • A second by Islington. He was the one who hired Croup and Vandemar to kill Door's family, sending her on the run and thus keeping pressure on her so she'll be desperate, along with planting evidence showing him as trustworthy.
    • Anticipating the second, there's a third by Door, with help from Hammersmith. She hides the real key on Richard so that she only has a duplicate, which lets her open the door to as far away as she can in case of Islington's betrayal.
  • Bazaar of the Bizarre: The Floating Market is a major, if transient, hub in London Below, where almost anything can be traded for almost anything else: information for a handkerchief, an iron rose for a bag of cheese, a choice corpse for three quarters of a bottle of Chanel N°5, a Hand of Glory ("guaranteed to work") for some junk, and a somewhat alive guide for... unspecified Liquid Assets, among many others. There's also some great curry.
  • Beast in the Maze: The Beast of London is an archetypal mythical creature comparable to the alligators in the sewers of New York. It takes the form of a gigantic boar and prowls a maze far, far, beneath the city, where it also incidentally guards the prison of the angel Islington.
  • Big Bad: Islington, with Croup and Vandemar as a collective Heavy.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The Marquis showing up just in time to prevent Lamia from killing Richard and force her to give back the life force she stole from him.
  • Bizarrchitecture: In the comic, "Down Street" is rather literal. It somehow sticks to the side of a cliff, and can only be abseiled down.
  • The Blacksmith: Hammersmith, as the name suggests.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: Croup and Vandemar approach Varney and order him to become Door's bodyguard for this express purpose. Fortunately for Door, he loses the spot to Hunter. ...who it turns out does the same anyway, as she was also in their employ.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Well, as I live, breathe, and defecate, good old Hammersmith fits this trope! Har har har! He's described in the book as being able to do a very good impression of a mountain except for his beard, and is a cheery man who absolutely dotes on Door.
  • Book Ends: The novel begins and ends with Richard leaving a less-than-satisfying pub gathering, and encountering an old (possibly even the same) bag lady.
  • Brains and Brawn: Croup is a sesquipedalian schemer, while Vandemar is The Brute. Both of them are very skilled assassins, though.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The Black Friars, in both versions.
  • Bury Your Gays: The subtlety of Hunter's sexuality isn't enough to save her from this trope, apparently.
  • Butt-Monkey: Richard. Being new to London Below, he stumbles into many pitfalls that any native would know to steer far clear of.
  • The Cameo: Neil Gaiman plays the Fop with No Name and Mr. Figgis the security guard in the BBC radio production.
  • Captain Obvious: Richard Mayhew, when Door awakes. Lampshaded — he thinks about how much he hates saying obvious things, but can't help it.
  • Character Name Alias: 'The Marquis de Carabas' isn't his real name — he says he got it from a "lie in a fairy tale", a reference to Puss in Boots.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The quartz crystal from Anaesthesia's bracelet.
  • Chekhov's Gunmen: Old Bailey and Hammersmith.
  • Choosy Beggar: After being forgotten by the surface world, Richard is failing to use an ATM when he's approached by a vagrant named Iliaster, begging for change. A frustrated Richard hands him his debit card and says there's several hundred pounds on it if he can get to it. Iliaster snorts, "That and sixty pence would get me a nice cup of tea," and tosses the card back to him. Later it turns out that Iliaster is himself in London Below, so this is justified, as he'd probably just have the same problem Richard did.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: A favoured pastime of Croup and Vandemar, as the Marquis finds out: they crucify him to a makeshift wooden frame and slice him to pieces with abandoned medical equipment.
    • Later they threaten to torture Richard if Door doesn't do as Islington asks.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Vandemar's response to Croup's razor-throwing practice. "What's so clever about that, then? You didn't even hit one finger."
  • Cool Gate: The door that the key opens, and the Angelus.
  • Cool Key: The key kept by the Black Friars — as the "key to all reality", in the hands of an Opener it can make them an outright Reality Warper. It's never described in the text aside from being silver, but is shown in the comic as an elaborate Skeleton Key. In the miniseries, it's a simple four-pronged key hung on a large silver loop.
