The Graveyard Book – Cultural Studies

Place: East Grinstead, West Sussex, England. The town is located in Southeastern England, close to London.

Locationof the graveyard in East Grinstead.

 

 

Cemetery
Cemeteries are large burial grounds where the dead are buried.

They differ in terms of cultural and religious aspects. In Western societies cemeteries are a place where funerals are usually held. It used to be a privilege to bury someone in the communal cemetery.
In medieval Europe, murderers and witches were excluded from cemeteries because they were considered to be unholy citizens. A graveyard is a type of cemetery which is located next to a church.
Graveyards were closed in 1885 in London because of overcrowded burials. Therefore, more cemeteries were built in Great Britain. The author probably refers to the Mount Noddy Cemetery located in East Grinstead in his story. The Mount Noddy Cemetery is located outside the city center; therefore it is considered to be a rural type of cemetery.

 

Mausoleum
Mausoleums are houses where coffins are received. Modern mausoleums are designed by architects of the Gothic or Neoclassical era.

Mausoleums are built close to churches, in cemeteries or parks. Since it was very expensive to build a mausoleum, only the rich society could afford to bury their relatives there. During the Gothic era, architects built mausoleums with high reaching spires. In comparison, Neoclassical mausoleums are built in a less extravagant manner and usually with round pillars outside.
Gothic mausoleum

Neoclassical mausoleum

 

Paganism
Paganism was a term first used by Christians in the 4th AD century to describe non-Christian practitioners of polytheism.

Pagan religions are considered to be the traditional religions of indigenous people around the world with a strong tie to nature. Pagans believe in the ongoing cycle of life and death. These religions in Great Britain were influenced by the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, and Vikings.

The Reformation of Christianity in England ended in less influnce of Paganism in English society.
But in modern times, many people have returned to pagan-inspired spirituality. In the story the “Indigo Man” might belong to the tribe of the Picts. The Picts practiced Celtic polytheism and were one of the last tribes which converted to Christianity during the 6th AD century.

 

The Romans in Britain (Caius Pompeius)

In around the year 50 AD the Romans invaded Britain to expand their empire.

Since Julius Caesar had failed a decade before to conquer the island, the Romans were interested in this “exotic” and “mystical” island. They fought wars against several Celtic tribes and thirty years later they had occupied land in the present day Scotland. The Romans saw themselves as the “civilized society” and everyone who didn’t belong to this society was a barbarian according to them. Since Caius Pompeius is the oldest member of the cemetery, besides the Indigo Man, this could reveal the age of the cemetery.

 

 

 

Mythical creatures:

Werewolves:
Werewolves are creatures which have the ability to change their shape. During daytime they are normal human beings and when the moon rises, they turn into werewolves.

According to European folklore of the 16th century, people who practiced cannibalism turned into them. People could also turn to werewolves by being bitten by one or through heredity. People who were accused of being werewolves were ostracized by their society or put on a trial ending with a death sentence.
Since the 20th century they have played a more significant role in novels or movies, especially in the horror genre. Also in popular culture, werewolves and vampires are seen as rivals, shown in the movie Van Helsing, where the vampire Dracula can only be killed by a werewolf bite.

There is a werewolf in the Graveyard Book as well. Her name is Miss Lupescu. The surname “Lupescu” is a signal for which kind of mythical creature she is, since the Latin word “lupus” means wolf. In contrast to popular culture, she and the vampire Silas are both partners in the organization the Honor Guard. But the differences in both of them are obvious, which can also be seen in as how they act differently as the guardians of the protagonist.

 

Vampires:
The modern definition of vampires is derived from Eastern European folklore. They are walking corpses who have a human appearance with pale skin, full grown hair, sharp teeth and they have no reflection in the mirror.

They rise up at night from their coffins and look for human victims from whom they can suck their blood. There are two major ways a person becomes a vampire. The first one is being bitten by one. The second way is by committing suicide. Like werewolves, vampires also play a key role in novels and movies.
The author of the Graveyard Book doesn’t reveal if Silas is a vampire or not, but the two following citations could be seen as evidence for it. “As twilight edged from grey to purple there was a noise in the spire, like a fluttering of heavy velvet, and Silas left his resting place in the belfry and clambered headfirst down the spire’’ (100). “The surface of the tabletop was almost mirrored, and, had anyone cared to look, they might have observed that the tall man had no reflection” (291).

