Study Guide

The Graveyard Book Death

By Neil Gaiman

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The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet. (1.2)

We get a heavy, blood-soaked taste of death right at the beginning of <em>The Graveyard Book</em>.

But there was a difference between the folk in the graveyard and <em>this</em>: a raw, flickering, startling shape the grey color of television static, all panic and naked emotion which flooded the Owenses as if it was their own. (1.43)

This passage is from Mrs. Owens’s point of view. She’s studying Bod’s very recently dead mother. Apparently, there are stages of being dead, and it’s something one has to get used to, just like life.

“The Saturday after they drowned and toasted me, a carpet was delivered to Mr. Porringer […]. […] it carried the plague in its pattern, and by Monday five of them were coughing blood, and their skins were gone as black as mine when they hauled me from the fire.” (4.82)

Liza describes some really horrible deaths here. Liza dies by fire, after first getting drowned. But the people who burn her to death, and the people who watch her burn, later suffer, perhaps even more horribly. Unlike Liza, they don’t get a final resting place anywhere near the nice graveyard either. Instead, they were tossed into plague pits – enormous pits where the people who die from the plague were thrown.

“There’s rules for those in graveyards, but not for those as was buried in unhallowed ground. Nobody tells <em>me</em> what to do, or where to go” (4.182)

The people buried inside the graveyard think they’re better than Liza because they made it into the cemetery, and she didn’t. None of them seem to be able to leave the graveyard, though. Liza’s existence may be lonely, but at least she’s free to travel.

“[…] I  do not know what it is like to dance the Macabre. You must be alive or you must be dead to dance it and I am neither.” (5.50)

Poor Silas. He’s always caught in the middle. We know he’s a vampire, but what does it mean to be neither alive nor dead?

“But there is only one perfectly safe place for your kind and you will not reach it until all of your adventures are over and none of them matter any longer.” (6.442)

Silas is saying that once we die there is no pain and no danger. None of the dead we meet seem to be in any danger, but they do seem to experience pain when Bod leaves.

“Why didn’t Silas just kill him?” said Bod fiercely. “He should have just killed him then.” (7.24)

Bod is very frustrated here. He’s getting more and more antsy stuck in the graveyard, and thinks Jack is the reason he is trapped. He doesn’t understand why Silas didn’t take care of Jack that first night, when Jack was trying to find Bod. It could be that Silas didn’t know who or what Jack was at that point. Or, it could be that Silas knew of the prophecy and knew it was Bod’s job, not Silas’s, to deal with Jack.

In the graveyard, no one ever changed. The little children Bod played with when he was small were still little children […]. (7.129)

This is true from Bod’s perspective, but what he doesn’t understand is that the dead <em>do</em> change after knowing him. They don’t change much, mind you. But, they do change in that they have over ten years of new memories, which they will be unable to forget.  Do you believe the dead can change, too?

“There’s not much that happens here to make one day unlike the next. The seasons change. The ivy grows. Stones fall over. But you coming here… well, I’m glad you did, that’s all.” (8.17)

See, that’s what we’re talking about – the graveyard folks are altered by this living boy. At the very least, Bod kept them from getting bored and stirred things up in the graveyard.

The Graveyard Book Death Study Group

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