Friday, June 6, 2014

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman in Movie Development--Read the Book Before it Comes to the Big Screen!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel
by Neil Gaiman is available in a variety of for-
mats, get your book, now, before the movie! [1]
Amazon has the first three chapters available for
FREE to download onto your Kindle/e-book read-
er. To get your free chapters, click the link, here.
Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     He had delivered the eulogy, wearing clothes that were oddly comforting, white shirt, black tie, suit and shiny shoes. They were, he thought the right clothes for a very "hard day." He had "spoken the words...[meaning] them as he spoke them..." and then had left--gotten into his car and drove away. He found that the little country road he had chosen to drive down, the one he had chosen to get lost upon, had been covered in blacktop and, now, "served as a buffer between two sprawling housing estates."

     So begins The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel, by Neil Gaiman. The unnamed speaker takes us back to where he lived as a child. He travels there and, as an adult looking back, delivers a sincere eulogy.

     A eulogy, in this case, a speech in praise of the deceased, has been given, and the protagonist has left the gathering, seeking solitude and a time for reflection. We never find out who this deceased person is. No names are given. Even the protagonist is anonymous.

The book, The Ocean at the End of
the Lane
, by Neil Gaiman, opens with
the protagonist having just given a
sincere eulogy. [2]
     The anonymity seems to make it easier for the reader to assume the position that the story can be about anyone--take place at any time. Neil Gaiman's selection of this writing technique to dramatize his story is one example of his masterful use of the English language; the story is a nostalgic and elegiac fable, redolent with dreaminess and poignancy. Before I get any further into the story, let's take a brief look at the synopsis.

     The setting is Sussex, England. We first see a man, middle-aged, having just given a eulogy. After the eulogy he escapes the gathering, driving in his car, seeking quiet and time for contemplative thoughts. He is drawn to drive down a road from his childhood, and he observes that it has been paved over with black top, making it appear different. He notices that the road seems to act as a buffer between the two sprawling estates.

Mrs. Hempstock's property had a pond in the back
yard with a bench and a tree nearby. Here is where
our protagonist sits lost in thought and memory
for the afternoon. [3]
     Arriving at the end of the road, he sees and remembers the house at the end of the road, a place from his childhood. The protagonist gets out of the car and knocks on the Hempstock's door; three women had lived there, a grandmother, mother and daughter (Lettie). He asks the woman at the door, Lettie's mother, if Lettie had returned from "Australia," yet. Sorrowfully, he finds out that Lettie is still gone. Mrs. Hempstock offers him hot tea, but he refuses and asks if he can sit out by the pond at the back of the house for a while.

     He sits one the little bench by the pond, the ocean, and his mind drifts backward in time to his childhood, when he was seven-years-old, and living in a house not far from the Hempstock place, with his mom, dad and sister. He thinks about meeting the remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, her mother "Ginny" (a rather "stocky," Mrs. Hempstock) and Lettie's grandmother (Old Mrs. Hempstock, who was rather thin). Sitting on the bench, unbidden, the past flows into him, filling him with remembrances of a strange time, a time of scary and very dangerous events.

"The moon was still full, but now
it was low in the sky, and a dark
orange: what my mother called a
harvest moon. But things were
harvested in autumn, I knew,
not in spring" (p. 148). [4]
     Having lost all sense of time, he meanders through the memories of a dead cat, and a man who committed suicide in his father's stolen car. He sees images of an entity made up of flowing strips of cloth, and the dark, of being imprisoned, and of being cold, very cold, as he fought to keep from being drowned. He also remembers Lettie and her promise to protect him and keep from him the things trying to eat his heart and world. He remembers a little black cat with a white ear, strangely colored moons hanging in the sky, and looking at the pond, he remembers the ocean.

