Ocean at the End of the Lane (Gaiman)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Neil Gaiman, 2013
HarperCollins
192 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780062255655



Summary
Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. He is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet sitting by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean), the unremembered past comes flooding back.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. A stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1960
Where—Portchester, Hampshire, England, UK
Education—N/A
Awards—See below
Currently—Lives near Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA


Early life
Gaiman's family is of Polish and other Eastern European Jewish origins; his great-grandfather emigrated from Antwerp before 1914 and his grandfather eventually settled in the Hampshire city of Portsmouth and established a chain of grocery stores. His father, David Bernard Gaiman, worked in the same chain of stores; his mother, Sheila Gaiman (nee Goldman), was a pharmacist. He has two younger sisters, Claire and Lizzy.

After living for a period in the nearby town of Portchester, Hampshire, where Neil was born in 1960, the Gaimans moved in 1965 to the West Sussex town of East Grinstead where his parents studied Dianetics at the Scientology centre in the town; one of Gaiman's sisters works for the Church of Scientology in Los Angeles. His other sister, Lizzy Calcioli, has said, "Most of our social activities were involved with Scientology or our Jewish family. It would get very confusing when people would ask my religion as a kid. I’d say, 'I’m a Jewish Scientologist.'" Gaiman says that he is not a Scientologist, and that like Judaism, Scientology is his family's religion.

Gaiman was able to read at the age of four. He said...

I was a reader. I loved reading. Reading things gave me pleasure. I was very good at most subjects in school, not because I had any particular aptitude in them, but because normally on the first day of school they'd hand out schoolbooks, and I'd read them-which would mean that I'd know what was coming up, because I'd read it.

One work that made a particular impression on him was J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings from his school library, although it only had the first two books in the trilogy. He consistently took them out and read them. He would later win the school English prize and the school reading prize, enabling him to finally acquire the third book in the trilogy.

For his seventh birthday, Gaiman received C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia series. Years later, he said...

I admired his use of parenthetical statements to the reader, where he would just talk to you.... I'd think, 'Oh, my gosh, that is so cool! I want to do that! When I become an author, I want to be able to do things in parentheses.' I liked the power of putting things in brackets.

Narnia also introduced him to literary awards, specifically the 1956 Carnegie Medal won by the concluding volume. When he won 2010 Medal himself, the press reported him recalling, "....It had to be the most important literary award there ever was" and observing, "if you can make yourself aged seven happy, you're really doing well – it's like writing a letter to yourself aged seven."

Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was another childhood favourite, and "a favourite forever. Alice was default reading to the point where I knew it by heart." He also enjoyed "Batman" comics as a child.

Gaiman was educated at several Church of England schools, includging Fonthill School in East Grinstead, Ardingly College (1970–74), and Whitgift School in Croydon (1974–77). His father's position as a public relations official of the Church of Scientology was the cause of the seven-year-old Gaiman being blocked from entering a boys' school, forcing him to remain at the school that he had previously been attending. He lived in East Grinstead for many years, from 1965–1980 and again from 1984–1987. He met his first wife, Mary McGrath, while she was studying Scientology and living in a house in East Grinstead that was owned by his father. The couple were married in 1985 after having their first child, Michael.

Early Writings
As a child and a teenager, Gaiman read the works of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, James Branch Cabell, Edgar Allan Poe, Michael Moorcock, Ursula K. Le Guin, Harlan Ellison, Rudyard Kipling, Lord Dunsany and G. K. Chesterton. He later became a fan of science fiction, reading the works of authors as diverse as Alan Moore, Samuel R. Delany, Roger Zelazny, Robert A. Heinlein, H. P. Lovecraft, Thorne Smith, and Gene Wolfe.

In the early 1980s, Gaiman pursued journalism, conducting interviews and writing book reviews, as a means to learn about the world and to make connections that he hoped would later assist him in getting published. He wrote and reviewed extensively for the British Fantasy Society. His first professional short story publication was "Featherquest", a fantasy story, in Imagine Magazine in May 1984, when he was 24.