 

Witches:
Witches are considered to be women who have the ability to use magic for evil purposes.

During medieval times, people accused them of casting spells, conjuring death or demons. European countries started executing witches from the end of the 15th century until the end of the 18th century. People were accused of being witches without any evidence for it. Later they were tortured in order to get a confession from them. There were several witch hunts done in Western Europe to search for many suspects. Witches received different kinds of penalties. Under the Spanish Inquisition they were burned and in Scotland they were hanged.

In fiction, witches aren’t necessarily evil. Witchcraft, referred to as “Wicca”, became popular again in Great Britain in the 1950’s. Worshippers of this Neo-Pagan movement call themselves witches and follow ritual practices of magic in participating in festivals like “wheel of the year”.
A timeline of witch hunts done in Western Europe.

The Neo-Pagan movement “Wicca”.

 

The Sleer:
The Sleer is a three headed snake, which guards a treasure underneath the graveyard.

In ancient cultures snakes symbolized resurrection, death and wisdom. In Western cultures snakes were seen as the guardians of the underworld because they live in holes in the ground. They functioned as the messengers between the Upper and Lower World. Even in American mythology, snakes played a key role in the underworld. In Aztec mythology, the underworld, called “Mictlan”, was protected by trees full of pythons. In addition, snakes symbolized the guardians of temples. The reason for it might be that snakes aren’t usually the aggressor, but if threatened they fight back instead of retreating.
In the Graveyard Book the Sleer acts as a guardian of the treasure and is willing to kill anyone who tries to take it. The following link shows an image of a seven-headed serpent in Angkor Watt, Cambodia.

 

The Indigo Man:
It is presumed that major climatic shifts forced large migrations of people all over Europe to settle on the British Isles.
Some Celtic tribes established small-scale societies on the British Isles. The Picts were several united tribes in the north.

The tribe members of the Picts didn’t come from Central Europe; they were the descendants of the first people who arrived on the British Isles. The Romans and the Picts fought several battles against each other around 50 BCE. The Picts were unconquerable by the Romans, because they used guerilla tactics to defend themselves. The Romans built the Hadrian’s Wall to protect themselves from the Picts.
The name of the Indigo Man provides the reader with the information that he belonged to one of the indigenous tribes on the British Isle. Indigo is a deep and rich blue color which was used by some of these tribes for tattoos or body paitings. He can be a tribe member of the Picts, since he is the guardian of a sacred treasure and the Picts were known for relentlessly defending themselves against invaders.

Face- and body paintings of a Pict (movie).

 

The Ghouls
According to Arabic folklore, ghouls are female demons who live in burial grounds.

They have the abilities to change their forms in order to distract and trick travelers so that they can kill and eat them. In Western societies they are seen as monsters which rob graves to feed upon dead bodies.
As in the Arabic folklore, the ghouls in the Graveyard Book are manipulative creatures. They trick the protagonist into following them to their town so they can kill and eat him.
In the story, ghouls acquire the personality of the last person they have eaten. Since one of the main ghouls is Victor Hugo and the other one is the last Emperor of China, it is clear that ghouls have the ability to travel around the world without being limited to just stay at one place.

 

 

Sources:
https://www.britannica.com/topic/cemetery
https://www.encyclopedia.com/literature-and-arts/classical-literature-mythology-and-folklore/folklore-and-mythology/werewolf
http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Vampire
https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/history-witches-facts-burned-hanged/
http://www.mythencyclopedia.com/Sa-Sp/Serpents-and-Snakes.html
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/british_prehistory/peoples_01.shtml
https://www.britannica.com/topic/ghoul
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/overview_roman_01.shtml
http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/paganism/

Picts: Facts And History About Mysterious People Of Northern Scotland


https://www.ancient.eu/picts/