Literature: The Graveyard Book

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.

When a young boy's family is killed, he takes refuge in a graveyard. The dead there take him in, and dub him Nobody Owens (although his friends call him Bod). There, taken care of by a vampire, a werewolf and his adoptive (but dead) parents, Bod learns from the dead all the things he needs to know about life. But the world outside of the graveyard where he is sheltered is not a safe place. The people who killed his family are still out there, and they are searching for him. Badass ensues.

Think of a gothic Jungle Book. Written by Neil Gaiman and published in 2008. Illustrated by Dave McKean in the US edition and Chris Riddell in the UK.

Neil Gaiman has won a swag of awards, including the Hugo Award and both the Newbery Medal and the Carnegie Medal (it is the first book ever to win the Newbery and Carnegie).

A movie is, as of 2012, in pre-production over at Disney. Henry Selick was originally attached, but they gave him the boot and Ron Howard has been suggested.


The Graveyard Book contains examples of:

  • Ancient Conspiracy: The Jacks of All Trades are a good example of this.
    • And possibly the Honour Guard.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Mrs. Lupescu starts calling Bod "Nimini."
  • Arc Words: "Sleep, my little babby-oh..." Mrs. Owens only remembers the last part of the song as she's saying goodbye to Bod forever.
  • The Atoner: Silas. He admits to Bod at one time, he was worse than the Man Jack, which is why he joined the the Honor Guard.
  • Bastard In Sheep's Clothing: Mr. Frost, who moves in and pretends to be a nice lonely bachelor to Scarlet and her mother, is actually the Jack who murdered Bod's family years before and is once again out to get him.
    • Notable in that he's used his magic to completely create this persona: while he wears it it's apparently genuine, but he removes it after he recognizes Bod and thereafter it's gone.
  • Because Destiny Says So: In the Graveyard Book, Bod is being pursued by the Jacks of All Trades because one of their people predicted around four thousand years ago that a child would be born who would destroy their organization.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Bod defeats the Man Jack and grows old enough to leave the graveyard, to explore the world to his liking. However, he no longer has a proper home and his childhood friend Scarlett has forgotten about him. Also, Mrs. Lupescu pulled a Heroic Sacrifice to save him.
  • Chameleon Camouflage: Being raised by ghosts, Bod does it very well.
  • Crapsaccharine World: The world of ghouls.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Mrs Lupescu makes Bod learn (among other things) how to shout for help in every language of the world and some from beyond (for example, in Night Gaunt). Naturally, this comes in handy.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The ghosts are as kind as the living. The vampire, werewolf, ifrit, mummy,and witch ghost are also nicer than they sound.
  • The Dead Can Dance: They dance the Danse Macabre. (And never, ever talk about it, before or afterwards.)
  • Deadpan Snarker: A few characters, especially Silas.
  • Don't Fear the Reaper: The Lady on the Grey. She actually tells the dead to take care of Bod.
  • Downer Beginning: The book starts with the murder of Bod's family.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Sleer. It's not clear what it is or what its precise motivations are, and when it appears to collect its "master", it resembles a grotesque, nightmarish snake-slug monster, that drags Jack within its coils for all eternity.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The Jacks of All Trades is an organization of men from a variety of trades that are all named Jack. Who happen to practice some form of necromancy.
    • The book itself is an example of this. It's a book. About a graveyard.
  • Expy: From The Jungle Book, of course. There are probably even more than the ones that are listed.
    • Mowgli: Nobody Owens.
    • Mother and Father Wolf: The Owens
    • Bagheera: Silas
    • Baloo: Miss Lupescu
    • Shere Khan: Jack
      • The Dholes: The Jacks of All Trades
    • The White Cobra: The Sleer
    • Bandar-Log: Ghoul-folk
    • Chil the Kite: Night-Gaunt
    • Kaa: Elizabeth Hempstock
    • Akela: The Lady on the Grey
  • Fate Worse Than Death: It's a Neil Gaiman story. Stand by for some horror, including: Becoming a ghoul. Getting trapped in mirrors for eternity. Getting buried in the earth by the Sleer, and possibly the fate of the creatures that were sacrificed to make the Sleer. Being Silas.
