The Graveyard

The Graveyard Book begins at the threshold of a quiet English household. Beyond the “wisps of nighttime mist”, a mother, father, child and baby sleep. An intruder waits just outside the door.

While the story opens on the doorstep of 33 Dunstan Road, much of Gaiman’s novel takes place in the shadowed, hushed world of the graveyard, a walled acreage which comes to life between the hours of sunset and sunrise.

Highgate Cemetery West
Creative Commons AttributionHighgate Cemetery West - Credit: Jon's pics

Bod’s cemetery is an ancient place dotted with “stones and tombs and vaults and memorial plaques”. Aside from a few rabbits, cats and foxes, Bod is the only living creature roaming the paths between ivy-covered tombstones and weathered mounds of earth.

The graveyard, half-forgotten by the surrounding residents, predates the abandoned funeral chapel at its heart by centuries. The overgrown plots are filled with the spirits of ages past. Bod’s adopted parents, Mr and Mrs Owens, haven’t lived outside the walls for several hundred years. The cemetery’s most senior citizen, Caius Pompeius, was laid to rest over two thousand years ago.  The crumbling monuments, forsaken by the living, have become a home for ghosts, ghouls, and lost boys.

Highgate Cemetery West Vaults
Creative Commons AttributionHighgate Cemetery West Vaults - Credit: Jon's pics

Bod’s childhood haunt is a secret place, hidden from ordinary eyes. But for him and those others granted the Freedom of the Graveyard, it is also a haven. Its structures shelter and its residents nurture him. The graveyard gates keep him safe until the day he is ready to venture into the wider world.

In his acknowledgements, Gaiman thanks Audrey Niffenegger, artist, author and graveyard guide, for introducing him to the “the ivy-covered marvel that is Highgate Cemetery West”. According to the author, Niffenegger’s account of Highgate heavily influenced Chapter Six and Seven.

You can read more about Highgate at the cemetery's official site. The video montage of Highgate images was created by Steve Johnson.