Neil Gaiman is an author whose works I’ve enjoyed for many years, starting with Neverwhere, Stardust, American Gods, and now The Ocean at the End of the Lane (TOATEOTL). Each book seems to explore another aspect of the traditional fairy tale. Searching for what was lost, hidden, or forbidden always comes with a cost you must be prepared to pay.
But what happens when you don’t remember the cost and can’t recall if it was ultimately worth it? In TOATEOTL, Gaiman asks that question, tells a story, and leaves answering to the reader. What will you decide?
As you might imagine, my own childhood was filled with a variety of memories. Some good. Some bad. Some forgotten. I suspect most childhoods are similar when viewed through the foggy lens of age. It’s those forgotten memories we explore here through the recollection of a man after a funeral who finds himself in the neighborhood where he grew up in Sussex, England. As he arrives at the edge of a duck pond on the property of a girl he knew once named Lettie Hempstock, he begins to remember a few things. Things like the fact that she called the pond “the ocean”… But was it really?
Lettie and her strange family on the Hempstock Farm are merely the tip of the iceberg as the young man experiences a long and winding road through places best left unexplored by the unprepared. If ever you are led on such a journey yourself and told not to let go of someone’s hand, you should definitely take it under advisement. Otherwise something bad may follow you home.
Like many classic fairy tales, there’s a timeless quality to TOATEOTL that transcends the story itself as we explore the fog of memory. What are a few days or weeks in the context of the universe? And in such a timeless place, what sorts of beings might exist along the edges? Could there be beings like the Greek Fates, assigned to keeping the world on track and keeping unwanted pests from interfering with the pattern? In Gaiman’s mind, as in his work, I suspect the answer is a definite “Yes!”
This was one more journey with Gaiman I would happily take again. All of his books leave me asking questions and The Ocean at the End of the Lane was no different. What childhood memories are locked away within my own head? Would I want to remember them only to forget again? Or are the impressions left behind enough? In the end, I’m sure I’d remember a journey as strange as the one in the book… Or would I?
For more about Neil Gaiman and his many wonderful stories, be sure to check out his website NeilGaiman.com.