Neil Gaiman, in The Graveyard Book, experimented with both styles of writing, and has divided the story into eight chapters, giving it a ‘short-story’ approach, and also maintained the style of a ‘novel’, by saving the mystery till the end. This Penlighten article takes a closer look to analyze this book.
Neil Gaiman devoted almost two decades to write the book to perfection. Sure he did as that’s evident from the awards he received.
It certainly calls for one’s attention to know that the 2008 bestseller, The Graveyard Book fictionalizes the upbringing of an infant in the bosom of a cemetery, amidst the company of its inhabitants; needless to say, the ghosts!
What might have propelled Neil Gaiman to pen down a story on such a ‘grave’ subject, the audience of which are primarily, children and teenagers? Well, that’s a different ball game all together, when we already know that the book has been a recipient of many awards and critical acclaim. It has also been adapted in graphic novels, which were released in two volumes. After having known so much about the book (all good things of course!), it is pertinent that we have an overwhelming urge to know about the entire plot, backdrop, summary, and analysis of the book. Let’s get going!
► The night was violent; a family has been killed by a murderer who doesn’t want to leave back any trace of the misdeed. But to his dismay, the youngest member of the family, an 18-month-old toddler sensed the mishap going on in his house and manages to creep his way out of the house. He lands up finally in a cemetery, although he was followed till there by the murderer, whom we now know as Jack.
► The scene put up here is all the more intriguing. The baby was discovered by a ghost-couple, who met their death and subsequently woke up to life (probably, life after death) in the graveyard premises. They were childless when alive, and after being coaxed by the mother of the toddler, finally decide to be Samaritans and adopt the baby, thus, turning as the boy’s foster parents. Meanwhile Jack, relying completely on the sense of his nose, ends up in the graveyard, searching for the boy, but was eventually driven out by Silas, another character in the graveyard family. The point to know here is Silas is neither alive, nor he is dead. This perhaps will help in the survival of the kid in the graveyard.
► Now the question was how to raise the baby in the graveyard, and also ensuring to meet all his needs. Mrs. Owens brings up a solution of allowing the little guy to enjoy the Freedom of the Graveyard. Silas was officially made the guardian of the baby, and was entrusted with the responsibility to fetch food for the little one and protect him at all times.
► The tomb in the chapel was the new home for the kid, and he was baptized, as Nobody Owens. The graveyard is taken by a stormy debate, amongst the dead, whose opinions are divided between the dual subjects of keeping the baby and assigning him the Freedom, or not to keep the baby at all. However, the score was settled by The Lady on the Gray, who said that charity is to be done even by the dead. So, from nobody, the baby becomes ‘Nobody Owens’, wins a home, and a family, and the Freedom of the Graveyard. On the other side of the story is Jack, the villain, who keeps an eye on the house of the dead family, searches for the lone target, and is sanguine to kill the baby in due course.
► Nobody is fondly called Bod. He is growing, and so are his questions about his life. He is upfront with the doubt, as to why he needs to stay only in the graveyard, whereas Silas has the freedom to go out. He doesn’t understand as to why, of all other things, this cemetery is supposed to be the place he needs to stay in order to remain safe, being completely unaware of the death of his family, and the danger that is looming large on him too.
► Like most kids, Bod is also overpowered with the desire to imitate the acts that the dead do. Silas tells Bod that since he is having the Freedom of the Graveyard, he can make use of certain skills and perks that are usually not enjoyed and experienced by the alive. Some of these are being invisible to the commoners, passing through solid bodies, like walls and barriers, seeing in the dark, and the like.
► Silas begins Bod’s education by teaching him the alphabet, from the names and details that are written on the grave.
► One fine day, four-year-old Bod meets with five-year-old Scarlett Amber, as she enters into the grave while playing.
► Scarlet tells her parents about Bod, who simply ignore this as a feat of her imagination. Scarlett is brought to the graveyard occasionally by her parents. Therefore, now Bod has a new friend.
► In the search to find the oldest person in the graveyard, both Bod and Scarlett go up to a mausoleum, in the graveyard, and enter into a dark hole. Bod can see things in the dark unlike the more human, Scarlett. Now they meet with another dead, the Indigo Man, who looks after the place. But eventually, Bod recognizes that the Indigo Man is no more than a scare crow, which means, he can make them scared, but can’t do a thing to cause any injury to them.
► Now they hear the voice of the Sleer, who admits that they are on guard for the articles that lay buried with the master. The articles being the Knife, the Brooch, and the Goblet.
► Finally, they come out of the creepy place to be in more trouble. The police were summoned in the graveyard to search for the missing Scarlett by her parents. Bod narrates all of this to Silas, and he tells Bod that this was all about the meeting with Scarlett, who perhaps will never be allowed to come into the graveyard ever.