When waiting for a train at Victoria Station in 1984, Gaiman noticed a copy of Swamp Thing written by Alan Moore, and carefully read it. Moore's fresh and vigorous approach to comics had such an impact on Gaiman that he would later write; "that was the final straw, what was left of my resistance crumbled. I proceeded to make regular and frequent visits to London's Forbidden Planet shop to buy comics".

In 1984, he wrote his first book, a biography of the band Duran Duran, as well as Ghastly Beyond Belief, a book of quotations, with Kim Newman. Even though Gaiman thought he did a terrible job, the book's first edition sold out very quickly. When he went to relinquish his rights to the book, he discovered the publisher had gone bankrupt.  After this, he was offered a job by Penthouse. He refused the offer.

He also wrote interviews and articles for many British magazines, including Knave. As he was writing for different magazines, some of them competing, and "wrote too many articles", he sometimes went by a number of pseudonyms: Gerry Musgrave, Richard Grey, "along with a couple of house names". Gaiman ended his journalism career in 1987 because British newspapers can "make up anything they want and publish it as fact."

In the late 1980s, he wrote Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion in what he calls a "classic English humour" style. Following on from that he wrote the opening of what would become his collaboration with Terry Pratchett on the comic novel Good Omens, about the impending apocalypse.

Comics and Graphic Novels
After forming a friendship with comic book writer Alan Moore, Gaiman started writing comic books, picking up "Marvelman" after Moore finished his run on the series. Gaiman and artist Mark Buckingham collaborated on several issues of the series before its publisher, Eclipse Comics, collapsed, leaving the series unfinished. His first published comic strips were four short "Future Shocks for 2000 AD" in 1986–7. He wrote three graphic novels with his favorite collaborator and long-time friend Dave McKean: "Violent Cases", "Signal to Noise", and "The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch". Impressed with his work, DC Comics hired him, and he wrote the limited series "Black Orchid". Karen Berger, who later became head of DC Comics's Vertigo, read "Black Orchid" and offered Gaiman a job: to re-write an old character, The Sandman, but to put his own spin on him.

"The Sandman" tells the tale of the ageless, anthropomorphic personification of Dream that is known by many names, including Morpheus. The series began in December 1988 and concluded in March 1996: the 75 issues of the regular series, along with an illustrated prose text and a special containing seven short stories, have been collected into 12 volumes that remain in print.

In 1989, Gaiman published "The Books of Magic" (collected in 1991), a four-part mini-series that provided a tour of the mythological and magical parts of the DC Universe through a frame story about an English teenager who discovers that he is destined to be the world's greatest wizard. The miniseries was popular, and sired an ongoing series written by John Ney Rieber.

In the mid-90s, he also created a number of new characters and a setting that was to be featured in a title published by Tekno Comix. The concepts were then altered and split between three titles set in the same continuity: "Lady Justice, Mr. Hero the Newmatic Man, and Teknophage".They were later featured in Phage: Shadow Death and Wheel of Worlds. Although Gaiman's name appeared prominently on all titles, he was not involved in writing of any of the above-mentioned books (though he helped plot the zero issue of Wheel of Worlds).

Gaiman wrote a semi-autobiographical story about a boy's fascination with Michael Moorcock's anti-hero Elric of Melniboné for Ed Kramer's anthology Tales of the White Wolf. In 1996, Gaiman and Ed Kramer co-edited The Sandman: Book of Dreams. Nominated for the British Fantasy Award, the original fiction anthology featured stories and contributions by Tori Amos, Clive Barker, Gene Wolfe, Tad Williams, and others.

Asked why he likes comics more than other forms of storytelling Gaiman said “One of the joys of comics has always been the knowledge that it was, in many ways, untouched ground. It was virgin territory. When I was working on Sandman, I felt a lot of the time that I was actually picking up a machete and heading out into the jungle. I got to write in places and do things that nobody had ever done before. When I’m writing novels I’m painfully aware that I’m working in a medium that people have been writing absolutely jaw-droppingly brilliant things for, you know, three-four thousand years now. And you go, well, I don’t know that I’m as good as that and that’s two and a half thousand years old. But with comics I felt like I can do stuff nobody has ever done. I can do stuff nobody has ever thought of. And I could and it was enormously fun.”

