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Fasten your seatbelts, folks – The Graveyard Book begins with a sharp knife.
A man named Jack has the knife in his hand as he creeps into a house, leaving the front door slightly open.
He uses the knife on the people in the house – now the mother is dead in her bed, the father dead on the bedroom floor, and the big sister dead in her room, her toys all around her. And we’re already kind of overwhelmed.
The only person still alive in the house is a baby. When Jack uses the knife on the baby, his job will be done.
He goes up the stairs and finds the baby’s room at the top of the house in the attic. It’s dark except for a half moon shining in the window.
In the dim light he sees the baby in his crib. He gets the knife ready to stab the baby in the chest.
But, wait – he finds only a teddy bear in the crib. The baby is gone.
Jack sniffs the air to pick up the smell of the baby, and then he sniffs through the house trying to find the little guy.
When he is sure that the baby is no longer in the house, Jack goes out into the foggy night, following the baby’s smell up the hill toward the old graveyard.
Now, mini flashback – we hear what happened to the baby, who, by the way, has just recently learned to walk.
Earlier that night, the baby, who is about a year and a half old, wakes up when he hears loud noises in the house.
When he gets bored by the disturbance, he escapes from his crib. It hurts but he doesn’t cry, because he doesn’t want to get put back in the crib. (We all know that feeling, clearly.)
The boy makes it down the stairs – losing his diaper along the way – and then slips out the open door into the fog and walks up the hill toward the graveyard. This walking thing is sure fun.
The fog is thick in and around the graveyard. A “pale, plump woman” (1.29) made of “moonlight, mist and shadow” (1.29) is walking inside the graveyard, toward the front gates, which are locked, since it’s nighttime.
Only a baby is small enough to have gotten through the iron railings.
The woman calls out to someone names Owens, and a man in his mid-forties, who looks like part of a shadow too, appears. He’s the woman’s husband. Her name is Mrs. Owens.
He can’t believe a baby is in the graveyard.
When Mr. Owens sees Jack at the gate, he thinks it’s the baby’s family, coming for him.
Mrs. Owens doesn’t think Jack looks like a family type of guy.
Soon, the ghosts of the baby’s family appear. The mother begs Mr. and Mrs. Owens to protect the baby from Jack.
We learn that the ghosts of the baby’s family are different from the Owens couple. Mr. and Mrs. Owens are dead too, but they’ve been dead for a long time. They woke naturally after they’d been buried.
But, the family, it seems, is awake because they were killed violently.
As Jack tries to climb into the graveyard, Mr. and Mrs. Owens, who have been together two hundred fifty years, but who never had any kids when they were alive, decide to be the baby’s mom and dad.
They aren’t quite sure how they’ll do it since they’re dead and the baby is alive. Details.
But at least now the boy’s mother will rest quietly until she comes awake “in her own graveyard, or wherever she’s going next” (1.56).
Jack has somehow managed to get into the graveyard and is hunting the boy. He feels like something weird is going on, but he doesn’t quite know what. He calls out, “Hello” (1.66).
A “stranger” appears (1.68). He asks Jack what he’s doing inside a locked graveyard, and Jack tells him he heard a baby in here and wanted to rescue it.
The stranger leads Jack to a side gate and unlocks it. He tells Jack that the baby must not have come to the graveyard.
Once Jack’s outside, the stranger locks himself back in the graveyard.
He says that Jack probably won’t remember the talk they had later. Jack agrees with him and then goes down the hill to look for the baby.
The stranger walks to the amphitheater (stadium) at the top of the hill in the graveyard. The amphitheater is the grave of Josiah Worthington, the baron who bought the graveyard and donated it and the land around it to the city.
Most of the ten thousand or so people living in the graveyard “[sleep] deep” (1.88). But, three hundred of them are up now in the amphitheater. Josiah’s telling Mrs. Owens that she can’t keep the baby.
Mr. Owens explains that Mrs. Owens is trying to “[do] her duty” (1.93).
Caius Pompeius, who has been in the graveyard for two thousand years, wants know how the Owens will be able to get the baby food and how they plan to take care of him.
Mother Slaughter, another resident of the graveyard (we can only imagine what her job was), wants to know where the little guy will live.
Mrs. Owens has a solution: “We could give him the Freedom of the Graveyard” (1.102).
(The perks of Freedom of the Graveyard will be revealed throughout the novel. Just sit tight.)
The only non-dead person to ever get Freedom of the Graveyard is the stranger, Silas, who made Jack leave the graveyard. But, as Caius points out, Silas isn’t alive.
Silas comes out of the shadows and says he agrees with Mrs. Owens. He says,
“Mrs. Owens and her husband have taken the child under their protection. It will take more than just a couple of good hearted souls to raise this child. It will […] take a graveyard” (1.108)
Unlike the inhabitants of the graveyard, Silas can come and go freely. He can get food for the baby. He volunteers to be the baby’s guardian and protect him. The baby’s home will be the tomb in the chapel. Well, that settles that.
Now, the baby needs a name. Mrs. Owens decides to call him Nobody Owens, because, “He looks like nobody but himself” (1.120).
When Nobody starts to cry, Mrs. Owens takes him away while the other three hundred members of the graveyard debate whether to let Nobody stay, and whether to give him Freedom of the Graveyard.
Mrs. Owens takes Nobody to the chapel and sings to him.
Soon, Silas arrives with food. He gives Nobody a banana, a food that Mrs. Owens has never tasted. Silas has never tasted it either. We are told that “Silas consumed only one food, and it was not bananas” (1.140). (This is a hint as to what kind of creature Silas might be. Keep your eyes peeled for more clues.)
Meanwhile, the dead are still arguing. Soon, a woman dressed in grey, riding a huge, white horse, arrives. She is (appropriately) called The Lady on the Grey, and the dead are in awe of her.
She says, “The dead should have charity” (1.161).
That settles the matter, and Mother Slaughter, Josiah Worthington, and Mr. Owens come to the burial chamber to tell Mrs. Owens that Nobody can stay, and that he’ll be given Freedom of the Graveyard.
Before morning, Silas goes to Nobody’s house and looks at the dead bodies there.
Next, he goes to the top of the chapel, his home in the graveyard, and sleeps. Silas sleeps during the day and is only awake after dark. (This is the second hint as to what kind of creature Silas is.)
Jack (the killer) is in the town at the bottom of the hill, and he’s not a happy camper. He’s lost his victim.
He’ll have to make contact with certain townspeople who will tell him if the boy turns up.
There’s still plenty of time, many years, for Jack to complete his mission and kill the baby.
When he hears the police sirens coming to the house where he did his dark work, he walks off, his big knife in his pocket.