The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman
Analysis: What's Up With the Ending?
The final chapter of The Graveyard Book, “Leavings and Partings,” Bod leaves the graveyard. All of a sudden, he’s booted out of his home, without even having a chance to think it through. And why doesn’t somebody explain why he’s losing his Freedom of the Graveyard powers? Well, they probably thought he’d figure it out himself, since there were so many clues like this one:
Bod leaned down to push his head into the grave and call his friend, but instead of his head slipping through the solid matter like a shadow passing through a deeper shadow, his head met the ground with a hard and painful thump. (8.7)
We love this passage because it tells us something new – that Bod could actually stick his head into coffins. (So gross, yet so fascinating.)
Leaving the graveyard is what Bod has been wanting for years and years. It’s his dream come true. Silas and the other graveyard folks want to give it to Bod like a precious gift. So, of course they would try to keep it a surprise for as long as possible.
All right then, let’s dig into some other aspects of the ending that catch our eyes.
No Path Untaken
Remember when Mrs. Owens is waiting outside the funeral chapel, singing a lullaby to Bod, waiting to hear if the graveyard elites will accept Bod and give him Freedom of the Graveyard? It goes like this:
“Sleep my little babby-oh
Sleep until you waken
When you’re grown you’ll see the world
If I’m not mistaken,
Kiss a lover,
Dance a measure,
Find your name,
And buried treasure…” (1.129)
After you read the whole book, you can see that it follows the path of Bod’s life like a timeline. He gets kissed by Liza, he dances at the Macabray, he finds his name, and he finds buried treasure. The third line of the lullaby talks about the last chapter, where we see Bod setting out to see the world. But we’re told, “And Mrs. Owens sang all that before she discovered that she had forgotten how the song ended” (1.30). This means that we don’t know what happens at the end of the lullaby. In the last chapter of the book, Mrs. Owens remembers finally the ending of the lullaby and sings it to Bod, like this:
“Face your life,
Its pain, it pleasure,
Leave no path untaken” (8.97)
Writing these three lines was a really powerful moment for Neil Gaiman, as he discussed in his Newbery Award acceptance speech:
[…] my eyes stung momentarily. It was then, and only then, that I saw clearly for the first time what I was writing. I had set out to write a book about a childhood […]. I was now writing about a parent, and the fundamental most comic tragedy of parenthood: that if you do your job properly, if you, as a parent, raise your children well, they won’t need you anymore. (source)
We could really feel this too – Mrs. Owens is able to deliver these last lines to Bod because she feels confident that she and the rest of the graveyard folks have done a good job raising Bod. At the beginning, no one was sure that raising a child in a graveyard was a good idea. But now Mrs. Owens knows for sure. She has faith in Bod and whatever paths he chooses, because he has had a good upbringing in the graveyard.
Bod is pretty young to be leaving home, by today’s standards. He’s only about fifteen years old and he’s going off into a world he knows very little about. Of course, he’s no ordinary guy, but a hero who helped make the world a safer place by helping to get rid of the Jacks of All Trades. What kind of paths do you think Bod will take? Since he has a passport, we can assume he’ll travel. And we know he likes football, books, and all kinds of learning.
But, we can’t really see Bod being anything other than a hero. We'll never really know, though, unless Neil Gaiman writes a sequel. When asked if he would ever write a sequel to The Graveyard Book, Gaiman said, “I will, yes, but it will go to very different places – and it may not get back to the Graveyard” (source) Hmm…very interesting. If not the graveyard, where do you think a sequel will be set? Does the novel give us any clues?