► After a few weeks, Scarlett did come back, but to bid a final goodbye to Bod, and informed him that she was moving to Scotland with her family.
► Scarlett consoles Bod by saying that he is the bravest of all people she has ever met, and that he will be able to go out of the graveyard one day. She tells him that she considers him to be her friend.
► Bod is now 6, and he is sad because Silas is leaving the cemetery in order to know the unknown. Silas assigns Miss Lupescu, a historian, with the job to arrange food for little Bod, who doesn’t seem quite happy about it.
► Silas and Bod shake hands like men, and Bod finds solace in the comforting words of the Owens that Silas would come back soon enough.
► Miss Lupescu is already causing hysteria in Bod’s life by feeding him things he doesn’t like, and teaching him right in the peak of hot summer. She tells him that he should have known about ghouls, and the different kinds of people. She actually teaches him all of these.
► Amidst all the learning sessions of Bod with Miss Lupescu, he manages to notice a gray dog in the vicinity of the cemetery.
► With a heavy heart, Bod retires for the day and falls asleep. He is awakened by some strange creatures, who seem to be afraid of dogs. Bod tells them how he is sad about his life, the food, and everything else. They tell in return that they will be able to take him to places where he can eat good food and have all the fun. Thus, begins a new adventure.
► Just then, the creatures blabber something in an unknown language and escape into a new place, taking Bod along. With them, Bod goes to a new place so new, that he can hardly comprehend about the nature of the place, and they are soon joined by two other creatures.
► One of them says that soon Bod will be having teeth and a tongue, and as soon as he becomes like them, he will be able to eat flesh. The place where it all happens is Ghulheim. But Bod does seem to be fully convinced, and says he doesn’t approve of the idea of him being like them, the Ghouls.
► The ghouls try to convert Bod, but he resists. A fight picks up between them, and the night-gaunts where Bod lands up being trapped inside a sack of the ghouls. He tries to escape and finds out a gray dog, which brings him out, and by accident, he is about to fall off a cliff, but finds himself being saved by Miss Lupescu, who is none other than the gray dog.
► He doesn’t fall off the cliff, and is saved by a night-gaunt, who is on the side of Miss Lupescue. These creatures have saved Bod from being eaten by the ghouls. Miss Lupescue says that she is the hound of God. She also tells him that these hounds of God are actually the werewolves. Silas returns with a gift for Bod, and Miss Lupescue exits with a promise to come back next summer.
► The plot of land outside the graveyard is unholy, where there has been buried a witch, and eight-year-old Bod has been prohibited from being in that area. The place bears the name, Potter’s Field, and is the burying ground for the impious people, people who were criminals, and also the ones who committed suicide.
► Bod now takes lessons to learn all about the ghostly activities from his mentor, Mr. Pennyworth. He was now teaching little Bod about the teachings of the doctor, Hippocrates, the Hippocratic Oath, and the Humors.
► Bod also gets his learning from Leticia Burrows who, also like others, discouraged Bod to know more about the witches on the Potter’s Field.
► Bod finds himself in the company of a stranger, after falling off from one of the apple tree branches. He had landed straight on a pile of grass on the Potter’s Fields.
► The strange-looking girl was none other but the witch herself, who was killed and buried on the land. The name she bore was Liza Hempstock.
► She narrates her doom story. She was accused of luring some other girl’s boyfriend by casting a spell on him, which she denied. To test if she was a witch, the people drowned her, but she survived, confirming their notion that she indeed was a witch. They then burnt her alive. The people who had killed her died of plague, and were buried in separate pits.
► She admits to Bod that she is sad as she doesn’t have a headstone, and Bod volunteers himself to find one for her.
► Bod visit’s the hole again, where he had gone with Scarlett; all this because he needed money to buy the headstone for Liza. He goes in and comes back with the brooch. He also asks about the content that Liza would want to have on the headstone. He then heads towards the town.
► He lands up into a shop, the owner of which is disloyal and shrewd. The man knew that he was in to have one of the most precious things in the world, the brooch. The man locks Bod inside the shop, and poor Bod tries to chalk out a plan to flea.
► Liza comes there and finds Bod trapped. She also gets to know that the shopkeeper has called for another man, Tom, and refers to him that they need to find Jack. They are sure that they have found a treasure of the burrow, and the key to that burrow, i.e., Bod. It was time for them to hatch a conspiracy.
► On learning Bod’s intent to take all of this trouble, she becomes happy and helps little Bod to fade.
► They both flea with the brooch, and the card of Jack. On the other side of the story, we find Jack at his residence with his grandma.
► Silas finds Bod treading back to the cemetery, hears it all from Bod, and of course arranges for some quick punishment for the little one by his foster parents. Bod returns the brooch to the Sleer. He had managed to grab some paint, a paint brush, and a glass paperweight from the shop, and inscribed on it the letters, ‘E’, and ‘H”, and the words, ‘we don’t forget’. He placed it at Liza’s grave.
