The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman
Silas is Bod’s guardian. He takes care of all of Bod’s basic needs, like food and shelter. He’s also Bod’s idol – the guy Bod looks up to, and will always look up to above all others. Silas isn’t dead, but he isn’t alive either. He’s a sad, lonely figure, not fitting in with either the living or the dead, like when he is can’t join in the Danse Macabre (where the dead and the living dance, for one night only). He is full of wisdom, but also full of pain. He's also a big mystery.
It’s not clear exactly why Silas lives in the graveyard where Bod is raised. At the end of the novel, when Bod leaves the graveyard, Silas leaves too. It’s almost as if Silas was waiting there just for Bod. We’re never exactly sure how much Silas knows about the Jacks and the prophecy of their destruction before he meets Bod, or how much he learns from investigating. We’re never sure if Silas would have agreed to be the guardian for just any infant that popped up in the graveyard, or whether he was especially aware of his role in fulfilling an ancient prophecy, one involving Bod in particular.
Silas the Vampire
Silas is the perfect example of mystery, secrecy, and slippery answers. Most of the other mythological or supernatural creatures we meet in The Graveyard Book are clearly identified. Part of the fun of this novel is playing “Guess What Kind of Creature Silas Is.” Some of you probably figured it out pretty fast, but if you’re like us, it took a little while.
OK, we’ll just say it: Silas is a vampire.
The clues are blended into the story so smoothly that we barely notice them at first. We’ll give you a few of our favorites.
Hint 1: Silas consumed only one food, and it was not bananas. (1.140)
OK, this doesn’t mean much unless it’s taken together with the other clues. The one food that Silas eats could be anything. Plus, we never actually learn what that food is. We do know most vampires eat only blood, so we suspect his one food is blood (bummer for him). In Anne’s Rice’s Interview With A Vampire, the vampire Louis lives off the blood of small animals to try to keep from eating people blood. In the Twilight novels, the “vegetarian” vampires, the Cullens, hunt big game so they don’t have to drink human blood. So, people blood, animal blood, or something else entirely? What do you think Silas eats?
Hint 2: As twilight edged from grey to purple there was a noise in the spire, like a fluttering of heavy velvet, and Silas left his resting place and clambered head first down the spire. (4.6)
This passage lets us know that Silas is that classic vampire who can turn into a bat. Have you ever heard the phrase “bats in the belfry”? Well, bats are known for hanging out in belfries. Belfries are high towers with bells in them (like in church steeples) and, what do you know, Silas sleeps in one. Bats are also known for their habit of sleeping upside-down. In this passage, it isn’t clear whether Silas changes from bat to man before or after he climbs down the spire. It’s also not quite clear whether Bod understands that Silas goes back and forth from man to bat. If he does, he doesn’t see anything unusual in such a thing. But why would he? He’s grown up around Silas and he loves the guy/bat.
Hint 3: Something huge was flying through the air […] something bigger and darker than the biggest bird. Something man-size that flickered and fluttered as it moved, like the strobing flight of a bat. (6.268)
OK, so maybe Silas isn’t a vampire, maybe he’s just Batman. We kind of like that idea – Silas as an alter-ego of Batman, who is an alter-ego of Bruce Wayne. But, when put together with the other clues, it just doesn’t work. This passage helps us figure out that Silas is a vampire, but also tells us something of what he looks like when he’s in bat-mode. Apparently, Silas can turn into a really big bat and fly through the air. It doesn’t tell us if he can turn into a really small bat, too, or if he can turn into anything else.
Hint 4: The surface of the tabletop was almost mirrored, and, had anyone cared to look, they might have observed that the tall man had no reflection. (7.818)
Aha! This one’s the clincher. Did you know that Dracula doesn't have a reflection when he looks in the mirror?
Silas the Guardian
Silas doesn’t just guard Bod. He’s also a member of the Honor Guard. Since Silas is extremely mysteriousness, he keeps details of the Honor Guard’s activities top-secret. He doesn’t even tell Bod that he’s a member, or that he and some other members have been in a big old battle with the Jacks since Chapter 4.
(We know he was battling the Jacks in Chapter 3 because at the end of that chapter, Silas brings Bod a model of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. In the Interlude, Jack Frost complains about some trouble in San Francisco a few years back.)
Bod finally learns Silas is a member of the Honor Guard when he talks to some dead people in another graveyard. The information only makes sense to him later, though, when he hears the Jacks talking about many of them recently being destroyed. When Silas breaks the bad news about Miss Lupescu’s death to Silas, Bod gets him to admit that he and Miss Lupescu are indeed members of the Guard.
When Bod asks for more details on Honor Guard activities, Silas says, “We don’t do enough, […] And mostly, we guard the borderlands. We protect the borders of things” (8.60). We know Silas isn’t talking about the border between countries here. He's not keeping illegal immigrants from crossing country lines. We think that in the world of The Graveyard Book, there are worlds full of evil creatures. If there’s a break in the borders between those worlds and ours, the balance of good and evil in the world will shift, and evil will rule the day. We know that a mummy named Kandar and an Ifrit named Haroun are also members of the Honor Guard. This hints that one has to be a mythological creature to be a member.
Silas’s place in the Honor Guard becomes even more significant, especially for Bod, when Silas reveals a little of his past to Bod. Check out what Silas says in the last chapter:
“I have not always done the right thing. When I was younger… I did worse things than Jack. Worse than any of them. I was the monster, then, Bod, and worse than any monster.” (8.66)
Silas now lives, as far as Bod is concerned, an honorable life. So, Silas was able to change from someone “worse than any monster” to a member of the Honor Guard. From this, Bod might conclude that even the worst monster is capable of becoming good. (You might or might not believe this yourself, but still.)
In Bod’s section, we talk about Scarlett accusing Bod of being a monster because she considers his treatment of Jack Frost cruel. If Silas is able to change from someone worse than Jack Frost into such a great guy, isn’t that potential there in Jack too? By helping to arrange for Jack’s permanent residency in the Sleer’s lair, is Bod robbing Jack of his chance to change into someone as good as Silas? What would Silas say?