In 2009, Gaiman wrote a two-part "Batman" story for DC Comics to follow "Batman R.I.P." It is titled "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" a play off of the classic Superman story "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" by Alan Moore. He also contributed a twelve-page "Metamorpho" story drawn by Mike Allred for Wednesday Comics, a weekly newspaper-style series.

Novels
In a collaboration with author Terry Pratchett (best known for his series of Discworld novels), Gaiman's first novel Good Omens was published in 1990. In recent years Pratchett has said that while the entire novel was a collaborative effort and most of the ideas could be credited to both of them, Pratchett did a larger portion of writing and editing if for no other reason than Gaiman's scheduled involvement with "Sandman".

The 1996 novelization of Gaiman's teleplay for the BBC mini-series Neverwhere was his first solo novel. The novel was released in tandem with the television series though it presents some notable differences from the television series. In 1999 first printings of his fantasy novel Stardust were released. The novel has been released both as a standard novel and in an illustrated text edition.

American Gods became one of Gaiman's best-selling and multi-award winning novels upon its release in 2001. A special 10th Anniversary edition was released, with the "author's preferred text" 12,000 words longer than the original mass-market editions. This is identical to the signed and numbered limited edition that was released by Hill House Publishers in 2003. This is also the version released by Headline, Gaiman's publisher in the UK, even before the 10th Anniversary edition. He did an extensive sold-out book tour celebrating the 10th Anniversary and promoting this edition in 2011.

In 2005, his novel Anansi Boys was released worldwide. The book deals with Anansi ('Mr. Nancy'), a supporting character in American Gods. Specifically it traces the relationship of his two sons, one semi-divine and the other an unaware Englishman of American origin, as they explore their common heritage. It debuted at number one on The New York Times Best Seller list.

In late 2008, Gaiman released a new children's book, The Graveyard Book. It follows the adventures of a boy named Bod after his family is murdered and he is left to be brought up by a graveyard. It is heavily influenced by Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. As of late January 2009, it had been on the New York Times Bestseller children's list for fifteen weeks.

As of 2008, Gaiman has several books planned. After a tour of China, he decided to write a non-fiction book about his travels and the general mythos of China. Following that, will be a new 'adult' novel (his first since 2005's Anansi Boys). After that, another 'all-ages' book (in the same vein as Coraline and The Graveyard Book). Following that, Gaiman says that he will release another non-fiction book called The Dream Catchers. In December 2011, Gaiman announced that in January 2012 he would begin work on what is essentially, American Gods 2.

Literary Allusions
Gaiman's work is known for a high degree of allusiveness. Meredith Collins, for instance, has commented upon the degree to which his novel Stardust depends on allusions to Victorian fairy tales and culture. Particularly in The Sandman, literary figures and characters appear often; the character of Fiddler's Green is modelled visually on G. K. Chesterton, both William Shakespeare and Geoffrey Chaucer appear as characters, as do several characters from within A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest. The comic also draws from numerous mythologies and historical periods. Such allusions are not unique to Sandman; Stardust, for example, also has a character called Shakespeare.

Clay Smith has argued that this sort of allusiveness serves to situate Gaiman as a strong authorial presence in his own works, often to the exclusion of his collaborators. However, Smith's viewpoint is in the minority: to many, if there is a problem with Gaiman scholarship and intertextuality it is that "...His literary merit and vast popularity have propelled him into the nascent comics canon so quickly that there is not yet a basis of critical scholarship about his work."

David Rudd takes a more generous view in his study of the novel Coraline, where he argues that the work plays and riffs productively on Sigmund Freud's notion of the Uncanny, or the Unheimlich.

