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The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a fantastical novel that refreshed the science fiction/ fantasy genre for me. It is classified as an adult sci-fi book, yet it somehow does not quite adhere to the description. There is a childlike charm that I remember feeling while reading books such as Coraline by Neil Gaiman, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'engle, and The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

This book is an excellent transition from younger readers into the slightly darker fantasy novels. This is due to sheer innocence of the seven-year-old main character, who is never actually named. The boy, now a man reminiscing his childhood, recalls the strange events surrounding the occupants of the farmhouse at the opposite end of the lane. His playmate, Lettie Hempstock, her mother, and her grandmother, claim to remember the Big Bang and the old century, and prove their abilities in altering time and space around them. When Lettie and the narrator venture into an unfamiliar dimension – the boy thought that they were playing make believe, as children do – the boy steps on a worm, which burrows into the bottom of his foot, and returns home with them. The boy innocently pulls the worm from it's new home and runs it down the drain, only to have it return as a nasty, powerful governess.

Adult themes are introduced more with the emergence of Ursula Monkton, creating an uncomfortable snag between our adult selves and our seven year old innocence, building tension and giving the story a unique filter. Gaiman pulls the reader back to the malleable, impressionable age where most things are taken at face value, whether it be that dad burns the toast every morning or that the governess is an evil worm, literally. Yet, he is able to portray an immense amount of courage and wisdom in characters both young and unimaginably old.

Maurice Sendak stated in conversation with a New Yorker reporter that, "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." The Ocean at the End of the Lane  simultaneously gave me both sensations: that of an adult, scared of what mysterious, dangerous elements of the world I did not understand, and that of a child, balancing innocence with knowledge of the truth of such dark things.

"THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE is a novel of childhood and memory. It's a story of magic, about the power of stories and how we face the darkness inside each of us. It's about fear, and love, and death, and families. But, fundamentally, I hope, at its heart, it's a novel about survival."

Neil Gaiman

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