Gaiman's family is of Polish and other Eastern European Jewish origins; his great-grandfather emigrated from Antwerp before 1914 and his grandfather eventually settled in the Hampshire city of Portsmouth and established a chain of grocery stores. His father, David Bernard Gaiman, worked in the same chain of stores; his mother, Sheila Gaiman (née Goldman), was a pharmacist. He has two younger sisters, Claire and Lizzy. After living for a period in the nearby town of Portchester, Hampshire, where Neil was born in 1960, the Gaimans moved in 1965 to the West Sussex town of East Grinstead where his parents studied Dianetics at the Scientology centre in the town; one of Gaiman's sisters works for the Church of Scientology in Los Angeles. His other sister, Lizzy Calcioli, has said, "Most of our social activities were involved with Scientology or our Jewish family. It would get very confusing when people would ask my religion as a kid. I’d say, 'I’m a Jewish Scientologist.'" Gaiman says that he is not a Scientologist, and that like Judaism, Scientology is his family's religion.
Gaiman was able to read at the age of four. He said, "I was a reader. I loved reading. Reading things gave me pleasure. I was very good at most subjects in school, not because I had any particular aptitude in them, but because normally on the first day of school they'd hand out schoolbooks, and I'd read them--which would mean that I'd know what was coming up, because I'd read it." One work that made a particular impression on him was J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings from his school library, although it only had the first two books in the trilogy. He consistently took them out and read them. He would later win the school English prize and the school reading prize, enabling him to finally acquire the third book in the trilogy.
For his seventh birthday, Gaiman received C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia series. He later recalled that "I admired his use of parenthetical statements to the reader, where he would just talk to you ... I'd think, 'Oh, my gosh, that is so cool! I want to do that! When I become an author, I want to be able to do things in parentheses.' I liked the power of putting things in brackets." Narnia also introduced him to literary awards, specifically the 1956 Carnegie Medal won by the concluding volume. When he won the 2010 Medal himself, the press reported him recalling, "... it had to be the most important literary award there ever was" and observing, "if you can make yourself aged seven happy, you're really doing well – it's like writing a letter to yourself aged seven."
Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was another childhood favourite, and "a favourite forever. Alice was default reading to the point where I knew it by heart." He also enjoyed Batman comics as a child.
Gaiman was educated at several Church of England schools, including Fonthill School in East Grinstead, Ardingly College (1970–74), and Whitgift School in Croydon (1974–77). His father's position as a public relations official of the Church of Scientology was the cause of the seven-year-old Gaiman being blocked from entering a boys' school, forcing him to remain at the school that he had previously been attending. He lived in East Grinstead for many years, from 1965–1980 and again from 1984–1987. He met his first wife, Mary McGrath, while she was studying Scientology and living in a house in East Grinstead that was owned by his father. The couple were married in 1985 after having their first child, Michael.
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