Study Guide

The Ocean at the End of the Lane Genre

By Neil Gaiman

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Magical Realism; Coming-of-Age; Fairy Tale

Magical Realism

Although the magical realism genre mostly has its roots in Latin American literature (check out Gabriel Garcia Marquez) this story fits the category perfectly. It is characterized by the presence of magical elements set within an otherwise ordinary and logical narrative, as well as a reticence on the part of the author to fully explain such paranormal events—making things like an animated circus tent that wants to give people money believable.

The juxtaposition of the ridiculous with the mundane makes the reader question whether their notion of normal is actually reality, which is perfect when one of your characters is capable of squeezing an entire ocean into a bucket.

Coming of Age

This book isn't exactly a classic coming of age novel—after all, our main character is seven when the meat of the story starts and seven when it ends—but because he loses so much innocence through the events that transpire during Ursula Monkton's brief visit, we're gonna go ahead and say this book has at least a toe in the coming of age genre, though it definitely doesn't dive in headfirst.

For more on innocence—and his loss of it—be sure to check out the cute kittens over in the "Symbols" section.

Fairy Tale

Just like with coming of age, we're not trying to say that you're going to find this book in the fairy tale section of your local library or bookstore—but it's definitely got elements from the fairy tale genre in it. And to be clear, we're not talking about the rosy stories you might be familiar with from childhood—we're talking fairy tales as they used to be told. And these stories were dark… just like this one.

Anytime there are magical creatures in a story, you know you're veering toward fairy tale territory. And with varmints and fleas and the shape-shifting Ursula in the mix, that means we have too.

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