I will be out of the office for a little bit this week. So it will seem like I am a ghost for a couple days. Wait, that probably won’t much different than now. But either way, I am going to leave this here for you to check out.
Dance the Macabray
This will come as no surprise (at least I think it won’t be surprise worthy), that I am a fan of Neil Gaiman. I may have mentioned him a time or two in the past… The man’s work travels through all manner of medium, from movies to television, to novels and their ilk, and of course graphic novels. I mean seriously, The Sandman series was huge. But that isn’t why we are here today. But here’s the thing, He has work everywhere and is active on tumblr and maybe even a bit on Twitter, but so often he disappears into the background and let’s his work stand on its own. Which is to say that sure we have all heard his name but we often have no idea who he is. And then one of his stories is brought up and everything changes.
So we start with a bit of a story, a journey if you will. See, at one point when I was first figuring out who he was and the stuff I had already experienced without knowing anything about him, I had begun collecting various odds and ends of his work as I found them. At one point I had picked up The Graveyard Book, such an unassuming name. And a weird thought, the main character is named Nobody Owens (Bod for short). Do you think maybe this is a writer’s bit of bringing himself into the book? Mr. Gaiman tends to reside in the background and hidden from the world at large, just as Bod is meant to be within the story. Things to think about it seems.
Now back on point…
So at one point I happened to pick the novel, but didn’t read it right away. There is always a range of books and stories waiting to be read on my shelves, life is hard, pity me… Anyway, when I finally got around to reading my copy, a friend of mine had started reading the graphic novels. As we discussed the different parts of the books I realized something. Both versions of the book run true to the story overall. The story translates perfectly within both mediums so you could pretty much switch between the two and still keep up with what is going on just fine.
Recently I picked up the graphic novels (It is a two book set as a graphic novel. Great to collect but at 20 bucks a pop a bit pricy compared to the novel), and spent some time with them. They tend to be a bit quicker to read but the story was exactly how I remembered it and the pictures fit the mood of the original novel quite well.
Without getting too much into the overall story and what not, let me give you the idea in a quick summation. Bod is orphaned at the beginning of the story. His family is murdered by a man with a knife and Bod the toddler trundles away from the house to find himself in the local graveyard. The ghosts who inhabit the graveyard take him as ward with a married couple adopting him as their own. And to ensure his protection A vampire by the name of Silas becomes his guardian as he is the only graveyard inhabitant with physical form and able to ensure that the baby is cared for with food and such.
In a similar vein to other stories by Mr. Gaiman, he takes many of the myths and fables we have known and turned them a bit on their ear. There are changes within the narrative that give a number of familiar ideas a quick turn.
Overall this is a story of life and growing up. Within that framework, you couldn’t get by without a representation of death. Death of course, is referenced as a person in a number of places within the story and she makes an appearance a couple of times. Yes, I said she. The expected representation of death is generally as a skeletal figure in a black robe. But there are also a number of places that display the personification as a woman.
The first one that comes to my mind though, is within the Marvel Comics universe. During a Thanos storyline he courted death and sought a way to defeat Galactus the World Eater. (And if you aren’t a comic geek I just completely lost you.) Sorry had to have the aside and it is slightly relevant as we approach the time of the Infinity Wars within the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the rise of Thanos in those stories. Either way we have established that Death is represented by the figure of a woman in some fables. Well, as much as I worked to establish that at any rate.
But the thing of it is, in the fables where Death is represented as a woman there is a different feeling within the idea of the figure. Granted this doesn’t always hold true but for the most part, instead of an uncaring, unfeeling being, we are shown something more along the lines of care taker and nurturer. The place that Death holds is as a transporter of souls to their final resting place. The Valkyries of Viking Myth fit this image. They would swoop from the sky to carry away the worthy souls who had fallen in battle.
The first scene where we encounter Death in the story comes when Bod first arrives in the graveyard. In this moment she is the deciding factor that convinces the population to care for him. She shows the young child compassion. It is not yet his time. It is in the second encounter that a different thought is given to us. During the dance of the Macabray, the day when the living and the dead come together for the dance of the dead, Bod asks her if he will ever ride oh her grey mare. Her response, “One day, one day everybody does.” Though the thought can seem the cliché it stands as the truth. We have not found a way yet to cheat death. In the end we all will ride the ride mare to our final home.
As I mentioned, there is a larger story that runs as the backbone of the graphic novels(and of course the novel as well) and ties them together. But at the same time, it is the small stories, the subplots if you will (though I don’t think that really fits here.) that shows the life of Bod as he grows from a child to an adult. And in the end it is the moment when Bod takes and accepts responsibility for himself that we find not only the end of this story, but the point where Bod has transcended his child hood and become an adult.
If you haven’t taken the time to check this story out in any form, what are you waiting for? There is so much to explore within this story at every level and it transcends the idea of children’s stories by having not only the simplicity that a child can understand but also the complexity when you dig a little deeper that will keep an adult guessing throughout. As always with Neil Gaiman’s work, it is well worth your time to explore.
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