► It’s winter time, and Mrs. Owens, and the rest are busy dancing the Macabre.
► The thoughtful and kind Silas gets new clothes for the ten-year-old Bod. Bod is happy and goes off to sleep. The next day, he wakes up to find the fragrance of some sweet little flowers, which have grown in no time, in one of the corners of the grave. The corner has some great statues, which look similar to the Egyptian monuments.
► The flowers were picked and taken by one Mrs. Caraway. Bod went through the gates which led to the old town, and saw that the lady was putting the flowers on the people. At the background, strange music is being played. Bod helps himself with one of the flowers, and finds the strange music even louder.
► He unknowingly finds his way in to the tow, with the living fraternity, completely forgetful of the norm that he is not supposed to be out of the graveyard premises. He sees people dancing to the music, all engrossed.
► Just at midnight, the music is suddenly paused. Just then, the dead arrive and the dance continues between the dead and the alive. He finds Liza, and they both dance together. When Bod asks Liza about the source of the music, she points out at The Lady on the Gray.
► Except for Silas, who fades into the dark forest, everyone dances. The Lady dances with Bod, and also tells him that everyone will be getting the chance to ride on the back of her Big White Horse.
► The time was again 12 O’ clock, leaving Bod confused about the exact duration being twelve hours, twenty-four, or even more. After that, no one in the graveyard mentioned the dance ever. Silas says that they are not really allowed to talk about it because there are mysteries, which probably no one should talk about.
► Silas spills the beans. Bod gets to know that his family members were brutally murdered by Jack, and he is after his life as well. Silas tells him how unsafe it is for him to be out of the graveyard, but Bod demands to go to school. Bod finally succeeds in convincing Silas, and Bod gets enrolled in a school. But the catch here is, Bod remains faded in school, so that he remains unnoticed.
► At school, Bod faces two bullies, and decides to teach them a lesson for a lifetime. As they follow him, he guides them into a graveyard, where they are scared and run away. Bod meets the Persson family at that graveyard.
► He comes to know from them that he and Silas are both known to them, although they have never met. Also he gets to know that they are referred to as the members of the Honor Guard.
► Bod is now not so anonymous, as he used to be. The bully kid, and some others know about him. This upsets Silas, and he asks Bod to stop going to school, which Bod refuses to do.
► Meanwhile, Bod slips into the dream of Nick, one of the bully kids, and manages to scare the hell out of him, giving him the message that he should mend his ways, lest he would be in for some bad times.
► Liza comes with the message that Bod has done it all wrong by walking out of the graveyard, and makes him go back. On his way back, he gets caught by police, called for by Mo, the other bully kid.
► Bod now views a man-like figure hovering high up in the sky, which is definitely creepy, and scary. Just then, the police vehicle hits on something, and finds that they have hit a man, and killed him on the spot. Bod screamed that it was his dad, Silas. The policemen are frightened that they got a little boy arrested for no reason, and on the way killed his dad too!
► Bod and Silas pulled off the show, by escaping back into the graveyard.
► Bod decides to abandon going to school, and leaves Mo scared, as he tells her that he would follow her all her life.
► The interest to know about the killer of his family troubles Jack all the more. He wants to know more about him.
► Scarlett has returned the city, after her parents have separated, but she detests staying here. One fine day, she boards a bus to come back from school, but realizes that the bus isn’t bound for the place where she lived. She gets down at a place, which happens to be close to Bod’s graveyard-home.
► She was called by a man who was doing some work on the graves, and requested for her help. She did help him. It then started raining, and the man offered to drop her back home. Mr. Frost, the man, was called in for tea.
► Scarlett was eventually told by them both how she had an imaginary friend in the graveyard, which she had all forgotten. That very night, in her dream, she meets Bod, and they have a great time together, reminiscing the past.
► Bod is bored of his life now at the graveyard, though he has friends and family right in here. He longs to enjoy the life outside, but can’t till Silas is out.
► He finds that everything and everyone in the graveyard is static. He also finds that Liza doesn’t talk to him much now, and he is missing Scarlett like never before.
► Scarlett shows up at the graveyard, and the two friends meet with utmost pleasure.
► On the other side is Silas and Miss Lupescu, who are on an expedition in Poland.
► Bod and Scarlett meet up more frequently, and Bod shares about his bereaved family, and the strong feeling of revenge he is having.
► Scarlet decides to find things out related to Bod’s family. With the help of Mr. Frost, she learns that Bod’s dad was an architect, mother – a publisher, and he also had a seven-year-old elder sister. She also did find the address of Bod’s house, where the gruesome murder had taken place.
► Ms. Lupescu is hurt in the caves of Poland, and asks Silas to head fast for Bod’s rescue.
