It was only a duck pond, out at the back of the farm. It wasn't very big.
Lettie Hempstock said it was an ocean, but I knew that was silly. She said that they'd come here across the ocean from the old country.
Her mother said that Lettie didn't remember it properly, and it was a long time ago, and anyway, the old country had sunk.
Old Mrs. Hempstock, Lettie's grandmother, said they were both wrong, and that the place that had sunk wasn't the really old country. She said she could remember the really old country.
She said the really old country had blown up.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a 2013 dark fantasy book by Neil Gaiman.A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home in Sussex, England, for a funeral. While there, he remembers when he was seven years old and when he walked to the house at the end of the lane where the Hempstocks lived: Lettie, who was eleven years old, her mother Ginnie, and her grandmother, Old Mrs. Hempstock.The Hempstocks aren't normal, however. Lettie is eleven, but she's been eleven for a very long time, and she claims the pond behind their house is actually an ocean. And Old Mrs. Hempstock is very old. Older than the universe, p'raps.But something dark had been unleashed. Something old and terrible. Something only Lettie Hempstock could help stop.
Tropes featured include:
Abusive Parents: The narrator's father isn't abusive at first. He said that he would never hit his children, since his father hit him...but after he is influenced by Ursula Monkton, the father finds a way around this by attempting to drown his son in the bathtub.
Adult Fear: Your spouse will start cheating on you with an attractive younger person, who will, in turn, start mistreating your children.
Alien Geometries: The pond is an ocean. But it's also a pond that can fit inside a bucket.
Ambiguously Jewish: The narrator's grandmother and aunts are mentioned as using Yiddish words occasionally, implying that he at the very least comes from a Jewish family. Given that Gaiman has admitted that the protagonist is based loosely on himself at that age, and Gaiman's family is Jewish, this is probably the case.
Author Avatar: The protagonist is supposedly based loosely on Gaiman himself when he was a child.
Babysitter from Hell: Ursula Monkton, although only to the protagonist and not to his sister, who loves her.
Berserk Button: The hunger birds accidentally harming Lettie while trying to eat the protagonist's heart serves as one for Old Mrs. Hempstock, making her so angry she scares the hunger birds.
Beware the Nice Ones: You REALLY don't want to get on the bad side of the Hempstock women. They'll feed you, clean you, and treat you like a member of the family if you're in their good graces. Get in their way, and they'll sic horrifying Eldritch Abominations on you.
Big Good: The three Hempstocks as a whole, but particularly Old Mrs. Hempstock. They see it as their mission to shoo off "fleas" (otherwise known by others as Eldritch Abominations) back to where they came from, both to keep them from hurting humanity, and also to keep them from attracting the hunger birds.
Bittersweet Ending: The Eldritch Abomination that's been haunting the narrator is defeated, but the hunger birds try to devour the narrator's heart, forcing Lettie to sacrifice herself. She's not technically dead, but she's been healing for over forty years and hasn't woken up, and the narrator can only remember fragments of what had happened.
Blue and Orange Morality: The hunger birds don't care about anything except "cleaning" up after the fleas. That means eating not only the thing that escaped and her way home, but also the last piece of the hole inside the narrator's heart. They aren't 'evil' or 'good' - they just are.
Lettie also implies this is the case for the fleas themselves - that they don't mean to harm, they are just doing what is part of their nature. They can't help it.
Cats Are Magic: The cat the narrator finds isn't a normal cat. For one thing, it's still alive after forty years. Though that could be because the cat is normal, but time doesn't pass the same way on Hempstock land.
Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Lettie gives Ursula every chance to surrender and do the right thing. And Ursula at one point seems to agree, only to attempt a double-cross. Fortunately, Lettie was Genre Savvy enough to see it coming.
Cryptic Background Reference: Tons of details mentioned offhandedly by the Hempstock women. For instance, one of them mentions that their brother went off to fight in something called "the Mouse Wars".
The hunger birds. They come from outside of reality and can literally eat the world into nothingness to restore it to its natural order, similar to Clock Roaches.
Also the "fleas", and, in a somewhat more benevolent version of this trope, possibly the Hempstock women as well
Foreshadowing: When the narrator sees Ursula Monkton for the first time, he feels a twinge in his heart...because that's where the last piece of the hole is.
