Recommendation: The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

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Neil Gaiman’s work is not going to be for everyone. Let me just say that up front. But I’ve now read Coraline, The Graveyard Book, and I’m halfway through Stardust, and I can tell you there are fantastic moments of Recovery to be found in his work. And when I’m escaping into fantastic literature, I want recovery.

Art_the_graveyard_bookThe Graveyard Book is a great coming-of-age tale set in a very Gothic and unfamiliar world: the world of ghosts in a graveyard. Without giving away too much of the plot: due to a series of circumstances, the infant Nobody Owens ends up being hidden by ghosts in a graveyard to keep him safe, and he’s raised among ghosts and becomes a young boy who can walk the border between death and life.

I’ll give you, by way of a teaser, two moments of Recovery – of “regaining a clear view” of our own world by visiting another in story – to tempt you to read this excellent work.

Nobody (Bod for short) is speaking with his guardian, Silas, about the unconsecrated ground in the cemetery – the little overgrown plot of land where the suicides and witches were buried. When Silas explains that many suicides are just trying to find a way to be happy, Bod asks if it works: if they are happier in death than they were in life. Silas responds:

“Sometimes. Mostly, no. It’s like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you. If you see what I mean.”

Those of us who believe in a Fall – that we are the problem that needs a Remedy – know precisely what Silas means (whether Gaiman intended that or not!).

Later, Bod is struggling with why one of his friends would want to forget him. Bod, of course, is not a regular human – he can see and talk with the dead, and do things that only ghosts can do. Silas responds, again very wisely:

“People want to forget the impossible. It makes their world safer.”

This reminded me of the moment in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door, when the cherubim Progo explains why people usually can’t see him: “Humans can bear very little reality.”

These two Recovery moments are combined in my mind: We can bear very little reality, and we want to forget the impossible, because we know there’s a big problem with the world and that we’re a part of it. But the great, seemingly impossible truth is that there is an Answer that does not lead to despair.

The Graveyard Book is not Christian fiction, and as I said at the beginning, not all Christians will be a big fan of Gaiman’s work; but this book–winner of the 2009 Newberrry medal–is worth your time, because the Christian heart and mind will find Truth in its pages.


10 Comments

  1. easton crow

    Thanks for the review. i really like some of Gaiman. Neverwhere was and Stardust were pretty wonderful.

  2. Peter B

    It’s worth noting that in my browser right now, the tab for that store page reads “The Gravey”.

  3. Chad Ethridge

    Sounds like “the gravey” indeed! I really enjoyed the film Coraline. Saw it in 3D and must say that it was the best 3D film I’ve ever seen. It was even better than Avatar which, in my opinion, did not need the 3D effects. Would love to read The Graveyard when my current booklist dwindles a little.

  4. David H

    For someone who is almost an atheist, Gaiman writes a lot about deities and the supernatural. Many of his books have insightful biblical references. His book “American Gods” is my favorite to this point. Many of it’s characters are mythological gods and demi-gods struggling to survive in a world that has either forgotten them or wants them to be something other than what they really are.

    One, an incarnation of Odin who goes by the name Mr. Wednesday, says this in the book:

    “Even for my kind, pain still hurts. If you move and act in the material world, then the material world acts on you. Pain hurts, just as greed intoxicates and lust burns. We may not die easy and we sure as hell don’t die well, but we can die. If we’re still loved and remembered, something else a whole lot like us comes along and takes our place and the whole damn thing starts all over again. And if we’re forgotten, we’re done.”

  5. Travis Prinzi

    I know Gaiman reads Chesterton, or at least is familiar with some aspects of his thinking. There’s a Chesterton quote as the epigraph for Coraline:

    “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

    Coraline was a wonderful little book. I wish I’d seen the movie in 3D.

    When I wrote this post, I was halfway through Stardust, but that was a few months ago. I’ve since finished Stardust as well as American Gods. (Fair warning to the Christian reader that both of those books contain sex scenes in them.) I found them both to be excellent works, and of the same sort as The Graveyard Book: Gothic and fantastic settings with great glimpses at the Truth.

    I need to give a lot more thought to American Gods. I wrote lots of notes down while reading, but I’ve yet to revisit them.

  6. Jen

    I love Neil Gaiman, but I keep forgetting about this one. But I really enjoyed Coraline (book and movie), so I’ll definitely put this one on my reading list. Sounds delightfully creepy. 🙂

  7. Trice

    he’s one of my favorite writers, despite the fact that some of his stuff goes way over on the creepy side. Neverwhere is probably my favorite of his, though the reader should be prepared for some sadism on the part of some rather wicked characters – it’s something of a dark version of Alice in Wonderland, flipped on its head. Coraline I actually found to be too creepy and dark for me but have loved his other stuff. Eventually have to pick up some of The Sandman books.

    As someone said, he definitely isn’t coming from a Christian perspective but has some real glimpses of truth.

    For an interesting experience of the Graveyard Book, you can go to his website and listen to him read the whole thing live during the original book tour — he’s a great author to listen to as well as read

    [okay I’ll stop gushing now and go back into my cave (-: ]

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