  • Crazy-Prepared: The Marquis always seems to have something useful for the situation at hand, including, oddly, a large piece of fruitcake.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: Shepherd's Bush and Raven's Court, among many other things.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: All the people of London Below swear by "Temple and Arch". It's never quite explained what this refers to, but it is thematically appropriate, given the deeper meanings of the other place names.
  • Cultural Translation: For the original U.S. edition, Gaiman cut a lot of British references and humor that his editors thought American audiences wouldn’t get, and added several thousand words of new material to make up for it. The two versions were eventually reconciled into an “Author’s Preferred Text” for the 20th anniversary edition.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: In-universe, Richard wonders why the patrons at the market don't loot the shops in Harrod's while it's closed.
  • Darkness Equals Death: Night's Bridge. The darkness there isn't the absence of light, but a darkness that can (and does) take people away.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The Black Friars are associated with darkness, all having names that have something to do with darkness like "bilious" and "fuliginous", and are initially quite threatening to our heroes, but they're not actually evil. In fact, they're the ones guarding the key that keeps the real villain, Islington, locked in its prison.
  • Dark World: Right after Richard notices and saves Door and thus involves himself in the mess of Neverwhere, he suddenly finds that his ATM card no longer functions and people in his life act as if he was missing or never existed at all. While a good deal of Neverwhere does take place underground, there are moments where it's clear that "London Below" occasionally extends aboveground but remains unseen by the average human being in the 'real world', especially on rooftops. Near the end, once Richard returns to the 'real world,' his ATM card is shown to function normally once more, and those same people who forgot about him at the beginning recognize him and welcome him back from his supposed vacation.
  • Death Equals Redemption: Hunter betrays Door to get the spear so she can face the Beast of London. After being mortally wounded in the confrontation, she helps Richard to defeat it, saying this is the recompense for her betrayal.
  • Debt Detester: The Marquis de Carabas. He prefers it when people owe him things.
  • Delusions of Eloquence: Croup and Vandemar, but especially Croup. Croup lampshades it.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Lord Portico laughed at Islington when the angel asked him to release it. Islington responded by hiring Croup and Vandemar to kill Portico and most of his family.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Islington, most of the time.
  • Dragged Off to Hell: The final fate of Islington, Croup and Vandemar — sucked into a vortex that could be anything from the Sun to a black hole.
  • Dramatic Necklace Removal: Inevitably, Islington rips off the key Door had on a chain around her neck. She winces, but seems fine for all that it was made by a master blacksmith.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Richard has recurring dreams of the Beast of London, presaging his confrontation with it at the end.
  • Driven to Suicide: How the Ordeal of the Key works — it attempts to drive whoever is undergoing the Ordeal to suicide, and many do. Those who live are never the same.
  • Egomaniac Hunter: Hunter. Her only real purpose is stalking the beasts of cities.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Hunter is exactly what you might expect.
  • Evil Gloating: Invoked by the Marquis, who lets himself be (temporarily) killed because he has no doubt that someone like Croup would tell him their entire plan before killing him.
  • Evil Redeemed in a Can: After the destruction of Atlantis, this was Heaven's plan with the Angel Islington, to lock him up in London Below to reflect and repent, and when he had learned his lesson, he would be released. Unfortunately, Islington decided he didn't deserve his punishment, and tried to arrange for an early release. It did not go as planned, though.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin:
    • There really is a Knight's Bridge, there really is an Earl's Court, there really is an Angel Islington, etc. It's all a lot more potent if you know the London Underground station map, i.e., live in London.
    • Also, guess what Hunter and Hammersmith do for a living.
    • Door opens doors...and sometimes chests.
  • Exact Words:
    • In the comic, the Marquis gets Croup and Vandemar to give him half an hour's Mercy Lead — except they only promise not to touch him for half an hour. This doesn't mean they can't follow him, or tear a ladder off a wall while he's climbing it. (As opposed to the book, where they promise him an hour and then just straight-up break their word.)
    • "When the city of Atlantis sank beneath the waves, there was nothing I could do to prevent it." ...because it deliberately caused the city to do so.