A Form You Are Comfortable With: Ursula (who actually looks like a mass of rotten gray cloth), Lettie (who actually looks like a form made of silk the color of frost illuminated by candle light) and presumably her mother and grandmother (Ginnie always appears human, and Old Mrs. Hempstock only partially reveals herself when the hunger birds almost kill Lettie as a woman whose hair and clothes shine so bright she looks like she's made of magnesium). It's also implied that everyone's true self looks very different from their physical form.
Framing Device: The novel starts when the narrator is middle-aged and returning to his home town. And then he starts to remember what happened when he was seven...
Genre Savvy: By the end, the narrator has become this, fully knowing that while inside a 'fairy ring' and told not to cross it, he doesn't. Not even when his father appears, not even when Lettie appears. This is a very good thing, because otherwise the hunger birds would have eaten him.
Growing Up Sucks: A theme - the narrator often sees things better because he is a child and wonders why adults act the way they do. Lettie later tells him, however, that all adults are really only children swaddled in layers and that they get scared as well.
As the narrator remembers it, Lettie put herself on the line to save his life. She didn't die, but was badly hurt, so her mother gave her back to the ocean to heal.
The epilogue implies that this is not exactly what happened, maybe the narrator died in the original timeline, but Old Mrs. Hempstock snipped-and-cut that out and Lettie jumped in his place, but this is left ambiguous at best.
The main character himself attempted one a moment earlier, leaving the safety of the Hempstock farm because he knew that if he didn't, his world would be devoured. Which lead to the above mentioned sacrifice.
Humanoid Abomination: The thing that calls itself Ursula Monkton... at least until it abandons its disguise. Also, perhaps all of the Hempstocks, although they are a benevolent version of the trope.
Human Pet: Ursula Monkton says she considers the narrator's family members her pets.
I Know Your True Name: Never specifically comes into play, but Ursula chides Lettie for sealing her without knowing her name and Lettie goes to a lot of trouble to find it out. She finally does find out what Ursula's real name is Scathach of the Keep and is able to make Ursula behave herself more after she figures this out.
Jock Dad, Nerd Son: Explicitly stated at the end - the narrator's father liked cars and played rugby and wanted his son to do the same, but the narrator instead loved reading books and comics.
Men Are the Expendable Gender: This seems to be true for the males of the Hempstock family. They get "the call" and wander the Earth, while the women stay at the farm and deal with fleas.
No Name Given: The narrator is never given any name. Even his father usually just calls him "son", though a couple of throw-away comments make it fairly clear that his name is George (Ursula Monkton calls him "pudding-and-pie", in reference to the nursery rhyme "Georgie Porgie Pudding-and-Pie"; his father actually calls him "Handsome George" at one point). His sister, on the other hand, is always just referred to as "my [little] sister". Neither parents get named beyond their relationship to the narrator, and the family's last name is never mentioned.
References are made to two previous times the Hempstocks had to shoo "fleas" off of Earth, one in Cromwell's time with a creature that looked rather like a giant frog who made people lonely, and one in "Red Rufus's Time" (Red Rufus being King William II) who made people's dreams come true.
The frame narrative itself: the narrator ends up going back to the Hempstocks' farm many years later after taking a detour on the way to his sister's house after a funeral. The circumstances make it seem fairly likely that one of his parents has died, but this is never made explicit or expanded upon.
The Reveal: At the end, the narrator finally asks Old Mrs. Hempstock why he came back there and she tells him that he always comes back. He always remembers for a bit and then leaves. It's Lettie bringing him back, wanting to know how his life is going. Wanting to know if it was worth it.
Terms of Endangerment: Ursula Monkton calls the narrator "sweety-weety-pudding-and-pie" right before threatening to lock him in the attic and then make his own father drown him.
The Stars Are Going Out: Near the end, the hunger birds decide that if they can't get to the narrator, they'll just eat everything around him... including some of the stars in the sky. After everything is resolved, Old Mrs. Hempstock makes them put it back as it was.
Time Abyss: Old Mrs. Hempstock is older than the current universe and she will still be around for the next one.