Published in 2008, Neil Gaiman’s offbeat novel The Graveyard Book is a quirky tale about Nobody (Bod) Owens, a human boy who was raised in a graveyard. Bod came to the graveyard as a toddler, escaping his parents’ and sibling’s murderer, by the man Jack. Adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Owens, Bod is raised among an eccentric cast of characters, most of whom are dead and inhabit the graveyard. Tutored by the spirits and given Freedom of the Graveyard, he learns special talents like “fading” in order to live in the graveyard comfortably and undetected, safe from the man Jack, who is still searching for him.
On his journey through childhood and adolescence, he befriends a human girl, helps the spirit of a witch, opens and subsequently escapes a ghoul-gate, dances the Macabray (a dance of the dead), and even attends school outside of the graveyard, where he confronts the school bullies. The characters in Bod’s life are unique and influential. Silas, Bod’s guardian and teacher, exists between the worlds of the living and dead, and can move fluidly between the two in order to provide Bod with food and necessities to survive. Silas is a voice of wisdom and a mentor to Bod. Bod is also taught by Miss Lupescu, a wolf-woman who imparts some very important lessons that end up saving his life. Combined with friends like Liza Hempstock, the graveyard witch, and Scarlett Perkins, Bod’s human friend, Bod’s experiences are in part shaped by his friends and teachers.
The Graveyard Book can be compared to the Harry Potter series for its supernatural elements and orphaned protagonist. Bod’s family, like Harry Potter’s, was killed by a murderer who continues to antagonize the one member of the family they were unable to kill. While Bod’s biological family did not raise him, he has a collective, non-traditional family in the spirits of the graveyard. However, his adventures stem from his own choices, and not the guidance or direction of parental influence.
Themes of community, friendship, and family abound in this unconventional tale of growing up. The Graveyard Book upturns the traditional idea of home and safety. In a bit of twisted logic, for Bod, being among the dead in a graveyard is safer than residing among the living, because to reside among the living means a certain death. Although it is difficult to leave the safety of the “known life” behind, Bod must move ahead in order to truly live. Of all the gifts the graveyard gave him, the most valuable is the understanding that, in the words of Silas, “life is potential.”