This week we read Chapters 7 & 8
For links to everybody else’s thoughts, you can visit Carl’s post at Stainless Steel Droppings
This week we reached the very satisfying, if emotional, conclusion to this book and I for one was sad to say “Goodbye!” to Bod and his world. However, I was so enthusiastic about the book that Not Your Ordinary Book Group will be reading it over the course of the next month and discussing it at our next meeting: I just hope they like it as much as I did.
At the end of last week, we had some inkling that the Jacks of All Trades were coming for Bod, but in Chapter Seven, we were slightly wrong-footed by the reintroduction of Scarlett. Although I thought it was pretty obvious that Mr Jay Frost was actually a Jack, I did begin to doubt my judgment, as he seemed so benign and helpless. I was very intrigued by Scarlett’s reappearance, and I liked the way that she and Bod reconnected. I have a suspicion that she would not have been able to see him if she had simply gone to the graveyard, so having them meet in the dream walk was a great idea.
She is a very different person now, and it was no real surprise that she could not accept Bod’s weird world, even though he had rescued her from Jack. As a teenager, she is programmed to be very sensitive to being different, and Bod is about as different as it is possible to be! Her rejection and fear of him and his abilities was a nice contrast to her acceptance as a child, showing how much she had changed during their years apart. It also felt much more realistic than a sappy ‘story book’ ending. I felt that Mr Gaiman foreshadowed it nicely when he showed that she had totally forgotten about her earlier friendship with Bod.
Somehow, the ‘friendly’ Jack was more chilling than the real one. Again, I think this comes from the fact that we know something that the characters do not. In British theater we have a traditional form called the Pantomime, which is normally performed around Christmas and is specifically designed for children. One of the most consistent conventions in the tradition is audience participation, with the most common setting being that the character on stage is unaware of something creeping up behind him and the audience is encouraged to shout out and warn him: “It’s behind you!” I have seen children nearly explode because they are yelling this so frantically and desperate for the good character to be saved. Mr Gaiman plays on this quite beautifully as we sit powerless to stop Scarlett and her mother from becoming unknowing pawns in Jack’s plot.
I also loved the way that all of Bod’s earlier training and experience was used to defeat the Jacks and save the day. Not that this was done in a casual way, with Bod accidentally using them: he made conscious decisions to use what he had learnt. I liked the way in which he used his unique experiences to outmaneuver and outwit the Jacks. We were even given a very plausible reason for them to kill him, which makes a nice change.
One other aspect that I really appreciated, although I would not say that I liked it, was that Miss Lupescu died to protect Bod. We knew that the Honor Guard were in extreme danger and that one of their members had already been trapped in a mirror, but it was yet another move away from ‘happy endings’ to show that sometimes not everyone makes it through to the end of the story. I also liked these little flashes of them attacking the Jacks because they increased the tension in the climax of the story. By taking us away from Scarlett and Bod, and by showing other characters in mortal danger, Mr Gaiman both added extra anxiety and kept us turning those pages until we found out what happened to everyone.
Chapter eight was really sad and made me more than a little tearful. The fact that the ghosts began to fade from Bod’s perception was so poignant. It showed that he no longer needed their protection, but also that he was growing away from them as he inevitably moved into adulthood. It also made me think of them being unable to interact with him anymore, which would have been heart breaking for the Owenses especially.
Of course, now I want to know what Bod did with his life . . .