I pride myself on many foolish things. That isn’t a lament, mind you; I’m foolishly proud of that pride, thank you very much. A man has to take pride in something, you see; be it work, strength, intellect, stamina, being able to open a half-gallon of Turkey Hill Iced Tea with one hand, et cetera.
I’m proud of all those things as well.
Anyway, one of these foolish things I take pride in is keeping up with popular culture, at least the parts of it that interest me. Be it nerdy books, theology, good tunes, excellent films, I want to know about things that matter, and I’m a firm believer in the words of Rob Gordon from High Fidelity:
…I agreed that what really matters is what you like, not what you are like… Books, records, films — these things matter. Call me shallow but it’s the f*ckin’ truth…
So…why the hell did I not take the time to sit down and read a damn Neil Gaiman novel years ago?
It’s not like I never had the chance…
- There was that cute girl from State College who was really into the Sandman graphic novels, but I was far more interested in…well, you know…I WAS 18 at the time…
- There was the time I went to see Coraline, then watched it again as soon as it came out on DVD (I don’t own it yet…but I should).
- There’s the time I watched Stardust with my high school friends and loved it.
- There’s only EVERY FRIGGIN’ TIME THAT SOMEONE SAID TO ME, “Hey, Pat! You should check out Neil Gaiman! He’s right up your alley!”
I obviously don’t listen well.
I could keep going on, beating up myself that I kept delaying the inevitable but awesome day that I picked up one of Gaiman’s works, not knowing what I was missing…or I could just say, “Better late than never!” and tell you about this book.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a short story that turned into a novel about a man remembering a portion of his childhood that impacted his life forever, the day he met a young(?) girl at the end of his lane named Lettie Hempstock, who lives with her mother and grandmother. The events that transpire following this happenstance meeting can only be described as magical, intense, and somewhat terrifying. Though they don’t use the title, Lettie and her family live as what an ordinary person would call witches, performing what an ordinary person magical spells, which they see as completely normal and not requiring an explanation, much to the annoyance of the narrator (and the reader). One particular act that Lettie takes on is attempting to “bind” a creature who has found its way into the narrator’s world. Though it seems successful, the creature actually attaches itself to the narrator without his knowledge, making his life take a turn for the worse when it turns up as his new nanny.
Oh, where to begin…
- Gaiman’s obviously has some neopagan knowledge; he’s done his homework in researching actual neopagan/Wiccan belief (Lettie, her mother, and grandmother seem to represent the Triple Goddess, who is seen in the forms of Maiden, Mother, and Crone), but also makes everything look completely NORMAL. The three women know things that they would otherwise have no way of knowing (like where a dead man in a car put his suicide note that the police can’t find), and have the ability to erase pieces of history to suit their needs (though this takes a lot of skill, apparently, and is never done to harm anyone). The way they live just feels completely natural to them, even if they do things that the narrator perceives as magical. Which brings me to…
- …the fact that this is one of the best “fantasy” books I’ve ever read, because it a) integrates magical and fantastic things into the real world, and b) does so flawlessly. Gaiman seems to want the reader to believe that the natural world is actually quite fantastic, and that we just lose sight of that as we grow older and turn into the “grown-ups” that we mistakenly thought we wanted to be. There’s no Other world (like Tolkien), nor Other world connected to ours by some magical doorway (like Lewis); the magic’s right here, and we just don’t pay enough attention to see it.
- I loved how well I could see through the narrator’s eyes as he recounted his childhood experience; I FELT like that little kid, who thinks that grown-ups are somehow smarter, better, and can do no wrong (though they fall under the control of the creature that ends up in his house). I felt like the protagonist felt the whole way through the novel; Gaiman’s writing is that good.
- It reads like a flash…and that made me sad. There were so many things I wanted to know about this world…but I got cut off from it, and it hurts so good.
It’s just…AHHH! So good!
Seriously, go check out this book.