You’ve all read a Neil Gaiman book before, right? Right?! Well, if you haven’t, I really recommend this one. Or Stardust. Or American Gods. Not Coraline, that freaked me out so much as a kid I don’t even want to think about it now. Seriously, those button eyes kept me up at night for weeks.
Anyway, I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane (which shall now and forever more in this post be known as Ocean) during a slow day at work in between actual guard rotations and cleaning. Granted it’s not very long, but I was also completely absorbed in the book and had a hard time putting it down. I think I was actually late on deck a couple of times because I couldn’t pull myself away (sorry coworkers…). I’m going to get into the plot later, but Ocean just serves to solidify Gaiman’s position as the master of nostalgic fantasy. There’s something about his books that just take you somewhere far away, deep into your head and heart, to some place or time that existed long ago. They make you remember things you had thought you forgot and people you wish you had. Which is funny because that’s exactly what happens to the narrator when he returns to his childhood friend’s home as an adult. Gaiman’s books perfectly encapsulate the expression, time period, or life stage they are supposed to represent. In this case, that happens to be childhood.
The narrator (we are never actually told his name) is a bright and very brave young boy on the verge of understanding the adult world but imperfect in his knowledge. He is very bookish, but also adventurous, and he doesn’t seem to understand why adults are so habitual and always in a hurry.
“I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.”
“I lay on the bed and lost myself in stories. I liked that. Books were safer than other people anyway.”
“I went away in my head, into a book. That was where I went whenever real life was too hard or too inflexible.”
“I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children stories. They were better than that. They just were. Adult stories never made sense, and they were slow to start. They made me feel like there were secrets, Masonic, mythic secrets, to adulthood. Why didn’t adults want to read about Narnia, about secret islands and smugglers and dangerous fairies?”
“Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences. I was a child, which meant that I knew a dozen different ways of getting out of our property and into the lane, ways that would not involve walking down our drive.”
Oh alright I’ll stop. The point is, this kid is pretty perceptive. And very fun to read about. Anyway, he starts to encounter magic in his world. He doesn’t know that it is magic, not right away. For the first while it is just chaotic events, like a renter at their house using his father’s car to commit suicide, or a coin becoming lodged in his throat while sleeping. He eventually enlists the help of his neighbour, eleven year old Lettie Hempstock, a couple of years older than him and his new favourite friend.
Lettie takes the narrator with him to confront the magical being causing all of this chaos, and in a moment of distraction the narrator momentarily removes himself from Lettie’s protection. The monster lodges herself in him, and thus finds her way into his world. She comes into his life in human form as the nanny Ursula Moncton who seduces his father, is adored by his little sister, and much appreciated by his mother. It seems that she is fooling everyone except for him. Lettie, her mother, and her grandmother, who reveal themselves to be magic protectors of sorts, make it their mission to protect the narrator and remove this evil creature from the world. Obviously they face some troubles along the way. But these troubles of course make for a much more entertaining, much more mystical and magical story.
When the narrator reaches adulthood, he returns to his home town for a funeral and finds himself drawn to the Hempstock’s home and the pond that lays on their property, the one that Lettie had always insisted was an ocean. There he encounters the old Mrs. Hempstock, Lettie’s grandmother, who reassures him that the events that he is suddenly remembering did in fact happen, that he is alright, he will be alright. She also reveals to him that he had been back to visit many times before, though he remembers none of those visits. I loved this ending. It was just so perfect and honest. So many things we experience in childhood are forgotten or even repressed until we return to a certain place, smell a certain smell, hear a voice or see a picture or whatever else may trigger our memory. These flashbacks come and they may never return until we find that trigger again. Gaiman’s version of this was just so poignant and beautiful, I didn’t want it to end.
Okay confession time: I desperately wish magic were real. Of course I know it isn’t, at least not in the way it is portrayed in books. There is no Hogwarts, no Narnia or Fillory or Oz or any of the other magical lands written about in books. That being said, I have read about a lot of magical lands and beings, and Gaiman’s version was one of the most beautiful and enchanting versions I have experiences. The style of his writing, the prose was fantastic and the descriptiveness of it was just fantastic.
Now that we’ve covered the book side of things, lets get to the dad jokes. Today’s bad/dad joke is…. insert drum roll… What do you get when you cross a parrot with a caterpillar? A Walkie-Talkie! HA!
Alright, alright, I’m done.