  • Expy:
    • Gaiman has said that creating the Marquis de Carabas was his opportunity to write a pseudo-Doctor character.
    • Readers may also sense a bit of the Marquis in the cat from Gaiman's later book, Coraline.
  • The Faceless: The Marquis de Carabas in the comics is an odd example: he has eyes and lips, but no other features, as the rest of his body is just a silhouette. He is described in the book as having extremely dark skin, as his actor in the original miniseries is Black, and it is to be assumed the artist took it literally and gave him ink-black skin.
    • Although after he gets killed and brought back to life, the ink-black is streaked in places, revealing skin of a lighter shade underneath, so it may be some kind of costume or disguise.
  • Facial Markings: In the comic adaptation, Door's family all have keyhole-shaped marks over their right eye.
  • Fallen Angel: A reference is made to Lucifer being a fallen angel. Islington doesn't think highly of him. Specifically, it thinks he's a thug, and it's unfair that Islington is treated similarly.
  • False Innocence Trick: The Angel Islington seems to be a trusted ally to the heroes, and informs them that it is tasked with protecting London Below due to its previous failure to adequately defend its previous city, Atlantis. They should have asked for more detail about that before helping to free it. It destroyed Atlantis because it wasn't satisfied with their worship, and it's basically a Fallen Angel in the tradition of Satan with A God Am I pretensions, aiming to storm Heaven and declare itself God.
  • Fantasy Keepsake: Used twice in different ways: during the Ordeal, Richard is able to rebuff the illusion that he's mad and homeless by finding a quartz bead from Anesthesia's necklace on his person. Later, Richard keeps the knife given to him by Hunter after returning to London Above, although since it's just a knife, it doesn't entirely reassure him as to its reality. He also finds the feather given to him by Old Bailey in the book, which again, isn't much proof.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: The world of London Below appears to be this, consisting of angels, giant beasts, ice vampires, people who can talk to rats, rats who can talk to people, ancient Roman legions, and all kinds of crazy stuff.
  • Fate Worse than Death:
    • What will happen if you violate the truce of the floating market. The last person who broke it is still being punished; per Hunter, he's "alive-ish" and has long wished for death.
    • Also if you fail the final Ordeal of the Black Friars. The ordeal itself is no fun, either.
    • Implied to be the case for those taken by the Night's Bridge.
  • Faux Affably Evil:
    • Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar. Mr. Croup even Lampshades that they may be quirky and amusing, but that doesn't stop them from being dangerous and terrifying.
    • Also Islington after the reveal before its Villainous Breakdown. "I didn't kill your family, Door. I had them killed..."
  • Feet-First Introduction: The barefoot angel Islington.
  • Fiction 500: Arnold Stockton, Jessica's employer, owns a multimedia empire and pays to have the Angelus restored for his own enjoyment.
  • Five-Finger Fillet: Mr Croup places his hand against a wall and throws several razor blades at it, landing in the spaces in between his fingers. Mr Vandemar is unimpressed with the fact that he missed all of them.
  • invokedFridge Logic: In-universe — Door wonders, in a dream, who put away her father's journal after he was killed, but forgets this by the time she wakes. The answer turns out to be significant.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Door and the Marquis search Lord Portico's study and unearth his journal from the secret hiding place. Portico's last entry shows him being killed in the middle of recording. As Door figures out, although tragically not fast enough to do anything, these two things don't add up. Croup and Vandemar doctored the last journal entry to trick her into trusting Islington.
    • Door sees the deaths of all of her family except for her sister Ingress; she's seen in a memory with Lady Portia, but the memory ends just as Portia is murdered. Islington, Croup and Vandermar have a discussion about how a plan isn't working since the person involved is too young, so they need to drive Door to get the key. Come the climax and as Door banishes Islington, it desperately tells her that Ingress is still alive in an effort to be spared.
  • Full-Boar Action: The Beast of London. Other cities are stated to have had similar giant animals (a bear in Berlin, an alligator in New York). Note the "had" — they're mostly mentioned in the context of Hunter having killed them.
