The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

23May10

It’s hard to find something new to say about this wonderful, but I’ll try.

The Graveyard Book was published in September of 2008 and has won, among other things, the 2009 Hugo and Newbery Awards. It was, of course, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean. In an interview with the Scottish Book Trust Neil Gaiman said the initial idea for the book came to him in 1985 as his then two year-old was riding his tricycle around a graveyard across the street from their house in East Grinstead, West Sussex, England, and he envisioned it as a Jungle Book type story. And it is, it’s an allegory for the process of growing up.

One perceptive reviewer on Amazon wrote, “It feels like a book written by a parent with children growing up and moving out.” The timing is about right . . . 22 years after the two year old on the tricycle. Oops. That reviewer, Ramseelbird, turns out to be Elizabeth Bird of A Fuse # 8 Production over at School Library Journal.

On with the book.

It begins with the murder of a family. Jack, the murderer, is the best. Superhuman. But the eighteen month old isn’t in his crib, he’s climbed out and gone down the stairs and out of the house, and Jack needs him dead, too. He follows the scent of the infant to the old graveyard, but Mistress Owens will not have the child murdered, and wraps her arms around him. Her arms. She has been dead many years, and her arms are the arms of a ghost–still, he’s hidden in the mist and Jack cannot see him.

image from Wikipedia

The graveyard and its residents take him in. The Owenses become his mother and father and Silas, the tall, pale night walker who is neither truly dead nor truly living, his protector and provider. He has the protection of the graveyard. He has a name, now, Owens. He is Nobody Owens, Bod for short, and the graveyard is his home and his family. And Jack, all the Jacks, Every Man Jack, waits outside the graveyard.

Bod, like Mowgli, grows up. He makes mistakes and learns, the ghosts, like the animals around Mowgli, tolerate and teach him and protect him as he grows. Briefly, he has a living playmate, Scarlett, but she moves away. He must be rescued from the ghouls and learns that he is loved even when he feels most abandoned. A young witch who died cruelly and was buried in the potter’s field adjacent to the graveyard gets a crush on him and, like any boy of a certain age, Bod is oblivious. As Bod gets older he masters the lessons and dangers of his home, and yearns, like any growing child, to explore the outside world.

Bod goes to school. Disaster. Think of Mowgli in the village. He does deal with the bully, but ends up with the police involved. He learns something of the outside world, something about those who love him and learns something of his own strengths and abilities. And he has more than the ability to Fade, to invade dreams . . . he has courage and a sense of right and wrong.

In the end, when the Jacks do come to the graveyard for him, he’s ready in the same way Mowgli was ready for Shere Kahn. He is a young adult, knows that he must fight and that he can fight for his home. He understands that the Jacks are deadly, but knows that he can be deadly, too. And when Scarlett, now 15 and returned to the small town, leaves him because of what she’s seen, he’s sad but understands that what has to be, will be. Silas will help her to forget.

That leaves us at the end of the book: the Dance Macabre and leaving home. I’ll talk about those more next post.

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