15 February 2009

Graveyard dalliance

I was entertained recently by Neil Gaiman's exuberant tweeting about his receipt of The American Library Association's Newbery Medal for children's literature for his novel The Graveyard Book. I recently read Coraline, and then saw the movie (in 3D!). I think this is one of the few movies that surpasses the book upon which it is based (aside from Peter Bentley's Jaws), in both cases because the author was involved with the scriptwriting - I very much liked the addition of Wybie and his grandmother, and the ecstatic puppetry. Those vampiric Scotties had me laughing out loud. So, when I had the chance to read The Graveyard Book, I took it - the coincidence of the tweets and the movie was not to be avoided.

The Graveyard Book starts out rather traditionally, with the death of the main character's mother and family - but there the similarity to Disney ends. Bod Owens, protagonist of the story, is taken in as an orphan by the residents of the graveyard; most of them ghosts, but that makes no matter to a child. Bod (and the reader) are occupied by Bod's adventures in learning ghostly skills from the dead persons in their crypts and graves; by the time he is a teen, Bod can fade from sight, strike fear into the hearts of men, and greet people in the styles of courtesy from over a thousand years. All of which is mightily entertaining - so much so, that one almost forgets to wonder whatever happened to the assailant who ended the lives of his parents and sister.

But they are not to be forgotten. In time, Bod addresses the threat to his own life and ruins the ending of a self-fulfilling prophecy. And then, the saddest part of the book - reminiscent to me of Susan leaving Narnia behind ... but I'll leave that for you, dear reader, to discover.

Kudos to Gaiman for accomplishing in one small tome two amazing feats; first, he produces a character, Ms. Lupescu, so despicable that my 8 year old son was rooting for her to be done away with when she first appeared; and shortly after that she redeems herself and he was cheering for her. Next, at the ending of the book I was quite saddened by Bod's future prospects; my son, however, read the same passages with high hopes for Bod's exciting future. That an author can with the same text move an adult to tears and a child to joyfulness was astonishing.

I understand from the NPR interview that Gaiman took inspiration from The Jungle Book, which I never read. There's a link to it below.