Posted in Fiction

“It takes a ‘Graveyard’ to raise a child…”

I’ve seen several bloggers describe Neil Gaiman’s  2009 Newbery Medal-winning The Graveyard Book as “whimsical”.  I’ve heard this word now and again but have never been sure about what it means.  So I looked it up.  It means “quaintly humorous, odd”, the perfect description for this book.

In his afterword, Gaiman gives a nod to Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book as some similarities between the two books exist, though differences put each book on its own pedestal.  A baby boy wanders into a graveyard after his family is brutally murdered.  The boy spends his childhood being raised by the ghostly inhabitants.  As the graveyard’s existence reaches back a thousand years, each ghost contributes something different in terms of history and human nature to the unusual education of the boy referred to as Nobody Owens, or Bod for short.

Bod’s guardian, Silas, provides him with the wisdom of someone who is neither dead or alive, who travels by night, who does not eat real food, and who has no reflection in mirrors.  The reader can make a good guess as to what sort of being Silas is, though, in an intelligent move, Gaiman never comes right out and says it.

Each of the eight chapters in the book tells a separate story, though they all come together at the end.  The mystery of Bod’s human family slowly unravels and he learns lessons about revenge and friendship from his dealings with his family’s enemies.  In spite of Bod’s adventures with monsters and scary beings, Gaiman maintains the subtlety and quiet that a whimsical story would provide, right down to its last whimsical line:

But between now and then, there was Life, and Bod walked into it with his eyes and his heart wide open.

7 thoughts on ““It takes a ‘Graveyard’ to raise a child…”

  1. Hi Dale,
    Sounds like an interesting premise! Maybe a little “dark” for a Newbery Medal winner? I’ve been meaning to try some Gaiman for awhile now. I have had American Gods primed and ready on my ereader for a long time – just haven’t gotten to it yet..

    1. It was a little dark. I would guess that the “whimsical” aspect gave it the edge for the Newbery. Enjoyed it but don’t think I’ll be reading more Gaiman soon, though. Sometime, maybe.

  2. I loved this book! Although whimsical certainly doesn’t quite capture the sense of the macabre throughout, it’s a pretty good descriptor.

    I have to admit that somehow I didn’t get what Silas was (nor, thanks to my being wrapped up in the narrative flow, did I spend much time questioning it) until Neil Gaiman went ahead and spelled it out in an interview with Stephen Colbert. Afterwards, I just felt dumb for not picking it up. 🙂

    1. Kudos, Julio, for not worrying about what Silas was! I liked Silas, as opposed to other similar beings portrayed in books and movies of late. Stephen Colbert interviewing Gaiman sounds great, I’ll have to see if I can find it.

  3. It is both a bit whimsical and dark. Gaiman has such a talent for combining the two. If you decide you want to try something else of his that isn’t too dark, I’d recommend Stardust. It’s quite a bit like The Princess Bride.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation, Melissa! I didn’t mention it in my post, but I also enjoyed his humor. I can see him writing something like The Princess Bride. Stardust is now on my list! Thanks for stopping by!

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