Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The Graveyard Book

Go To

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. The latter "protects the borders of things", but the motives of the former, if there are any besides "continue existing", are unknown.
  • Accidental Misnaming: It's a Running Gag that the human antagonists who find out Bod's name call him "Bob". Even the Man Jack does it under his Mr. Frost guise.
  • 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 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.
  • Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: The Danse Macabre is an In-Universe example. One day every 80 years or so (which is probably not coincidentally about once in a human lifetime), white flowers bloom in the graveyard and The Grim Reaper leads a dance between the living and the dead. Even people who are not aware that ghosts exist proceed about like this is normal, but the living cannot remember it after it happens and the dead are forbidden from talking about it with the living. Those who are not living or dead, such as Silas, cannot participate in the Danse Macabre and Bod questions him about the sheer BLAM-ness of it after he finds out that none of the ghosts will discuss the events of the previous night.
  • 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. Neil has at least confirmed that he may write more adventures about Bod.
  • Chameleon Camouflage: Being raised by ghosts, Bod does it very well.
  • Chekhov's Armory: Every bit of the graveyard comes in handy when Bod has to outwit the Jacks
    • The overgrown part of the graveyard serves as a natural trap for the first Jack, who has a silken cord.
    • The ghoul gate sucks in two of the Jacks, and Bod gives them a chance to live instead of getting crushed by the closing door.
    • The Sleer "protects" Jack Frost as his master, dragging him into the earth.
  • Chekhov's Classroom: Bod is made to learn how to call for help in "Night Gaunt" by Ms. Lupescu, despite his complaints that he'll never need to know it. Sure enough, when Bod is later held captive by the Ghouls, he remembers the lessons and calls to the Night Gaunts for help.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Bod's ability to "fade," or turn invisible. When Jack Frost corners him in the house, this ability buys him enough time to escape with Scarlet to the graveyard.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Bod normally leaves the living alone, but he pegs the bully Maureen for asking her cop uncle to arrest him on false charges. Cue a Beware the Nice Ones moment; he confronts her while she's alone in the school laboratory, telling her off for using her connections to have her way. Bod also knows she's scared of the dark, and of ghosts; as a parting gift, he makes her the Paranoiac, where she thinks Bod is always haunting her.
  • 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.
  • Death by Newbery Medal:
    • It won the Newbery for a reason. The novel starts with Bod's family getting killed, even his older sister who hasn't even reached puberty. Bod toddles to the graveyard, where the ghosts and Silas protect him from the Man Jack. Mrs. Owens sees the specter of Bod's mother begging for someone to look after her baby; she agrees to do it. Death, aka the Gray Lady, appears to convince the graveyard ghosts to take in Bod and protect him; Silas also vouches for him.
    • A metaphorical case of this happens at the end, with Bod losing his ability to see ghosts after he turns sixteen, resulting in emotional goodbyes with his foster parents, his mentor Silas, and possible love interest Liza.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Despite heavy Ship Tease with both, Bod ends up with neither Liza nor Scarlett, the former because he loses his ability to see her, and the latter due to her being horrified at how ruthlessly he dispatched the Jacks. He gets his First Kiss with Liza at the end, however.
  • 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. Jack describes how he left Bod's older sister, who is no older than seven, in her bed with her throat slit.
  • Dungeon Crawling: Silas and the Honor Guard attack on the fortress of the Jacks is described like this, with Silas, Miss Lupescu, a Mummy, and an Ifrit going down successive levels avoiding traps and fighting waves of enemies.
  • 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.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: Bod has a bit of this due to the fact that he was taught mostly by the dead concerning their own times.
  • The Grim Reaper: The Lady on the Grey is the Gaimanian form of Death (though she's probably not that form of Death).
  • Historical In-Joke: It's possible that Silas the Vampire, living in a central London Cemetery, is a reference to the Highgate Vampire from the 1970s. If so, Silas clearly outsmarted his pursuers.
  • 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. This doesn't mean they killed the figures, as they could have just eaten their dead corpses. Which is pretty disturbing.
  • Inherently Funny Words: Try to read this sentence in a sepulchral, blood-curdling voice: "Silas... consumed only one food, and it was not bananas." The last word totally undoes the chilling effect, and Neil Gaiman knows it.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Mortality Grey Area: Silas, Bod's guardian, is an outcast in the graveyard as he's neither alive nor dead. Notably it also means he can't take part in the Macabray, a surreal ritual when the ghosts get to dance with the living. It's never confirmed but strongly implied that he is a vampire.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The Sleer. All the narrative makes clear is that it's incredibly old, looks like an Eldritch Abomination, desires to protect its master above all else, and suffers from a major case of Blue-and-Orange Morality.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word:
    • Or, in this case, the V word, as Silas is never explicitly called a vampire in the text.
    • Miss. Lupescu is a 'Hound of God', as opposed to a generic werewolf.
  • 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 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 SPACE!: The story is essentially a retelling of The Jungle Book, only it's set in a graveyard instead of a jungle.
  • 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.
  • The Reveal: Scarlett investigates a potential home invasion that might have killed Bod's family. She finds out that his older sister was named Misty, and she was barely six or seven when the man Jack left her to bleed out in her bed. It's a small detail in the big scheme, but a reminder that Bod had a family and a name.
  • 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 that Liza Hempstock is connected 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.
  • 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:
    • Mr. Owens reveals that a girl he knew was the same way, one day liking him and the next day throwing an apple at him. Mrs. Owens insists that "it was a pear".
    • Liza becomes this when Bod turns fourteen; the dead are Not Allowed to Grow Up and Bod is getting older. This is her way of acting out when her friend is growing old enough for "interest," but slipping out of her world at the same time.
  • The Unreveal: We never find out Bod's birth name though Scarlett finds out his sister was named Misty. Bod doesn't either, when the Man Jack uses this fact to taunt him. He realizes that it doesn't matter because he is Nobody Owens now.
  • Unseen No More: Sleer, an Eldritch Abomination that guards an ancient pagan tomb, is obscured in shadow until the book's climax.
  • 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 exactly 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, and that the Jacks of All Trades have been seeking those treasures for a very long time.
    • The fate of Kandar and its lucky piglet is unclear. Word of God is that “there was meant to be a story about that”, which may possibly appear some day.
  • 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.
  • 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 they're 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.