Though Gaiman's work is frequently seen as exemplifying the monomyth structure laid out in Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Gaiman says that he started reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces but refused to finish it: "I think I got about half way through The Hero with a Thousand Faces and found myself thinking if this is true – I don’t want to know. I really would rather not know this stuff. I’d rather do it because it’s true and because I accidentally wind up creating something that falls into this pattern than be told what the pattern is."

Awards
British Fantasy Award
British Sci-Fi Awards (2)
Bram Stoker Awards (4)
Carnegie Medal
Eisner Awards (19)
Geffen Awards (3)
Hugo Awards (4)
International Horror Guild Award
Locus Awards (5)
Nebula Awards (2)
Newberry Medal
Mythopoeic Awards (2)

(Author bio from Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/27/2013.)



Book Reviews
The protagonist, an artist, returns to his childhood home in the English countryside to recover his memory of events that nearly destroyed him and his family when he was seven. The suicide of a stranger opened the way for a deadly spirit who disguised herself as a housekeeper.... Gaiman has crafted a fresh story of magic, humanity, loyalty, and memories “waiting at the edges of things,” where lost innocence can still be restored as long as someone is willing to bear the cost.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) Gaiman mines mythological typology--the three-fold goddess, the water of life (the pond, actually an ocean)—and his own childhood milieu to build the cosmology and theater of a story he tells more gracefully than any he’s told since Stardust...[a] lovely yarn.
Booklist


(Starred review.) From one of the great masters of modern speculative fiction: Gaiman's first novel for adults since Anansi Boys (2005). An unnamed protagonist and narrator returns to his Sussex roots to attend a funeral.... Memories begin to flow.... Forty years ago...a South African opal miner, gambled his fortune away, then committed suicide in the Hempstock farmyard. Something dark, deadly and far distant heard his dying lament and swooped closer.... [I]t reappears as his family's new housekeeper, the demonic Ursula Monkton.... Poignant and heartbreaking, eloquent and frightening, impeccably rendered, it's a fable that reminds us how our lives are shaped by childhood experiences, what we gain from them and the price we pay.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. It would be easy to think of the Hempstocks as the "triple goddess" (the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone) of popular mythology. In what ways do they conform to those roles? In what ways are they different?

2. The narrator has returned to his hometown for a funeral (we never learn whose). Do you think that framing his childhood story with a funeral gives this story a pessimistic outlook, rather than anoptimistic one?

3. Because the narrator is male and most of the other characters are female, this story has the potential to become a stereotypical narrative where a male character saves the day. How does the story avoid that pitfall?

4. The story juxtaposes the memories of childhood with the present of adulthood. In what ways do children perceive things differently an adults? Do you think there are situations in which a child's perspective can be more "truthful" than an adult's?

5. One of Ursula Monkton's main attributes is that she always tries to give people what they want. Why is this not always a good thing? What does Ursula want? How does Ursula use people's desires against them to get what she wants?

6. Water has many roles in this story—it can give and take life, reveal and hide. How does it play these different roles?

7. One of the many motivators for the characters in this story is loneliness. What characters seem to suffer from loneliness? How do adults and children respond to loneliness in different ways? In the same ways?

8. On page 18, the narrator tells us that his father often burnt their toast and always ate it with apparent relish. He also tells us that later in life, his father admitted that he had never actually liked burnt toast, but ate it to avoid waste, and that his father's confession made the narrator's entire childhood feel like a lie: "it was as if one of the pillars of belief that my world had been built upon had crumbled into dry sand." What other "pillars of belief" from childhood does he discover to be false? How do these discoveries affect him? Are there any beliefs from your own childhood that you discovered to be false?

9. When the narrative returns to the present, Old Mrs. Hempstock tells our narrator, "You stand two of you lot next to each other, and you could be continents away for all it means anything" (p. 173). What does she mean by this? Why is it "easier" for people, our narrator especially, to forget certain things that are difficult to reconcile?

10. Though the narrator has a sister, he doesn't seem to be particularly close to her. Why do you think it is that he has trouble relating to other children? Why do you think his sister is not an ally for him?
(Questions issued by the publisher. )

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