Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Graveyard Post

I was introduced to Neil Gaiman by a university friend back in the 90s, and really enjoyed his Sandman series of graphic novels. While most of the details of the plot have slipped from my mind, the feeling of being transported away to a world of magic, wonder, and adventure has stayed with me.

I hadn't read anything by Gaiman for a few years, but the other day I came across a copy of his children's novel The Graveyard Book in the local library, and thought it was about time to pay a visit to one of Gaiman's intricately crafted worlds. I am glad that I did.

It tells the story of Nobody Owens, a young boy who finds himself in a cemetery being raised by a community of ghosts, who all have something to teach him. It was a good read, written in classic Gaiman style. Much of what Gaiman writes follows a similar pattern, he uses elements of magic and the supernatural, a main character thrust into a world they do not really understand, plus a large amount of historical real-world research to give realism. It is a good mix, and even though the book is quite similar in general ways to Neverwhere and American Gods, it is such a pleasure to spend time in Gaiman's worlds that I don't really mind.

While some people find graveyards creepy, I grew up right next to one, and could look out the front window to see the rows upon rows of graves. Unlike the graveyard in Gaiman's book, which is no longer being used for new burials, the one across from my childhood home was, and is, still growing, so as the years passed gradually the number of graves grew. I didn't really think much about it at the time, but it was a good reminder that death is always on the march.

From time to time I've wandered among graveyards elsewhere, in Australia and in Japan. Gaiman made a good choice setting his story in an old graveyard, as they always seem to have more character. I remember wandering among a hilltop cemetery in an abandoned mining town, and visiting the grave of some of the first members of my family to come to Australia in the mid-19th century.

I've visited the Yokohama foreigner's cemetery too, which holds the remains of people from all over the world, who came to these shores and never left. After just finishing The Graveyard Book, I can't help but wonder what type of community might exist among the ghosts of those people, visitors, teachers, sailors, prisoners of war, and others who found themselves interred on that quiet hill in Yokohama. I can imagine the mixture of languages and views, those who came to love the land they made their home, and those who were bought here as slaves and never found their way home again.

I've been to Japanese cemeteries too. Cemeteries are almost always quiet, peaceful places, and I don't think that the dead really mind people coming by. In Japan cemeteries are generally located near Buddhist temples, and last year when I was in a bad way I was working nearby an old temple. I would often go there on breaks, and the quietness helped me to get through another day.

It has been a little while since I've visited a cemetery, and perhaps it would do me good to visit one again. It has been years since my visit to the Yokohama foreigners' cemetery, perhaps I should drop by again, and see if the residents have anything to teach me.


  1. That book was band from my school library- I know this because my Mom was one of the people that complained about it!. I had forgotten about it until now. I have been dying to read this along with Gaiman's Sandman series. You've put me on a new mission to find these books :)

    When I was little I had a fascination for graveyards. I always would want to go to a graveyard instead of the playground! Part of it was because I liked the fancy headstones but visiting a graveyard would always spark my imagination because I would always wonder about the people buried there- who they loved, what adventures they had in their lifetime, what secrets they kept. Visiting a graveyard puts things in perspective.

  2. One of my son read these books, at least some from the series I remember. He loved the fact that the school wouldn't allow them and he is still very out spoken about such things and fights for no book banning. So proud! :-)

    Very interesting post! & obvisously brought back some memories for me. So thanks!

  3. Hi Stephi,
    It is well worth reading. There is something good about reading well-crafted children's books. Over the last year I've had a blast reading Treasure Island, The Call of the Wild, and Black Beauty, among others. As for graveyards, I think for all of us they prompt some thinking and introspection, as well as thoughts about those who have gone before us and are no more.

    Hi Coreen,
    I'm glad your son liked them, and it is great that he fought against the book banning. I find it hard to imagine how any child would be damaged by reading this book.

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