Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Date Added: April 13, 2013
Date Started: August 9, 2018
Date Finished: September 13, 2018
Reading Duration: 35 days
Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal/Supernatural, Young Adult (YA), Mid-Grade
In this ingenious and captivating reimagining of Rudyard Kipling’s classic adventure The Jungle Book, Neil Gaiman tells the unforgettable story of Nobody Owens, a living, breathing boy whose home is a graveyard, raised by a guardian who belongs neither to the mortal world nor the realm of the dead. Among the mausoleums and headstones of his home, Bod experiences things most mortals can barely imagine. But real, flesh-and-blood danger waits just outside the cemetery walls: the man who murdered the infant Bod’s family will not rest until he finds Nobody Owens and finishes the job he began many years ago.
A #1 New York Times bestseller and winner of many international awards, including the Hugo Award for best novel and the Locus Award, The Graveyard Book is a glorious meditation on love, loss, survival, and sacrifice . . . and what it means to truly be alive.
Per the blurb, this is a retelling/fanfiction of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, but without the blatantly racist aspects of the original work. In using the graveyard as a paranormal stand-in for Mowgli’s jungle, Gaiman’s novel serves as a perfect parallel to the “return to your own world” narrative, and could in fact surpass Kipling’s motif to the same. While Mowgli will never belong to the jungle, one day the graveyard will be Nobody’s place, and the somber meaning of his name will be fulfilled.
Bod (as he’s called) has a life that’s instantly enchanting. His entire family was murdered for unknown reasons by a sinister man in black, but through fortune or fate, the killer is unable to finish the job, and the infant is adopted by the deceased Owens’ with the enigmatic figures of Silas and Mrs. Lupsecu as his mentors. Neither of them are dead per se, but neither do they belong to the world of the living either, and The Jungle Book parallels become even more clear. Silas is Baloo who served as Mowgli’s teacher and Mrs. Lupescu is Bagheera who taught the boy the Laws of the Jungle. The Owens’ are Mother and Father Wolf with the rest of the dead serving as the Seeonee wolf pack and other creatures of the jungle. There’s an incident where Bod is kidnapped by by ghouls who are the stand-ins for the Bandar-log, or “monkey people,” and the later “Danse Macabre” chapter is equivalent to “The Spring Running” story in The Second Jungle Book where all of Mowgli’s friends abandon him for mating season.
“Shere Khan” is of course Jack i.e. “the man in black” who killed Bod’s family and tried to kill Bod, just as the tiger attempted to slay the infant Mowgli, and in a greater Oedipal arrangement, Jack’s action to avoid the prophecy of destruction ends up bringing it about (I have a great rant prepared for what people get wrong about Oedipus Rex in terms of memes and jokes, but I’ll save that for later).
It’s a clever retelling of a classic that I can’t say is any more morbid for involving the dead. Gaiman is no stranger to fanfiction, and arguing The Graveyard Book counts as one isn’t unreasonable, nor can I say I didn’t shed a few tears before the final page was through. While not my favorite Gaiman book (The Ocean at the End of the Lane still holds that distinction, and I didn’t miss that the author using the surname “Hempstock” for a witch in the cemetery), it’s a nice tribute to The Jungle Book and a good story in its own right.