  • Gave Up Too Soon: Door agrees to meet up with the Marquis at the floating market. They could have touched him, had they known where he was. Dead at the Sewer Folk's stall. By the time he gets better, they have already left.
  • Genie in a Bottle: One of these is for sale at the Floating Market.
  • Glamour Failure: Islington, when asked about Atlantis.
  • A God Am I: Islington has issues.
  • Grand Vizier: Richard describes the Marquis as one, as the page quote demonstrates. He's not evil, but this is definitely an invocation of the trope.
  • Hand of Glory:
    ...a man thrust what appeared to be a child's severed hand clutching a candle toward him as he passed, muttering, "Hand of Glory, sir? Send 'em up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire. Guaranteed to work." Richard hurried past, not wishing to find out what a Hand of Glory was, nor how it worked...
  • Harbinger of Impending Doom: At the beginning, Door drops onto the sidewalk in front of Richard, out of nowhere and half-dead. His life abruptly gets a lot weirder.
  • Heart Is an Awesome Power: Opening things, to anywhere, whether there was a door there or not. The first way we see Door use her power is to open up an assassin's chest.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Hunter makes one near the end in the labyrinth.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Hunter distracts the Beast in order to give Richard the opportunity to kill it, although it's implied that she was essentially dying anyway before doing so, so this may be more of a Dying Moment of Awesome.
    • Also, the Marquis. He gets better.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: In a weird villain example, Croup and Vandemar. Richard isn't even particularly surprised at the end when Vandemar allows himself to be sucked into the vortex at the end because Croup has already fallen in.
    It made some sort of sense, Richard thought: they were a team, after all.
  • Homeless Pigeon Person: Old Bailey. He constantly talks to his birds.
  • Home Sweet Home: Richard's primary motivation after being dragged into the adventure is to get home.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Croup and Vandemar. Whatever they are, they only look human, and have the ability to cross space and time.
  • I'm a Humanitarian:
    • The exact fate of the hired thug Varney is probably best not examined too closely. Then again, Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar both seem to have some Extreme Omnivore tendencies.
    • Also implied with the curry vendor Richard visits at the second Floating Market. He asks what exactly the meat option is, and whatever answer the vendor gives makes him decide to get everybody vegetable curry instead.
  • I'm Cold... So Cold...: While he never says the trope, the Marquis de Carabas describes death as "very dark, and very cold".
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Door recalls someone doing this in a flashback. Also, poor, poor Richard after Door and the Marquis briefly abandon him.
  • Intangible Price: The Marquis deals in favors, and Lamia wants to be paid in Richard's life.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Averted. The narration, and most of the characters, use "it" to refer to the sexless Islington, and nobody objects.

  • King of the Homeless: There's a whole feudal system among the denizens of London Below, but there doesn't seem to be any particular overlord. The highest-ranking single person seems to be the Earl of Earl's Court.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Mr. Vandemar gives up after seeing Mr. Croup get sucked into the portal to hell, and consigns himself to the same fate.
  • Leaving You to Find Myself: Possibly part of the reason why Richard chooses to go back home to his life in London Above and part ways with Door and the Marquis near the end.
  • Large Ham: "Mr. Croup likes words," the narration tells us. Does he ever. This also extends to the audiobook, where Neil Gaiman is clearly having a hell of a time reading his lines.
    • Taken up to eleven in the radio adaptation as he's played by Anthony Head.
  • Light Is Not Good: Islington. It's associated with light through the candles that cover every surface in its prison and its shimmering robe, and it is an angel, after all. However, given that it was the one who commissioned Messrs. Croup and Vandemar to kill Door and her entire family, it is definitely not good.
  • Literal-Minded: Mr. Vandemar. Given the setting, he's right half the time.
  • Living Legend: Hunter has hunted and will hunt anything.
  • Living MacGuffin: Door, due to her status and abilities.
  • MacGuffin: The Black Friars' Key.
  • MacGuffin Super-Person: Door spends most of the book being chased by everyone in sight because a) she's Lord Portico's daughter, and b) she has the family ability to open doors. This is a lot more valuable than it sounds.
