Our required book for this week was Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. I have to be honest, reading this was like reading the screenplay of a Tim Burton movie. And since I can count the number of Tim Burton movies I enjoy on one hand and have fingers left over, you can safely assume that I didn't really like this book.
I've never read any of Neil Gaiman's other books (I've seen the Coraline movie but that's it), but if they're anything like this, he may be the biggest closet Nightmare Before Christmas fanboy ever. The protagonist is Nobody "Bod" Owens, a young lad whose entire family was wiped out in a brutal triple murder when he was just a toddler (which carried out by a mysterious figure identified only as "the man Jack"), and who ends up being adopted by the ghosts of a friendly (of course) Victorian couple in an abandoned graveyard. He grows up learning ghost tricks like fading into invisibility, befriending various graveyard denizens, and having various morbid (but kid-appropriate) adventures. Looks to me like someone watched Corpse Bride a few times too many.
It doesn't surprise me that The Graveyard Book came from the same man who wrote Coraline, which was adapted into a Tim Burton-style 3D movie directed by Henry Selick, the same man who directed The Nightmare Before Christmas. In my opinion, that's not a coincidence. There seems to be an enormous market out there these days for macabre literature and movies marketed towards children and adolescents. The Twilight craze is only the latest manifestation of this fad; fangirls were drooling over Nightmare and Edward Scissorhands way back in the early 1990s. Now that Twilight is at the apex of its popularity, with new adolescent-themed books with cheap knockoff plots appear in bookstores almost monthly, Gaiman is cashing in on his success with Coraline, and giving Twilight fans something to read while waiting for Stephanie Meyer to finish her latest thesaurus-abusing novel in the process.
I may be a bit strong with my opinion here, but authors like Neil Gaiman do very little to help adolescent literature. I don't think that because I think macabre children's books are bad for their moral development or something equally crazy; that's not what bothers me. What bothers me is that The Graveyard Book came out during the peak of the biggest surge of horror-related children's media yet in American pop culture history, and in my opinion, The Graveyard Book and its contemporaries (every teen vampire novel ever written, for example) are transparent cash-ins, attempting to get their slice of the pie before the kids get bored and move on to something else. It's not that Gaiman is a bad writer (whereas Stephanie Meyer couldn't write her way out of a wet paper bag, and even Stephen King said so); it's that, at least in my eyes, he is wasting his talent. Robert Cormier managed to be edgy and even downright morbid without being kitschy in his books. Why is it so hard for Gaiman?
I suppose it's time for me to stop ripping on the author and get down to an analysis. Gaiman makes extensive use of sequential, but not always related, vignettes to portray Bod's upbringing in the graveyard. Some have likened this to Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book; in fact, Gaiman himself admitted that he thought it would be fun to write The Jungle Book as if it took place in a cemetery. Here again, though, I have to interject my opinion that Gaiman could make much better use of his talent than "updating" a literary classic for the MySpace generation. I knew Hollywood was running out of fresh ideas for movies, but I never thought I'd see the day where novelists would do the same.
I found a lot of literary parallels to Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events books as well. Having read much of that series myself, and realizing that the plot devices get more and more repetitive with each successive book, I can say this for a fact. The protagonists of both books suffer traumatic events early in their lives, are taken in by various kooky and spooky characters, get into all kinds of macabre mischief, and all the while are pursued by a mysterious murderer with a network of agents who is bent on eliminating them. Gaiman's writing is again highly derivative here; although Lemony Snicket did not invent the "clever child outwits evil mastermind" by any stretch of the imagination, and although he too is guilty of a variety of miscues in his books (repeating plot devices, recycling characters/situations/lines, etc.), he did it before Gaiman.
I don't mean to offend anyone who liked this book with this response. I'm just not a fan of this kind of literature. I'm sure at least a few people in the class enjoyed it, but I'm very choosy when it comes to supernatural-themed adolescent media. I will admit that I liked the film version of Coraline, but that choosiness comes out especially in books. Authors like Gaiman are fantasy writers, and I'm a huge fantasy fan, but I just can't get behind something like this. I prefer "realistic fantasy" (it does exist, check out George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series), which is most often marketed towards adult readers. I wasn't even a fan of children's fantasy growing up; Disney movies and the like were not for me. Now, at 22, that choosiness has solidified into a deep suspicion of fantasy books that come out at the height of a fantasy craze, one that has lasted over a decade and is inevitably going to run out of steam. I wonder what Gaiman will jump to next.