     I don't know that I'd call this my "favorite" quote, but I certainly identify with the way the protagonist feels after he finishes eating. Have you ever felt like this after a good meal?
There was a bowl of porridge on the kitchen table and beside it, a saucer with a lump of golden honeycomb on it, and a jug of rich yellow cream. I spooned up a lump of the honeycomb and mixed it into the thick porridge, then I poured in the cream. There was toast, too, cooked beneath the grill as my father cooked it, with homemade blackberry jam. There was the best cup of tea I have ever drunk. By the fireplace, the kitten lapped at a saucer of creamy milk, and purred so loudly I could hear it across the room. I wished I could purr too. I would have purred then (p. 151).    
The perfect cup of tea. [6]
As I sit drafting this blog post, today,
I have a wonderful cup of oolong
tea on which to sip and inspire me.
   One of the themes throughout the book is food. This little passage is important to the boy because previously he has had some very bad food, like burnt toast. Of course, he also went hungry for a while in the story, so to be given such delicious food, is one of the ways he is nourished and cared for, in the story. And, of course, loving really good tea the way I do, I wish I could join the boy, there, with his tea and sit cozily watching the cat by the fireplace, hearing it purr.

     I would like to purr, too (just as the boy wished he could purr, too). "Purr. Purr....that be niiiiiice." I just love this quote from a cat in the movie, The Last Unicorn (our family would watch this movie quite frequently); I suppose that's how I'd feel if I were a pirate cat! Check out this very short--only 10 seconds--YouTube video clip from The Last Unicorn. [7]

     I know its silly, but I've been known to quote the movie from time to time--especially if I have an itchy spot on my back that I can't reach and my husband scratches it for me. Just saying.... "Purr, purr...that be niiiice!" The comfort level and feeling of safety in the Hempstock's home seems like that, too, for the boy who, as he enjoys his meal, watches the cat, hearing it purr.

IMDb reports that Ocean at the End
of the Lane
 is "in development." [9]
     One of the reasons I chose The Ocean at the End of the Lane to review today, is that it has been announced that the book will be coming to the big screen. The project has been "categorized as in development." [8] When a firm date is announced for the movie's release, I will update this blog post with that information.

     I have always been interested in how a book is taken and adapted to a totally different media, in this case, a movie. I would say the same thing about the genre of graphic novels, but today, we are looking at an adaptation of a book to a movie.

     The adapter is faced with numerous choices. What to include and what to leave out. Change the age or ages, nationality or skin color, or sex of a character, change the setting to make it more film friendly, rewrite a scene because of filming schedules or actor availability, and even more troublesome, whether or not to change the plot extensively by adding characters or scenes not in the book. We've all seen these changes in movies adapted from books, and need I say, numerous more significant changes than I've mentioned, here.

     Unfortunately, we will just have to wait to see what the results are for the pending movie. We will be kept wondering for a little while, yet, what artistic choices will be made in adapting this elegiac fable to a movie.

     First, the genre, loosely, is fantasy. That part is easy. But what form does that story take? Succinctly, it is known as an elegiac fable. But, what is that? You can see a short definition of fable in the little graphic on the left, here.

The Fables of Avianus,
translated by David R.
Slavitt. [12]
     Now, down to the definition of elegiac. The Free Dictionary tells us that elegiac relates to or involves an elegy; it can be mournful or express sorrow for something that is irrecoverably past or lost. It can be a funeral song or a reflective poem of regret or lamentation for the dead.

     Aesop is well-known for his fables, but it is Avianus who hits the mark for "elegiac fables." When I think of elegiac fables, I think of Avianus, a Roman, who lived and wrote in the fifth-century; he is known for his 42 elegiac fables. He was said to write about a "topsy-turvy world in which humor and cunning" were the hallmarks of his commentary about the human condition.

     The Ocean at the End of the Lane, is an adult novel in the form of an elegiac fable; it is a story that utilizes the memories of childhood and how the remembered events shape and mold the storyteller. It is a lamentation for all things lost, his friend, Letty, certainly tops the list; she has not, yet, returned from "Australia." And, since it is a story utilizing a young boy and his childhood memories, some adults think it is a story for children only. If you look beyond the child, you realize the protagonist is actually the adult speaking about what he remembers, and while he does step into the shoes of his younger self (just as he did in the Hempstocks cottage), he is, after all, still himself looking back.