  • Magical Homeless Person: There's an entire population of hobo wizards. Once you've entered into their world, mundane humans tend to either ignore you, or not recognize you. The actual level of magical powers they have varies a great deal.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • During the Victorian era, Henry Mayhew did an in-depth study of the darker side of "London Above". Also, the Marquis de Carabas is the fake title given by Puss in Boots to the miller's son he assists, although the character in Neverwhere has more in common with the cat than with his master, in both de Carabas' scheming and his multiple lives. The Marquis is stated to have picked his name deliberately. Realizing that the world runs on lies, he decided to become a lie, taking the name of a character whose life ran on a lie.
    • "Anaesthesia" is suspiciously similar to "Anastasia", especially considering that she disappears. But she might come back some time after the book is over.
    • Door's family, in line with their inherited ability as "Openers", all have names that suggest a door or entrance: her mother and father the Lord Portico and Lady Portia, her sister Ingress, her brother Arch.
    • Lamia is named after Greek demons which have a lot in common with vampires.
    • All of the Black Friars have names related to the color black, shadows, or darkness.
    • And Hunter. Guess what she does for a living.
  • Metaphorically True: Mr. Croup's claim that he, Mr. Vandemar, and Door are siblings. "All men are brothers."
  • Mind Screw: Richard is subjected to this during their visit to the Black Friars. Arguably, he's subjected to this for most of the book.
  • The Mole: Hunter, as she was hired by Croup and Vandemar to serve as their spy on Door.
  • Murder, Inc.: "Croup and Vandemar, the Old Firm, obstacles obliterated, nuisances eradicated, bothersome limbs removed, and tutelary dentistry."note  In the comic adaptation, this tends to get abbreviated to "Croup and Vandemar, bespoke violence."
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Hunter experiences this after the Beast mows her down, leading to her Heel–Face Turn.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast:
    • He trusted Lamia?
    • Hunter seems to have this sort of reputation in-universe — at one point the characters are each being made fun of in turn by a jester as they introduce themselves. When Hunter offers her name, everybody gets really quiet.
    • Also, Serpentine. The moment Door realizes they're in her house, she goes nuts.
  • New Weird: Underneath (and sometimes above) the London we know, there's a Fantasy Kitchen Sink world where angels, Greek demon-inspired ice vampires, and humans with the power to open anything all co-exist side by side. Figurative names in London Above are literal in London Below, with Knightsbridge becoming the shadowy Night's Bridge, The Angel in Islington becoming an angel named Islington, and Blackfriars becoming an order of Black friars associated with darkness. Also, Atlantis is real, though it was destroyed many thousands of years ago. Our hero lives an extremely ordinary life in London Above, but he ends up falling through the cracks in our world into the fantasy world below.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Mr. Stockton is a somewhat less abrasive version of Rupert Murdoch, although Murdoch is specifically named in the book as a counterpart to Stockton.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Richard gets unpersoned for the crime of helping someone from London Below.
  • Non-Action Protagonist:
  • The Not-Love Interest: While drunk on Atlantean wine, Richard and Door have an Almost Kiss, and that's it. Intentionally avoided by Neil Gaiman, as he never did have Door's age penned down when writing the miniseries.
  • Odd Couple: Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar are pretty much opposites, apart from their fashion sense, powers, and love of killing things.
  • Oh, Crap!: The first indication we get that freeing Islington is not a good idea. After the trio leave the Black Friars upon winning the ordeal and the MacGuffin, the Father says, 'We have lost the key. God help us all.'
  • Only Mostly Dead: Did we mention what an awesomely Magnificent Bastard the Marquis de Carabas was? After conning the villains into killing him, gaining vital info in the process, it turns out he'd hidden his life in a box and left it with one of the supporting characters all along.
  • The Only One I Trust: Old Bailey would appear to be this for the Marquis. The Marquis quite literally trusts him with his life, and rather touchingly when you consider he'd probably be better off if he didn't, Old Bailey earns it.
