Graveyard Book by Gaiman

I was pleasantly surprised by Gaiman’s latest book (and now award winning) The Graveyard Book. I liked it much better than Coraline, as it presented a lighter side of death.  Which is surprising for anyone who has read anything by Gaiman before.  Bod, whose name is Nobody, is a little baby adopted by ghosts and given the run of the graveyard.  By giving him run of the graveyard he is able to do some of the tricks they are in the graveyard only (like going through walls).  As anyone can imagine, being raised by ghosts can be odd (such as learning to read by reading gravestones), but the stories are endearing.  In the end there is a battle which can be slightly frightening for a younger reader.

Gaiman describes the book the best by saying one of his inspirations was The Jungle Books by Kipling, yet rather than being raised by the jungle obviously, his child is raised by ghosts.  In our culture today where death is a fascination (yet perhaps no more than any other generation), this retelling of sorts is appropriate.  A lot is left unsaid, and is perhaps left to be inferred, but Graveyard Book is a childrens book and not everything is always explained.  And perhaps the reader doesn’t really want an explaination.


Coraline by Neil Gaiman





Coraline slightly frightens
me. As I read the story, I couldn’t help but finish it as the suspense was great, but perhaps because of my experience (now being an adult), I found myself scared. Coraline is a story of a little girl who unlocks the door into another world where there is the “Other Mother” who kidnaps Coraline’s parents to try to force
Coraline to live in her “other world”. In the story Coraline meets three other children’s ‘shells’ — they are not really alive or dead because the Other Mother has hidden their souls so that she can feast off of them forever. One of the little children spoke old English, so the idea is that the children have been there for quite some time. Coraline then decides to make a bet with the Other Mother to free her parents and the other children’s souls. The question is, whether the Other Mother will keep her word and if Coraline will be able to find the children’s souls in time to save them.

One of the lessons to be learned from Coraline is a good and valuable lesson which is the sacrificial love parents have for their children. Coraline remembers a time when her father saved her from yellow jackets, and decides that if her father loved her that much to sacrifice himself, then she can overcome her fears and try to rescue her parents; no matter the risk to herself. And Coraline herself is quite a strong character as she is able to make strategic decisions to help her against the Other Mother. She does this all even though she herself is frightened because she loves her parents and she knows her parents would do the same for her (even though they were not been spending much time with her in the beginning of the story, she knew that they still loved her). So the general lesson from the story is a good one, but the events along the way are just a little creepy.

In Coraline, the breadth and knowledge about the world is explained little, which fits as it is a children’s story. From reading Coraline, the reader will know that there is one very creepy Other Mother who is able to transform things, but not create. She ‘feeds’ off supposedly of children someway, but it isn’t ever explained. What is explained is this [a child’s ‘shell’ is explaining this to Coraline]:

“The names are the first things to go, after the breath has gone, and the beating of the heart. We keep our memories longer than our names.”

“She [the Other Mother] stole our hearts, and she stole our souls, and she took our lives away, and she left us here, and she forgot
about us in the dark.”

“She fed on us until we’ve nothing left of ourselves, only snakes skins and
spider husks…”

Most children may completely read over this, and not see the
darkness of the story at all. It is better that not much more is explained as Gaiman’s other world seems to be controlled by a woman who is manipulative and creepy (like most of his villainous woman in his adult stories). And while the real fairy tales are slightly dark as well, this Other Mother seems to build and create her world off of children’s spirits and lives. The reader can’t believe that she wants Coraline as a daughter, but instead wants to use her to help fuel her and her world. This is in my mind makes the tale very dark, even with the touching lesson of sacrificial love.

Coraline is a well-written tale but perhaps for older children, such as teenagers. Especially in light of other dark tales that have been recently written, like Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or The Dead and the Gone by Pfeffer. The question for these stories is how dark should children’s stories be and when is it the appropriate time for them to read such tales?