Walking through a graveyard in the middle of the day, nobody is going to be overly disturbed as it's much like wandering through a park. In fact there are some graveyards in the world where thousands of visitors flock each year to wander their confines to search for the celebrities like Jim Morrison or Oscar Wilde who are buried there. However, let it be after dark and that very same graveyard is apt to be deserted.
While some might ascribe it to a fear of the supernatural, I think the real reason for people avoiding graveyards at night is because they unite two of mankind's most primal fears: death and the dark. Our fear of the dark is a hangover from the days before we discovered fire and were at the mercy of the many denizens of the night who looked upon us as snack material. While we've devised many belief systems to try and answer the question of what happens to us after we die, there's never been a shred of proof offered that any of them are true. Death, for all the promises of pie in the sky made by so many religions, is the the great unknown, the great darkness that no fire we possess can disperse.
So there aren't that many of us that would think of graveyards as a sanctuary from danger, but in his latest release, The Graveyard Book, from Harper Collins, Neil Gaiman has done just that. Replete with illustrations by his look time collaborator Dave McKean, The Graveyard Book offers a behind the scenes peak at what happens to us after we are laid to rest as it tells the story of the night the inhabitants of one graveyard became involved with the affairs of the living and the events that ensued in the years following.
The story opens with death, as befits a novel set in a graveyard. Thankfully the deaths are all ready accomplished when we enter the story, for they were the violent deaths a husband, wife, and daughter at the hands of a knife-wielding killer. However the killer, a mysterious man named Jack, is still on the prowl for the survivor of the house's inhabitants, a baby boy. Yet when he reaches the top floor nursery where the crib lies waiting, it's only to find it empty and the boy vanished.
Sniffing out his trail, for like all good hunters our man Jack follows his prey more by scent than by sight. He follows it out of the house onto the street which leads up the hill to a graveyard. Although he could swear he smelt the baby's scent leading into the cemetery, once there he loses the trail. In fact, all of a sudden he realizes that he's come in the completely wrong direction and there's no reason for him to be in the graveyard at all. The boy he decides must have gone down the hill, not up, and anyway, who or what would a baby find shelter with in a graveyard? No, somehow or other Jack must have followed the wrong scent, and he heads off into the night.