Monday, February 16, 2009

The Graveyard Book

I have just finished reading Neil Gaiman's YA novel, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, which won this year's prestigious Newberry Medal. It's charming.

At first, I was afraid it might be too charming, in danger of toppling over into cutesy. But as the story unfolds, Gaiman corrects this. There are gritty underpinnings here, and they serve the narrative well. That narrative is a retelling of Rudyard Kipling's THE JUNGLE BOOK. Instead of a toddler Mowgli adopted and raised by wolves, we have a toddler Nobody ("Bod") adopted and raised by ghosts. Like Mowgli, Bod is protected by the consensus permission of his world, which is not the Law of the Jungle but rather the Freedom of the Graveyard. There are equivalents to Kipling's characters: the tiger Shere Khan, intent on killing Mowgli, is replaced by a human killer, "Jack" (evocative of Jack the Ripper), who murdered the rest of Bod's family and is existentially driven to get Bod to complete the job. Mowgli is taught and protected by the panther Bagheera; Bod by Silas, who is "neither alive nor dead" and walks the world by night, bringing back food for the child. The foolish, cruel monkeys who snatch away Mowgli are parallelled by a band of foolish, cruel (and pretty funny) ghouls. And so on.

But Gaiman has done more than just transliterate. The Graveyard is a real place, with ghosts who died real deaths. I especially liked Liza, the witch restless in the unconsecrated ground in which she was unceremoniously buried. The ghosts come from different eras, some of them ancient (this is a British graveyard), and their diction varies accordingly. The barrow with buried Druid treasure is genuinely creepy.

Kids should really like this fantasy. I did.

1 comment:

Frank Böhmert said...

Well that sounds pretty good. Perhaps it's time to read my first Gaiman.