The waxing (crescent) moon
is associated with the maiden. [13]
     Second, the three womenBack to our story...remember the book's opening? The protagonist had just finished giving a eulogy for an unknown deceased person. Feeling somewhat melancholy, the speaker drives off for some solitude and reflection, ending up at a place of comfort from his childhood--the house of the three women, the Hempstocks. These three women constitute the archetypes of maiden, mother and crone.

     The MaidenLettie represents the maiden; the maiden is virginal, about awakenings, and is associated with the waxing of the moon. At one point in the book the boy describes going out the front door, "and the moon was a thin white smile...with...spring breezes..." in the air. The moon and spring breezes described, here, illustrate the Maiden/Moon symbols--even going out the front door is a beginning, a starting of a journey. As the boy crosses the threshold and walks to the place where "it had all begun" (p.209). Lettie, the Maiden, is associated with bringing the boy to awareness--the beginning of things. As you read the book, look for the Maiden images, often seen around or concerning Lettie.

The full moon is associated with the
mother and represents abundance,
growth, knowledge, and fulfillment.[14]
     The MotherLettie's mother (Ginny) is the mother archetype; often connected with fertility, this archetype represents abundance, growth and knowledge--she is "fulfillment" personified and is associated with the full moon and springtime and early summer. When the young boy had entered the farmhouse the moon had been full, "and it was a perfect summer's night" (p.209). This is just one example of the full moon symbolism in the story, and the Mother archetype image superimposed to show fullness and satisfaction. Again, the full moon and Mother image are rife throughout the book, just watch to see how they are associated.

The waning (crescent) moon
is associated with the crone. [15]
     The CroneLettie's grandmother, old Mrs. Hempstock, fills the role of the crone; the crone is often connected to the archetype and is seen as a wise woman, the darkness of night, and death--old Mrs. Hempstock is associated with the waning moon, winter and dying earth. She often gives advice, or helps with "stitching" things together. One example of the Crone's appearance in the story occurs as the boy observes, "There were no breezes, and the night was perfectly still; our path was lit by moonlight and nothing more...[n]o magical full moon...It was...the true moon, the quarter moon, reflected..." in the pond, and Old Mrs. Hempstock stopped beside me" (p.225).

     One little aside, here. Oddly, I like the images of the two "estates," one on each side of the road. On one side live the Hemstocks, the other side of the road was where the boy's family lived. On one side, the Threefold Goddess, in guise of the Hemstock women, and on the other side of the road, their counterpart in the boy's three women: the sister, the mother, and Ursula Monkton. Cool, huh?

The Threefold Goddess is three aspects
of ONE goddess. [17]
     Overlapping or interwoven themes: An article on "Moon Magic and the Triple Goddess," by Silvestra, indicates that the moon has often been associated with or linked to water as an image, "as her [the moon's] gravitational pull affects the oceans' tides." [16] Throughout the book, the themes of water, ocean, sea, and even water in the form of tea (as an ingestible and nourishing food), rain, mist, fog, etc. are repeated, and then woven in with other important themes and images (cold water/drowning/death). A couple of examples that I have already mentioned, above, are the moon and the triple goddess.

     The opening pages of the book actually tell us, metaphorically, what the book, in its entirety, is about. The black tarmac road serves as a "buffer" between childhood and adulthood, what is remembered and what floats in the unconscious, what terrifies and what comforts. It is a buffer between loneliness and belonging, between staying and going, and between what is kept and what is lost. It is a metaphor about the "two sprawling" estates of his life, his childhood and his adulthood. It is a metaphor and a eulogy about what he has now and what he had then.

The Ocean at the End of the
 by Neil Gaiman, was voted
the best fantasy book of 2013
by GoodReads Readers. [19]
     This idea of incorporating all the ages of a person's life is tangentially related to the Threefold Goddess. One aspect, not yet addressed in our discussion of the Threefold Goddess, is that the Threefold Goddess is "NOT three entities, she is one." Which, in turn, is also very much like the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--three in one. [16] Importantly, when the protagonist says, "It's funny. For a moment, I thought there were two of you. Isn't that odd?" The old woman responds, "It's just me...It's only ever just me" (She's telling him that she is all three women in one!).

