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Themes

A graveyard is a way for the living to remember the dead, right? In The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman flips the script and says that maybe the dead need (and want) to be remembered as much as the living need to remember them. On top of this, the novel raises some troubling issues about memory. For example, Silas can play around with the minds of living people and make them forget whole chunks of their lives, as he does with Bod’s childhood friend Scarlett.

Another form of the past explored here is through history. The dead characters Bod spends his childhood with give us a solid look into British history. The people of the graveyard lived during different times, from when the Romans conquered the Celts, to witch trials in the 1500s, and on. We get to learn bits about history and science from these time periods through the ghosts. And through the mysterious Sleer, we’re given a glimpse of Britain’s prehistoric past, thousands of years ago.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. How are we supposed to remember the dead? Should everyone get a headstone? A nice inscription on the headstone?
  2. Can you identify the time periods that the different ghosts are from?  Try making a timeline with the characters, including the Sleer, Caius Pompeius, Mr. and Mrs. Owens, Mr. Pennyworth, Liza Hempstock, Josiah Worthington, any of your other favorite graveyard characters.
  3. What kinds of things did you learn about British history from The Graveyard Book? Were any topics mentioned that you'd like to learn more about?
  4. If you had the Freedom of the Graveyard and visited a graveyard near your home, what kinds of ghosts might you meet? What time periods would they be from?  What kinds of local history would they be able to tell you about?
  5. Why do you think the living forget that they've danced the Macabray?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The Graveyard Book is a good way to get young readers interested in history.

Graveyards are a good place to go to learn about local history.

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