  • Gainax Ending
  • Genocide Backfire
  • Gray Eyes: Bod's grey eyes are mentioned a few times, probably as a physical manifestation of his place between the white and black of life and death.
  • The Grim Reaper: The Lady on the Grey is the Gaimanian form of Death (though she's probably not that form of Death).
  • Heel-Face Turn: Silas apparently did one when he was younger.
  • I'm Not Afraid of You: The Indigo Man is just an illusion, and once the children realize that, he disappears.
  • In Name Only: The ghouls who bear the names of famous public figures aren't really them; as they later reveal that ghouls' names are given to them after they become ghouls.
    • To clarify, they are named after their first meal, and prefer to pick noteworthy dinners.
  • King in the Mountain
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Silas is good at doing this, being a vampire. He saves Bod's life as a baby by luring the Man Jack away from the graveyard, and when Scarlett is worn out and traumatized by the events in Chapter Seven, he assists her with forgetting.
  • Meaningful Name
  • Monster Mash: The team that takes on the Jacks of All Trades include Silas ( a vampire), a werewolf, an ifrit, a winged Sumerian mummy, and a good-luck pig.
  • Necromancer: The Jacks can work magic, powered by death. Their powers are vaguely defined but include greatly enhanced senses (such as smell), magically barring and unbarring thresholds, creating personae for themselves so that they don't need to act when impersonating someone, and setting magical traps which can bind someone into a set of mirrors.
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: Bod himself, both to the reader and in-story.
  • The Nondescript: "that Owens boy..." (Bod using his powers to Fade)
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Bod has this as a character trait when he tries to help out the dead and living; buying a headstone for Liza gets him in trouble with a shady pawnshop dealer, and interfering with school bullies and their extortion ring draws attention to his person.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: The ghosts. Bod starts noticing this, as he outgrows his playmates.
  • Not Using the Z Word: Or, in this case, the V word, as Silas is never explicitly called a vampire in the text.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: When Bod's "father" (Silas) is hit by a car.
  • Our Ghouls Are Creepier: Bod has a run-in with some in "The Hounds of God." Among other disturbing quirks, they take their names after the main course of their first meal, including "The Famous Writer Victor Hugo" and "The 33rd President of the United States." There is a ghoul-gate in every graveyard. Don't go near it.
  • Our Presidents Are Different: The character named The 33rd President of the United States is definitely not Harry Truman.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: For one thing, they're called the Hounds of God. They will hunt to the edge of Hell and beyond to protect their charge, or destroy a creature of evil.
    • Actually based on Slavic werewolves, apparently. (Miss Lupescu's name is a clear hint, and her cooking is also a tip for the culturally savvy.)
  • Paper Key Retrieval Trick: How Bod escapes the antique shop.
  • Police Are Useless: Played with a little bit.
  • Puppy Love: Averted. Scarlett and Bod's relationship initially seems like a set-up for this trope, but ultimately their relationship is close but platonic, even as they grow older.
  • Recycled IN A GRAVEYARD!
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Bod is the Red Oni to everyone in the graveyard by virtue of being young and alive, and thus impulsive and inquisitive. But compared to everyone in the world of the living, he is very much a Blue Oni, quiet, bookish and muted to the point of invisibility, especially compared to Scarlett (whose very name 'Scarlett Amber' suggests someone warm and vibrant).
  • Relationship Reset Button: Bod and Scarlett, in a platonic sense.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: If the Jacks of All Trades hadn't tried killing Bod's family, he'd never have had the means or even a reason to fight them. The Honour Guard only discovered that they existed when they tried killing a family that lived near a graveyard with one of its members in it.
  • Shared Universe: Word of God says yes Liza Hempstock is connencted to the Hempstocks from The Ocean at the End of the Lane
