There were times in our lives when everything was an adventure. We used to be terrified of the monster under our bed but then would find comfort in a silly pillow or lucky blanket. We used to cry over trivial things like the sky is falling over our heads but would stop swiftly if our demands were fulfilled. Our problems were silly for our parents but for us, it used to be like moving mountains. But the thing I most remember is the dreams. Dreams in which I used to fight with dragons and defeat demons. For 7-year-old ‘me’, that monster, that demon and that dragon were as real as (trying to find something as frightening) student educational loan is for today’s ‘me’. Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane forces us to revisit those sweet simpler times.
The novel follows a man who comes back to his childhood place and tries to reminisce one of the most significant events of his childhood, which he is not even sure actually occurred. He remembers a strange family of three headstrong women who transformed the way he saw things. Now, as he is old and successful, he finds himself looking back and wondering what should, and shouldn’t be recalled. Was his past really that dreary and frightening? Or was it just a make-believe his juvenile mind fashioned for him to protect him from real life difficulties which might be too much for a child his age? But most importantly, was the pond really an ocean?
As far as fantasy novels go, this one is as close to reality as it could be. Because of this it no longer remains a children’s book. It confidently goes through themes such as child abuse, adultery, feminism, depression etc. But it also has the innocent enthusiasm which keeps it afloat. This is why I love reading Gaiman. I don’t feel guilty after reading his books. I enjoy them now as I used to enjoy Rick Riordan when I was young. The most notable is the literal portrayal he outlined of the Hempstock farm, the home of the three women stated above. The description of the farm is that of an ideal home, the ultimate resting place. Its filled with what a child desires the most – delicious food, warm clothes, fascinating people and of course, mythical beings and objects. No wonder the protagonist felt safest there! The friendship, unadulterated and uplifting, shown in the book is one gem which can’t go unobserved. I loved how, when in flashback, the book is written from the eyes of a child, and not the grown-up remembering it. When the present is described, it’s all morose and gloomy.
One of the things we actually acquire from the book is how we forget so easily. Some events which were so central to our childhood helped in shaping our personality even, get faded somehow. How those lovely adventurous pages of our life get lost in the volumes of everyday struggle, we don’t know. What we can do is try to recall some version of it and laugh at the pure silliness of it.
Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the end of the Lane is one such means to make you realise how wonderful those days were. It tells us that there is no harm letting yourself go in the memories of what were probably the best times of your life.