The Graveyard Book | Study Guide

Neil Gaiman

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The Graveyard Book | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Raising A Living Boy

A mysterious man named Jack enters a home in the middle of the night. He brutally murders a mother, father, and sister. Jack believes there is a baby in a crib at the top of the stairs. The baby has learned how to get out of his crib and is not in the house. Jack follows the baby's scent up the hill and into a graveyard that has been turned into a park. The baby is discovered in the graveyard by a kind ghost couple named the Owenses. They also see Jack coming into the graveyard and know he is bad and looking for the child. The baby's murdered parents show up as flickering shadows and beg Mrs. Owens to take care of their son. She agrees to the request, and a mysterious man comes to the graveyard and forces Jack away.

The ghosts gather together to hold a vote on whether the Owenses should raise the child with their help in the safety of the graveyard. The man who chased Jack out of the graveyard is named Silas, and he agrees to be the boy's guardian. Silas is a mysterious creature who is neither living nor dead, but he can leave the cemetery and get things from the human world such as food and water. The ghosts vote to allow the Owenses to raise the boy and give him The Freedom of the Graveyard which endows the boy with some of the abilities of the ghosts. The main ability the boy will have is to be invisible to humans when he is in the graveyard so no one will be suspicious of a boy wandering around a graveyard. The Owenses decide to name him Nobody Owens or Bod for short.

Growing Up In A Graveyard

When Bod turns four years old, he meets a living girl named Scarlett Amber Perkins. She can see Bod and the two of them become friends. Scarlett tells her parents about Bod, but they don't believe her and think Bod is just an imaginary friend. One afternoon Bod takes Scarlett down into a deep, dark tomb where they come face-to-face with a tattooed man called the Indigo Man. Bod does not fear the man because he realizes that he is not real and just some sort of projection used to scare people. The Indigo Man is a guardian of a spirit called the Sleer who is guarding some treasure in the tomb. When the two emerge from the tomb, the police are there because Scarlett's parents were afraid that she had been lost or hurt. Scarlett returns a few days later to say goodbye to Bod because her family is moving to Scotland. All the while Bod has been learning his letters and numbers from Silas and is determined to learn to read. He's been using the words on the gravestones to study.

When Bod turns six years old, Silas informs him he has to go away and that he has found a replacement guardian for Bod. The substitute guardian's name is Miss Lupescu. Bod is not happy with Silas leaving nor does he like his new guardian. Miss Lupescu feeds him nasty food and teaches him things he feels are useless like how to call for help in every language.

One evening Bod falls asleep on a gravestone that is a ghoul gate. Three ghouls emerge and convince Bod to go with them. Bod agrees because they claim the food in their realm is amazing, and Bod has been hungry since Silas left. The ghouls take Silas hostage and drag him across a desert in their hellish world. Bod realizes that ghouls eat the bodies of the dead, and they plan to kill and eat him. Using what Miss Lupescu taught him, Bod calls for help, and a giant wolf comes to his rescue. Bod learns that the wolf is Miss Lupescu. She is a Hound of God who chases down evildoers. Years later Bod meets a witch named Liza Hempstock. She was accused of being a witch in real life and was buried in a field next to the graveyard with no headstone. Bod sees how sad she is for not having a headstone and decides to get her one. Bod takes a brooch from the tomb of the Sleer and tries to sell it in a shop in town. The shop owner locks him in the back, determined to steal the brooch for himself. Bod learns to "fade" and escape. Liza Hempstock is also in the store and overhears that a man named Jack had been there looking for a young boy who had escaped. He left a card in the shop for the owner if he ever saw him. The card was black-edged and completely blank except for the handwritten word Jack on it. Bod paints a large paperweight for Liza to use as her headstone.

When Bod is ten, he learns of a mysterious dance between the living and the dead called the Danse Macabre. In the old town square at midnight, the living and the dead gather together with white flowers and dance in joy and happiness for hours. Bod has the time of his life. Bod also notices that Silas is watching from the shadows but does not participate. The next morning Bod is excited to talk about the dance with his parents and the rest of the ghosts, but none of them know what he is talking about. When Bod asks Silas, all he gets out of him is that neither the living nor the dead remember the dance. He also learns that Silas can't participate because he is neither living nor dead. Bod notices that Silas seems sad about it.

A Boy Becomes A Man

Soon after Silas informs Bod that his parents were murdered and that is why the outside world is dangerous for him. Bod begs Silas to allow him to attend school, and Silas finally agrees as long as Bod stays semi-faded. Bod will remain very forgettable in that form, causing everyone to forget he exists when he isn't right in front of them. Bod observes two bullies while he is in school that are swindling the other kids out of their lunch money. Bod steps in and can get the kids to stop falling for the bully's scams. The bullies are mad at Bod and threaten him. Bod gets them both back by haunting them and scaring them. One of the bullies Mo Quilling has a police officer as a relative and can convince him to arrest Bod. Bod is placed under arrest and put into the police car, but Silas comes to the rescue and flies him away. After the incident Bod agrees to leave school and stay out of the human world as much as possible.

When Bod turns fourteen, Scarlett returns from Scotland and meets Bod in the graveyard. Bod explains that his parents and sister were murdered, and he wants to find out who killed them and why. Scarlett takes it upon herself to research the murders. Scarlett also meets a historian named Mr. Frost who becomes a family friend and happens to live in Bod's old house. Mr. Frost tells Scarlett that he has information for her and Bod about the murders and invites them to the house.

Mr. Frost takes Bod to the attic to show him his old room and reveals himself to be Jack. Bod escapes, and he and Scarlett hide in the graveyard. Jack ends up being a member of a sinister group called the Jacks of All Trades. There is a prophecy that claims that if Bod lives to adulthood, the Jacks will all be killed. This is the reason they all want him dead. Five men chase Bod and Scarlett into the graveyard. Bod tells Scarlett to hide at the entrance to the Sleer's tomb. Bod manages to kill the four other Jacks by causing them to fall into graves and be taken by ghouls. The real Jack has gone into the Sleer's tomb and found Scarlett. Bod finds Jack holding a knife to Scarlett's throat. Bod tricks Jack into becoming the Sleer's master to get treasure. Jack agrees. The Sleer instantly wraps itself around Jack and pulls him through the wall. Jack is dead.

Scarlett is angry that Bod could kill a person and calls him a monster. She doesn't want to associate with him ever again. Silas returns and takes Scarlett home. Before they get to her house, he erases all her memory of the event as well as of Bod. He tells her mother to move back to Scotland.

When Bod turns fifteen, he realizes he is losing all of his Freedom of the Graveyard powers and must leave the graveyard to join the world of the living. He has a hard time saying goodbye, but with Silas's help he obtains money and a passport so he can leave and travel. He says goodbye to everyone and leaves the graveyard for good.

The Graveyard Book Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675


1 Jack murders three of the four members of a family, but the baby escapes.

Rising Action

2 The ghosts in the graveyard vote to raise the baby named Nobody as a community.

3 During his boyhood years, Nobody "Bod" Owens learns a lot including that his family was murdered.

4 Bod is confronted by Jack who still wants to murder the boy and finish his job.


5 Bod defeats Jack by convincing him to give himself to the Sleer.

Falling Action

6 Silas alters Scarlett's memory so she forgets everything, including Bod.


7 Silas gives Bod money, clothing, and identification, and Bod leaves the graveyard to explore.

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