    • Although it should be pointed out that the Marquis trusts Old Bailey not for any reason of comradeship or sentimentality, but because Old Bailey has no choice but to return the Marquis's favour. "I was a fool..."
  • Only the Worthy May Pass: The only way to get the key is to go through an Ordeal.
  • Otherworldly and Sexually Ambiguous: Islington, being an angel, has no biological sex, and is consistently referred to as "it".
  • Our Angels Are Different: Islington. It looks essentially human, except for its uncanny black eyes in the miniseries, and appears to have no special supernatural powers, though this may be a side effect of its imprisonment. However, it is decidedly not a force of good, as it was the mastermind behind the murder of Door's family and uses their murder to manipulate Door into freeing it to conquer Heaven for itself.
  • Our Doors Are Different: Doors are more or less mundane, but when opened by members of the Portico family, they can go anywhere. The Door trapping Islington, however...
  • Our Vampires Are Different: They're called Velvets, they dress like elegant Gothic aristocrats, are apparently all women, and suck the heat out of the body of whoever's dumb enough to kiss them. The Velvets actually have a good bit in common with the Japanese folk monster yuki-onna (snow woman), down to the freezing kiss.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: Possibly. Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar are described as merely "human shaped, two arms, two legs, one head," by Door, are functionally unkillable, and run on Animal Stereotypes so strongly that "the Fox and the Wolf" may not be mere nicknames. They are also not above making accomplices who fail them disappear in a flurry of teeth, claws and small knives. They border on Our Ghouls Are Creepier and Our Demons Are Different. What they are is never made clear, but whatever it is, it ain't human.
  • Perception Filter: Normal people are unable to notice those from London Below, except in very extreme cases.
  • Pluralses: Old Bailey asks for "shoeses and gloveses" from the Marquis.
  • The Power of Blood: Type AB — blood from the Beast confers the ability to navigate the Labyrinth upon Richard.
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone:
    • Richard has nightmares about the Beast of London long before he ever hears of it.
    • In the novel, he also at one point dreams of a figure falling as its wings burn; this, in hindsight, must have been Islington's expulsion from Heaven.
  • Psycho for Hire: Croup and Vandemar.
  • Race Lift: A peculiar variant occurs in the comic with the Marquis de Carabas. Unlike every other version of the story, where he's black in the conventional sense, the comic portrays him as having absolutely black skin, but otherwise with European features.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Islington is pissed at Heaven for expelling him.
  • Red Baron: Richard gains the nickname The Warrior after killing the Beast. It's implied that Hunter's moniker may be an example of this, as well.
  • Red Herring: The end of one chapter makes it look like the Marquis will be revealed as Croup and Vandemar's employer.
  • Red Pill, Blue Pill: Richard spends most of the story striving to find a way to get back to his old life. When he does, even though he gets a cushy penthouse apartment and a promotion with Jessica willing to build their relationship again, he regrets it.
  • Replaced with Replica: After the protagonists get the key Islington is after, Door makes a copy and gives the original to Richard, so that when they are captured, Islington will take it from her without getting the real thing.
  • Rescue Introduction: How Richard meets Door when he takes her home after finding her lying and bleeding on a cold London Above street.
  • Resurrection Gambit: The Marquis de Carabas does this, hiding his life force in a Soul Jar that is then left in Old Bailey's safekeeping, so that he can allow himself to be caught and murdered by Croup and Vandemar, all so that he can find out who their employer is.
  • Resurrection Sickness: Literally. The first thing the Marquis does after being resurrected is vomit profusely. Justified, as he has a lot of sewer water in his lungs.
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder: Mr. Vandemar, repeatedly.
    • Croup: What do you want?!
      The Marquis: What does anyone want?
      Vandemar: Dead things. Extra teeth.
    • Croup: Oh, Mr. Vandemar, if you cut us do we not bleed?
      Vandemar: ... No.
  • Rich Bitch: Jessica is a downplayed example, being merely self-centred and wrapped up in her own privileged problems rather than cruel or malicious. Her introductory Kick the Dog moment essentially involves her ignoring a homeless person in need, and how many readers haven't been guilty of that at some point?
