Ocean at The End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I must warn you—in reviewing this book, I am extremely biased. Neil Gaiman is probably my all-time favorite writer, ever. When I think about wanting to be a writer, I think about wanting to be Neil Gaiman, unless I’m listening to AWOLNATION and then Gaiman is the hero I have to kill in order to fly. Might as well try to summit Mount Everest while I’m at it. But I digress…

Ocean at The End of the Lane opens with this quote from Maurice Sendak: “I remember my own childhood vividly. I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew. It would scare them.” Here’s a hint: this quote pretty much explains the whole story that comes after it…except for the “vivid” part. The reliability of memory is a critical element of this story. Anytime a book opens with a nod to Sendak, I expect it to be particularly good. I expect the author to share a similar sort of Sendakian insight. When that author is Neil Gaiman, there’s a pretty good chance that’s what a reader will get.

The story’s unnamed Narrator (who I couldn’t help but think of as Gaiman himself) goes back to his childhood home in Sussex, England, to attend a funeral. An indistinct compulsion urges him to seek out the Hempstock farm that is located at the end of the lane he lived on as small child. When he reaches the farm he is greeted by an old woman he vaguely remembers. She’s either the mother or grandmother of his childhood friend, Lettie Hempstock. He asks the old woman if he may go out back and visit the pond. The old woman remembers him and agrees to let him come in and reminisce for a while. There begins the narrator’s flash-back to his boyhood days when he discovered that very ancient beings, some older than the moon, live in this world and they came here through the Hempstock’s pond, which Lettie had always insisted was not a pond, but an ocean…and a gateway to another dimension.

It was only a duck pond, out at the back of the farm. It wasn’t very big.

Lettie Hempstock said it was an ocean, but I knew that was silly. She

said they’d come here across the ocean from the old country.

Her mother said that Lettie didn’t remember properly, and it was a

long time ago, and anyway, the old country had sunk.

Old Mrs. Hemp stock, Lettie’s grandmother, said they were both

wrong, and that the place that had sunk wasn’t the really old country. She

Said she could remember the really old country.

She said the really old country had blown up.

Some of the beings who have come through this ocean are good, like the three Hempstock women( I couldn’t decide while reading this if they were the 3 fates or the 3 furies or some of both…or possibly neither). Some of the creatures who have come through the pond are terrifying, and the boy narrator, in his ignorance of these magical things, ends up playing a pivotal role in both bringing in and fighting against the potential destruction of the world. All of which happens while his parents sleep, oblivious, in their beds.

I always swore when I was a kid that I wouldn’t grow up to be one of those parents who was oblivious to the magical things that only children could see, and when my kid says there’s a monster under his bed, by God I was going to check it out before I told him it was just his imagination. Did I become that kind of grown-up? Probably not as much as the kid me wanted to be. This book is a little bit about that kind of thing. It’s a lot more about how a child’s naivete and innocence gives them the basis to accept that magic exists and are therefore able to interact with it. That same naiveté and innocence also lends to the extreme fears and nightmares children must suffer as they struggle to cope with the unknown. In real life, that is all rather metaphoric, but in Ocean at the End of the Lane it is very, very real. If there is anyone who knows how to capture the true darkness and fear of childhood, while also holding on to the magic and wonder of it, it’s Gaiman.

The Ocean at The End of the Lane started out as Gaiman’s response for a request for a short story, but then it turned into something more. Gaiman refers to it as a novel. That might be a bit grandiose. I would call it a novella. Word counts and page numbers do not matter, though. Do I want a king size Snickers bar, or a snack size Snickers bar? Who cares, I’m just so freaking happy to have a Snickers bar. Short or long, Gaiman packs so much into his stories that they’re satisfying either way.


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