This week we read Chapters 1 - 3
For links to everybody else’s thoughts, you can visit Carl’s post at Stainless SteelDroppings.
Previously, I have read Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which was my introduction to his books, and I have to say that I am quickly coming to understand why they have been suggested for Read Alongs. Within a single page of The Graveyard Book, I was hooked and very aware that Mr Gaiman is an amazingly good writer. There is twelve years between the publication dates of these two books, and I can tell that Mr Gaiman has spent that time honing his craft, because this book drew me in so much more quickly than Neverwhere. I would have to say that I am enjoying The Graveyard Book far more than Neverwhere at the moment and even the disparity between English and American vocabulary, which always threatens to bump me out of an American Edition, has not irked me as much as it could. However, I did find the American terms a little disorientating until Caius Pompeius appeared and I knew that we definitely had to be in England.
The book begins in the blackest way possible, with an entire family being assassinated by a dispassionate hired killer. We do not know why they have to die, but the killer himself is something not entirely human because he can smell the path that the adventurous baby has taken out of the house. This is the first suggestion that we are not in the ‘normal’ world. As with Neverwhere, Mr Gaiman paints a slightly skewed version of our world, where things are mostly the same but where we find that fairy tales, mythology and folklore are likely to come true. In fact the opening reminded me very much of Neverwhere, which opens with Door’s family being killed because of their ability to open any door. Their killers, the Messers, were also contract killers with a distinctly otherworldly set of skills.
Fortunately, the wandering baby finds protection in the graveyard. I love the way in which Mr Gaiman makes a sanctuary out of a location that would normally be the very worst place to be in a horror story. The ghosts are hospitable and feel a moral responsibility towards the child, while the enigmatic Silas actually takes action to protect him from the killer. I like the fact that we are not told everything about everyone at once, mainly because it makes such a nice change. We know that Silas is not a ghost and that he sleeps all day. We also know that his presence terrified the killer and that he can alter the thoughts of the living, so I suspect that he is a vampire, but that might just be what Mr Gaiman wants me to think at this point. I learnt in Neverwhere that we will be manipulated and mislead during the story, so I am reserving my judgment for now. We are also introduced to the Lady in Grey, who could be any of a multitude of mythological figures. I do love books that make me ask questions and want to know more!
In the second chapter we are introduced to Scarlett, who is a very clever device that allows us to be shown Bod’s world and his understanding of it. She also gives him his first taste of the world beyond the graveyard, and asks questions that cause him to investigate more about his world. She opens Bod’s eyes to many aspects of his home and how it differs from the outside world. One thing that I find a little hard to understand is Bod’s disinterest in what lies beyond the graveyard. As a child who was a constant escape artist, as we are told in Chapter One, I had expected him to make more of an effort to explore beyond the wall. However, his journey into the barrow under the hill shows that he is certainly not scared of going beyond his normal boundaries. I was amazed that Scarlett would follow him in to such total blackness, but it added to the unsettling impression of danger and risk taking. I am not sure just how much danger they are in, but there were all the ingredients for real terror and I did feel my skin creeping as the snake-like noises rustled around the two of them. However, in the tradition of a good fairy tale, the perceived danger is quickly revealed to be harmless. Of course, this story plan has become such a favorite over the millennia because it provides the requisite amount of ‘pleasant’ terror before allowing us to feel the comfort of overcoming our fears and returning to safety.
We see a similar pattern in Chapter Three, although this time there is a much greater sense of real danger as Bod is carried off by the ghouls. Although they are very funny and entertaining, we are placed in a situation where we know that he is danger before Bod does. It is that “Don’t go into that scary haunted house by yourself at night!” moment. However, the world that we are transported to is almost worth the terror. I am amazed that this book has not been made into a film yet – perhaps Tim Burton should consider it for his next animated outing, as I can imagine how spectacular it would look in his capable hands. The red world that the ghouls inhabit is terrible, but not overtly terrifying, although their city has a ‘wrongness’ that makes Bod realize just how much trouble he is in. We also have the unexpected pleasure of a teacher who insists on children knowing things that are really useful, and who is revealed to be a true hero, even if she does make him eat bizarre food.
Carl asked us to comment on whether or not we enjoy being scared. I was read to a great deal as a child and I loved that feeling of safe and scared combined. I also remember spending many happy hours hiding behind the sofa while Doctor Who was on the television. Although it is basically a children’s show, it always involved scary creatures and dangerous situations, although we always knew that the Doctor would find a way to survive. As an adult, I still l like a good horror film, although I prefer genuinely disturbing films rather than the more recent ‘gore porn’ and I hate films that make me jump out of my seat all the time.