  • Room 101: The room the Black Friars put Richard in for "the ordeal."
  • Rule of Three: Getting the key from the Black Friars requires passing three tests — and coincidentally, there are just three people in Door's party by then. Also the requirements for Islington to be freed from its prison; as Islington describes it, "A key. A door. An opener of the door. There must be the three, you see: a particularly refined sort of joke."
  • Rummage Sale Reject: Door's wardrobe is described as follows:
    She was dressed in a variety of clothes thrown over each other: odd clothes, dirty velvets, muddy lace, rips and holes through which other layers and styles could be seen. She looked, Richard thought, as if she'd done a midnight raid on the History of Fashion section of the Victoria and Albert museum, and was still wearing everything she'd taken.
    • Somewhat forgotten in the comic; Door's clothing is still somewhat hodgepodge, but it coheres into some sort of noble style.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Anaesthesia's death serves to show how high the stakes are, and motivates Richard to keep forging on to honor her sacrifice.
  • Scenery Porn/Scenery Gorn: The original series, by the BBC, uses London's hidden and grimy underside practically as an extra character, and has some spectacular shots of the Royal Mail tunnels, the Greathead Shield, Down Street Station, St. Pancras/Midland Grand Hotel and Bazalgette's sewers.
    Mr. Croup: It is saddening to reflect that there are folk walking the streets above who will never know the beauty of these sewers, Mister Vandemar.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Okay, so it's more like "Sealed Evil in a room full of candles."
  • Senseless Sacrifice: The Marquis allows himself to be tortured to death (temporarily) by Croup and Vandemar, so that they will let slip info on their employer and purpose, but by the time he gets back to the rest of the characters, that particular cat is already out of the bag.
  • Sequel Hook: Door's sister, who Islington left alive in case manipulating Door didn't work out. Though Gaiman says he "doesn't do sequels", another book in the same universe is entirely possible — see American Gods and Anansi Boys.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Mr Croup. To a lesser extent, the Marquis.
  • Sewer Gator: Hunter, in a Badass Boast, says that she killed the biggest of the New York sewer gators.
    Hunter's voice was quiet and intense. She did not break her step as she spoke. "I fought in the sewers beneath New York with the great blind white alligator-king. He was thirty feet long, fat from sewage and fierce in battle. And I bested him, and I killed him. His eyes were like huge pearls in the darkness."
  • Ship Tease: Richard and Door. If they do ever get together, it happens after the book is over.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Shrine to the Fallen: The Black Friars maintain one of these for "those who failed" to pass the Ordeal. It's essentially a colossal corridor filled with hundreds of pictures and portraits that seem to span back centuries.
  • Single-Stroke Battle: Hunter vs. the Beast of London. She loses.
  • Single Substance Manipulation: Door and her family have a talent called opening: they can unlock any door or lock by focusing on it, but it can be broadened to opening anything. in an extreme example, Door uses it on an attacker's heart, which gets real bloody real quick).
  • Sinister Subway: London Below.
    • Arguably a case of Truth in Television in the BBC series, as a large number of scenes were actually shot in out-of-use sections of the London Underground.
  • The Sociopath: The Marquis is a rare heroic version.
  • Soul Jar: The box that the Marquis de Carabas gives to Old Bailey.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: What emotions do you associate with "Cheek to Cheek" by Irving Berlin? Utter, quivering terror? You do now.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Mr. Croup has this as a supernatural ability in the miniseries.
  • Stealth Pun: The Black Friars are all played by actors of African descent in the miniseries and Radio 4 production, and described as having dark brown skin in the book — i.e., they're all Black.
  • Steampunk: The way Door's father's journal works is extremely Steampunk. Other technology of London Below seems to tend toward it as well.
  • Stock Unsolved Mysteries: Atlantis was destroyed by a vengeful angel, and some lost Roman legionnaires fell into a time pocket.
  • Stripperific: In Neil Gaiman's audio commentary on the DVD release of the miniseries, one of his complaints is that Hunter was meant to be stripperific, and she didn't turn out that way due to the aforementioned Executive Meddling.