     And then, as he drives away, he looks back at the farmhouse in the rearview mirror of his car, and seemed to see two moons hanging in the sky, "like a pair of eyes watching me from above [the house] moon perfectly full and round, the other...a half-moon" (p.245)--the full moon representing Ginny (Lettie's mother), and the half-moon, the Crone. Remember, Lettie is in "Australia," metaphorically speaking. "Newness" can really only be experienced once. It takes the fullness of life and then death before you can get to rebirth.

At one point in the story the boy is
immersed into the "Ocean." [18]

     In spite of this division of the estates of his life, the boy become man is oddly unified into one being. His child self incorporated into his adult self, capable of looking forward to a time when he will join the timeless ocean of being--something he had a foreshadowing of when he was in the ocean and connected with all things. And, something akin to old Mrs. Hempstock who "remember[ed] when the moon was made" (p.44).

ODDS AND ENDS:  First, I absolutely LOVED that the boy was an AVID reader. I use to hide in my books, too, as a kid (obviously, not for the same reasons). So, I really enjoyed this aspect of the child's personality. Second, Neil Gaiman fans may find some of the story repetitive or unoriginal. As for myself, I loved the charming story and am very glad, indeed, that I read it. Some of the prose is stunningly beautiful. I loved the daffodils and sunlight in the kitchen, and the descriptions of food and eating--flat out gorgeous! I also liked the images and metaphors used for the boy's trauma of his childhood and his loss of heart; and then, of course, his fulfillment and growth as an adult where he is able to grow a new heart.

     First, I have not addressed all the symbols (e.g. cats) and metaphors (e.g. going between the hedgerows), themes (e.g. the men leaving the farm, birth, death, the tree of life, circles), and other plots and quotes I would like to have addressed. But, it is time to move on. I've been pretty verbose, today, so thank you for your patience.

     This book is an adult fable, and think it would take an adult to appreciate all the nuances of the storytelling. Even so, I think anyone capable of reading the book would find it enjoyable. I would only label it PG (Parental Guidance Suggested) for those sensitive to issues of death and suicide, or for those who have a very sensitive nature, or who are easily scared about supernatural things or events.

 I loved this book and for all the above-listed reasons, I give it 4.5 stars out of 5.

     Thank you for joining me this week as we looked at the exciting book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. Join me again next week as we look at another new book. Until then, please pick up a book and read a few pages.

Until next time...
...many happy pages of reading!


[1] "The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel." Retrieved 05-31-14.
[2] "The Roosevelts." Retrieved 06-03-14.
[3] "A Bench, A Tree, and a Pond." Retrieved 06-03-14.
[4] "Harvest Moon Medley." Retrieved 06-04-14.
[5] "Honey: A Natural Herbal Remedy...." Retrieved 06-04-14.
[6] "Halcyon Days." Retrieved 06-04-14.
[7]"Cat Pur." [The Last Unicorn] Retrieved 06-04-14.
[8] "The Ocean at the End of the Lane." IMDb. Retrieved 06-04-14.
[9] "In Development." Retrieved 06-04-14.
[10] "Keep Calm Wait and See." Retrieved 06-04-14.
[11] "Imagine It Genre Posters: Fable." Retrieved 06-04-14.
[12] "The Fables of Avianus." Retrieved 06-05-14.
[13] "The Phases of the Moon." Retrieved 06-06-14.
[14] "Drawing Down the Moon." Retrieved 06-06-14.
[15] "Lunar Breeze." Retrieved 06-06-14.
[16] "Moon Magic and the Triple Goddess." Retrieved 06-06-14.
[17] "The Threefold Goddess...." Retrieved 06-06-14.
[18] "Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane Review." Retrieved 06-06-14.
[19] "goodreads Choice Awards 2013." Retrieved 06-03-14.
[20] "Book of Counted Sorrows." Retrieved 06-06-14.
[21] "Power Stars." Retrieved 06-06-14.
[22] "28 White Roses Pictures For Free Download." Retrieved 05-25-14.

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