  • Shout-Out: The Night-gaunts are one to the Cthulhu Mythos. However these Night-gaunts are friendly, and will help you to escape from the Ghouls.
  • Straying Baby: How Bod escapes the attack on his family.
  • Sugar and Ice Personality: Silas.
  • Talking in Your Dreams: One of Bod's powers is to be able to enter people's dreams and converse with them.
  • Tall, Dark and Snarky: Silas.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Bod, because anyone he kills in the graveyard will hang around for eternity.
  • Time Skip: Most chapters take place a few months to a few years after the previous.
  • Tsundere:
    • Liza becomes this when Bod turns fourteen; the dead are Not Allowed to Grow Up and Bod is getting older . . .
    • Mr. Owens reveals that a girl he knew was the same way, one day liking him and the next say throwing an apple at him. Mrs. Owens insists that "it was a pear".
  • Ultimate Evil/The Voice: "We are the Sleer..."
  • Walking the Earth: Silas, though for most of Bod's childhood he hangs around the graveyard.
  • Werewolf Theme Naming: Ms. Lupescu.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Although the Sleer make several reappearances, we never do find out who their original master was...or indeed anything about him at all, except that he was alive so long ago that the plain where his treasures were buried has since become a hill.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Bod receives this several times:
    • Liza and Silas berate him for leaving the graveyard to buy her a headstone, since he got locked up for his troubles (although Liza is touched that he would do such a thing).
    • Silas delivers it (again) when Bod's interference with school bullies causes others to pay attention to him.
    • Scarlett asks Bod if she was bait for the Man Jack.
  • Who Is This Guy Again?: Bod in school. See below.
  • Whole Plot Reference: The book as a whole is heavily inspired by The Jungle Book, but some of the chapters deserve special mention:
    • Kaa's Hunting/The Hounds of God: A young boy, feeling frustrated at the no-nonsense attitude of his mentor, attempts to escape his predicament by joining a seemingly fun-loving band of mischievous creatures. He discovers that these creatures don't have intentions as innocent as they made out and ends up in far over his head. In a fit of desperation he calls to a flying creature for help in a language his mentor taught him shortly before his capture. A large and fearsome animal heeds his call for aid, and its appearance strikes terror into the hearts of his would-be captors. They abandon the boy to the mercies of his rescuer.
    • Mowgli's Brothers/How Nobody Came to the Graveyard: A cruel and sadistic villain murders an entire family, but their infant son eludes his grasp. He is discovered and protected by a charitable native couple, but their peers urge them to give up the child because he belongs to a group outside of their social order. They are all eventually persuaded to adopt the child when swayed by the urgings of their leader and a shadowy predator living on their outskirts.
    • The King's Ankus/The Witch's Headstone: A boy journeys into an ancient and forgotten ruin underneath the earth, where he encounters a serpent as old as the ruin itself. The serpent is entrusted in guarding the priceless treasures that lie beneath the ground, and although initially intimidating, the serpent turns out to be insane and rather pitiful. The boy, against the serpent's wishes, robs the tomb of a treasure only to find out that the treasure is cursed in a way that makes it act as a catalyst for human greed. The boy is immune to its charms, but other men end up killing each other in order to possess the forbidden prize, and the boy ends up returning the item back to its original place to the smug satisfaction of the serpent.
  • You Can See Me?: Bod's signature move when in school is to be unnoticed and forgotten, at least until he starts to get involved with the other students. This also happens whenever a living character who can see the supernatural meets the Sleer.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Bod was given the Freedom of the Graveyard so he could be safe from the Jacks of All Trades. But after their defeated, Bod doesn't need it anymore, and that mean he can't even see his friends and adopted family.
  • You Monster!: SCARLETT of all people says this to Bod after thinking that he used her in a Batman Gambit when really it was an Indy Ploy, saying he's no better than the Jacks.