  • Straight Gay: Hunter.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land Richard realises that his old job and fiancée mean nothing to him and returns to London Below, giving up his life Above for more adventures with Door and the Marquis.
  • Suicide Dare: When Richard is doing the Ordeal, various billboards suggest throwing himself in front of the train would be a good idea.
  • Terrifying Pet Store Rat: Gaiman wanted the Beast of London to be a wild boar, but the people who were sent to the boar farms said they were too friendly and they ended up using a Highland cow.
  • Thanatos Gambit: The Marquis arranges his own death at the hands of Croup and Vandemar, in order to gain intel from the inevitable Evil Gloating. He also arranges to return from the dead afterward.
  • Theme Naming: Door's family are all named after words for entrances to buildings (Ingress, Arch, Lord Portico and Lady Portia), the Black Friars are named after synonyms for the color black or adjectives describing darkness, and most of the other characters (including the Black Friars' order itself) are named after buildings or neighbourhoods in London — or rather, buildings or neighborhoods in London have been named after most of the other characters. A lot of people share names with stops or locations on The London Underground as well.
  • Time Abyss: The Labyrinth of the Beast of London is said to have lain there under the site on the Thames before the legendary King Lud himself founded the first village. It was built to keep a Sealed Evil in a Can, though the Beast only arrived in the 17th century.
    • Older still are Islington and Croup and Vandemar, although in the latter's case this might be due to their possible ability to move through time.
  • Time for Plan B: Islington points out to Croup and Vandemar that, with Richard as captive, Door can almost certainly just be asked to use the Key. Richard says he'll never talk...
    Mr. Croup: Back to Plan A then. Cut off his ear.
  • Truce Zone: The Floating Market functions as one of these. While sparring is apparently permitted if you're auditioning bodyguards, no-one — not even Croup and Vandemar — dares any real violence. The last time someone violated Market truce was a few hundred years ago, and he is still being punished.
  • Unfazed Everyman: Richard. Even down to being given an Arthur Dent shout out with Door calling him "Richardrichardmayhewdick."
  • Unperson: Richard, who unwittingly causes his own disappearance through an act of kindness.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee:
    • We see Croup and Vandemar's plan to get Varney installed as Door's bodyguard fail. However, they made a plan offscreen to have Hunter become the bodyguard, which succeeded.
    • The marquis' plan to get info from Croup and Vandemar goes exactly as planned, right down to being killed. However, to the audience, it looks like it went horribly wrong.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Spectacularly, Islington, when asked about the fate of Atlantis:
    They deserved it!
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe:
    • London Below is apparently inhabited totally by these: the ones who fish through the sewers and have the smell to match, the various bodyguards, the "Shepherds of Shepherd's Bush", the Renfair nuts who live on the Earl's Court train...
    • Meanwhile, Door herself apparently is the sole survivor of the massacre of her family because she ran into a Wacky Wayside Tribe of timelost Roman legionnaires. In fact, the clannishness and disparity of the different cultures of London Below was a pressing concern of Door's late father — he wanted to find a way to unite the people so they would stop warring.
  • Wainscot Society: London Below and its counterparts are well-developed, if chaotic, hidden societies hidden in the cracks between and below major world cities.
  • Wham Line: The Abbot saying "We have lost the key. God help us all." is the first indication that Islington isn't as great as he seems. In fact, the next chapter shows that he's the one who hired Croup and Vandemar.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Richard's fears are heights, blood, and rats, all of which play rather important parts in the story.
  • Wicked Cultured: Mr. Croup's efforts to acquire an exquisite porcelain statuette look like this at first. Then he eats it with terrifying glee. He simply loves to destroy precious and beautiful things.
  • Wizard Workshop: Lord Portico's study contains various leather-bound books, an astrolabe, mirrors, assorted scientific instruments, and a stuffed crocodile hanging from the ceiling.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Richard wants to, but it really seems he can't.
  • You Never Asked: When asked why he never warned them that freeing Islington was a horrible idea, the Abbot only says it wasn't his responsibility (even though he dreaded the possibility).