► Mr. Frost offers to be way too helpful to Scarlet to find things about Bod, and also says that he has found valuable information, which needs to be shared with Bod. Hence, he convinces Scarlett to bring him home.
► Bod is in a fix, whether he should go out of the graveyard, face the killers all by himself, without informing anybody in the graveyard, or not do any of it at all.
► The trio of Scarlett, Bod, and Mr. Frost meet at his home over tea. Then Bod is taken upstairs by Mr. Frost to read the letter that held the reasons of his family’s murder. But to his dismay, he finds a knife in Mr. Frost’s hand in place of the letter.
► Bod uses his fading skill, and locks Mr. Frost inside, breaks the news to Scarlett that Mr. Frost is none other than Jack himself, and plans to escape. Scarlett bumps into four strangers, who were looking up for Mr. Frost; she tells them he has gone out to get the papers and moves. These four men are named, Jack with different surnames (Tar, Ketch, Nimble, and Dandy); these are the beings against whom Silas and Ms. Lupescu were fighting. Bod and Scarlett go into the graveyard, and Bod hides Scarlett in the Sleer.
► Bod decides to drill into the matter, know the purpose of his family’s demise, and manages to know that these Jacks are the members of a big organization called Jacks of All Trades.
► Jack learns that his family was killed not to attain magic powers by the Jacks, but to protect themselves from Bod, who was destined to kill the Jacks, once and for all. But Jack Frost failed miserably in the task.
► Meanwhile, Silas fights the three Jacks, and Jack Dandy falls into hell through the ghoul gates, the opening of the gates, spearheaded by Bod, of course.
► Jack Frost finds Scarlett at the Sleer, and affirms that this is the perfect place where the ceremony is to be conducted. He asks Bod to hand over the treasure, that the Sleer has been guarding for so long.
► Now Jack Frost is all set to kill Bod, by cutting off his head at the altar of the Sleer; just then, Bod spells out his own name, telling the Sleer that he has got his new master, and his job now is to protect the master from all odds.
► The Sleer does exactly what he needs to, and Bod places the articles back on the altar.
► Agony hits Bod hard again, when he gets to know that Scarlett has forgotten him completely, including all the incidents that have taken place, and is moving back to Scotland.
► Ms. Lupescue dies in the battle that she and Silas put up against the Jacks.
► They both hang out at a pizza corner, and Bod comes up with a complicated question asking why Scarlett gets scared of her.
► Things are changing for Bod now. He is fast losing his Freedom of the Graveyard. The Owens tell him that they have felt really blessed to have a son like Bod.
► Bod is confused at the strange occurrences and behavior. On his way to meet Silas, Liza bids him goodbye!
► Bod comes to know from Silas that, Silas is leaving the graveyard for some other expedition, and Bod too needs to leave the place, but they can’t be together.
► Silas tells Bod that the Honor Guard’s sole motive is to protect the things at the border. He also hands him with a wallet that will be enough for a really long time.
► With a parting song from his foster mother, Bod walks out of the graveyard, having a list of activities he has to do in his life.
► Bod is struck badly by fate. He is denied the life that a normal human being is supposed to live. But, he also gets to experience the most unusual phenomenon, of being raised till the age of fifteen by supernatural entities, like ghosts. He had for his rescue werewolves and vampires. He enjoyed the liberty of being invisible to human eye, at will, to pass through opaque objects, also to mingle with darkness, and to view things in the absence of light.
► Well, it is hurting to know nothing about one’s own family, to not be able to stay with them and grow, but it is also enticing to enjoy things, which are enjoyed only by creatures of the outside world. So it shouldn’t be wrong to say here that Bod had miseries, but he also had the means to cope up with them. He was a recipient of food and education too, two of the prime things, man needs. The knowledge he acquired over time was so helpful to him that he could make use of everything he had learned, and put a strong fight against the Jacks.
► But the question that remains unanswered is, was the action of Bod in punishing the Jacks just? Scarlett bewildered Bod when she likened him to the ill Jacks. She asks where is the difference between them, and the monstrous Bod. Well, this perhaps needs a hearing from both sides. Bod was where he is because of the Jacks; he suffered because of them. Therefore, his desire to punish them can’t go wrong, in whatever way he does. But again, he is also becoming like one of them, if he pays them off in the same coin.
The story has been compiled well in terms of the ‘flow’ it followed. The book has the ability to hold back the reader, and make him ask for more. The reader feels the urge to read beyond and unearth things. At the end, when Bod wins over the Jacks and becomes safe to live in the human world, he becomes devoid of all his ghostly powers. The writer is absolutely just in showing things in this light because, in the human world, these powers are not needed to survive, unlike the supernatural realm where these are prerequisites for survival.
This book leaves the reader craving for more. Let’s wait with a hope to read more of such wonderful encounters that Bod has to face during his stay in the world of mortals.