Sometimes it seems as if every other path in New England takes you past a graveyard. There’s one on my street, likely full of people who lived in the same house I do. Amelia and I stumbled across a small family plot while hiking in Ashland, a few towns away in the hills. The plots in downtown Boston are the highlight of the Freedom Trail, full of dates scarce believable were it not for their weathered faces, their skull-and-wings motifs, signs of a world old and long gone.
I usually get to thinking about Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book whenever I walk past a cemetery now, when that distinct feeling of otherworldliness settles around my shoulders. I find it strange that the book shapes my thoughts in even the most well kept cemeteries. Gaiman’s graveyard is old, rundown and distinctly British. It is the home of a young boy who wandered unknowingly from the death of his family and finds himself part of a dead family. The book follows him as he grows up, facing the difficulties and wonders of adolescence familiar to us all while adding a dimension of death that surrounds him and shrouds his past.
Gaiman openly alludes to the influence of another favorite of mine, The Jungle Book. Once it’s pointed out, it’s easy to see how the adventures of Nobody Owens and his ghostly family resemble Mowgli and his forest pack. Both boys exist outside of society and grapple with their identity when that barrier begins to weaken. Both boys struggle against daunting foes – Nobody and the man Jack, Mowgli and Shere Khan. Many other analogies exist, but Gaiman’s story is no rip-off – it’s good enough to stand on its own.
Denizens of the graveyard include druids, Romans, Victorians and everything in between. Gaiman plays with the different speech styles that span the ages with his characteristic banter and dry wit. Mythology, fairy tale, nursery rhyme and even medieval allegory are woven together to create a reality that reverberates among readers and echoes Gaiman’s other works, like American Gods (a must read). In keeping with his style and the nature of these influences, the central narrative of the book is characterized by individual stories that with little modification would stand well on their own. The result is several images depicting different moments in Bod’s life. I’m reminded of the stories in stained glass.
The book begins with death and ends with life and more questions than when it started. That’s Neil Gaiman. The Graveyard Book is not a long read, and it’s hard to put down. It would make a good book to read with your kid, or someone else’s if you can borrow one.
Pages: 336 FOA Pages: 18,551