Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Graveyard Book (written by Neil Gaiman) - Published in 2008

"How Nobody Came To The Graveyard"- seems an unnecessary statement of the obvious (NOBODY, really, would like to come to the graveyard!) - until realization sneaks up on you and you learn that Nobody is a toddler - who crawled away from the House of Horrors when  his former abode had been  tragically turned thus by ‘the man Jack’ - a cold blooded assassin from a dark secret society , the Jack of All Trades.
The toddler scrambles away, through wisps of mist and creatures lurking in the dark, to a place all living beings dread- the graveyard. Unbeknownst to the hapless child, the ghost of his mother pleads with the residents of God’s Acre, to help the toddler. The couple  – a picture of ghoulish marital bliss for over two hundred and fifty years (!) – embrace the child as their own, especially since they had none when they were alive.
But like all human traits, the nasty ones we take to our graves, and the arrival of Nobody causes a tussle- should he stay (he isn’t a ghost and has human needs, after all), if he does,  does he get Freedom of the Graveyard? Although they seemed happy to have him, his ghoulish foster parents were exactly that- ghouls, and they seemed clueless as far as their new ward was concerned. And so, Silas (aptly named, for his name means ‘Of the Forest’, or here the graveyard, an equally desolate space), a mysterious creature, is deputed the task for providing for Nobody’s earthly needs.

While they still debated the violation of their macabre space by this little mass of life, the Angel of Death silences every doubt of theirs by appealing to the altruistic side of their otherwise believed to be ‘dead’ conscience. And so- Nobody stays, oblivious to the fate his family met or the strange turn of events that will now alter the course of his life forever!
As ‘Bod’ grows (everyone has a nickname!), he starts to wonder what lies beyond those rusty iron gates, and why is it that though Silas can wander about wherever he wills- Bod ,   must stay put, acquiescing to the fact that this is his domain? Whilst here, Silas and Mr. Pennyworth offer him an education; from the alphabets to reading out loud (Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in The Hat).
So it is one day, as he sits practicing his reading and writing, that he chances upon his first human- Scarlet Amber Perkins, whose parents are most intriguing and interesting- they let her play in the cemetery! And like Alice in the Rabbit Hole, they go inside the hill, to get to the barrow where the oldest member of the graveyard, even older than Caius the Roman, is believed to be buried- returning somewhat disappointed.
The fourth chapter, which was intended to be the first, was also published as a short story in 2008, winning the coveted Locus Award. In it, eight year old Bod defies his foster parents’ diktat to never go there, to the Potter’s Field (the graveyard by another name).Here the souls of ‘sad people’ (not bad) wandered under a pall. But along with them, there also wandered the ghosts of witches. So his second escapade gets him to meet E.H- a 500 year old ‘witch’ Liza Hempstock.
Amidst all the excitement of exploring dark places and meeting wonderful characters, it’s time now for our Bod, aged ten- to have his first dance. So he’s all spruced up, and dances with Liza, and even the Lady Grey who promises that one day he will get to ride her magnificent steed!
When Bod is eleven, Silas tells him of how he came to be at the Graveyard, and that now since he is alive, he must do whatever he can, and so much to Silas’s surprise- he chooses to go to school! But after a few days and narrow escapes, it is decided, for his own good, that he must stay in the graveyard! (most kids would love to have that option!)
As the years progress, Bod remains unaware of Jack- who still has a score to settle and isn’t resting till he sees him dead! In a fancy room, all the men called ‘Jack’ want the killer Jack to get cracking on the case, ‘You had time (TEN years).Now, you just have a deadline.’
Words that ring with foreboding – for outside all human realm, there are powers that govern the lives we lead; we unknowingly are drawn to our fate. Thus, when Scarlet returns with best intentions to solve the mystery of Bod’s family’s tragic end, and when she introduces him to Mr. Jay Frost (historian), his doom is almost certain, for the man is actually Jack!
As the tale draws to a close, Bod starts to lose the powers he has- he cannot see in the dark, nor fade in and out. Everyone including the Owens seem strangely distant and Silas urges him to go forth into the  a world, with a new passport, a wallet with some money in it, and the assurance that when Bod calls on him, he will come.
Finally, Nobody Owens is ready to be a ‘somebody’ in the world-as he wishes his and mother goodbye, and shares his dreams with her, she bids him adieu with a song she  sang for him , as a toddler:
‘Sleep until you waken
When you’re grown you’ll see the world
If I’m not mistaken….leave no path untaken.’
So, Bod leaves his home of so many years, to be amongst his own, before the day he is finally laid to rest: “But between now and then, there was Life; and Bod walked into it with his eyes and his heart wide open.”
Set in another world, almost, the story leaves you fuzzy and warm, longing for a cuppa and more news of young Bod’s escapades in the world of humans- and if school was anything to go by, then things are surely going to get tougher!
A must read for every child, but only after every mom and dad have read the Book! It’ll just make bed time story telling a whole new experience- maybe scary at first (don’t kids just love a good ghost story?), but also the kind that solicits a slight warm tug at your heart strings as your lil’ one cuddles closer, and wants more, feeling nice he’s got daddy and she’s got mommy by their side, poor Bod!
And if a kid’s word isn’t good enough, there’s a whole list of accolades and critical acclaim the Book has received, including a Walt Disney movie offer! The Carnegie Medal, the Hugo award, Newberry Medal - between the years 2009 and 2010.

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