The next stretch of The Graveyard Book Read-Along features “Danse Macabre,” where Neil Gaiman most effectively evokes Ray Bradbury. Gaiman has written before how Bradbury was an inspiration to him as a writer, and the story “October on the Chair” was written most explicitly as a pastiche of the kind of story Bradbury wrote, but I never found effective. It’s a good story, but it’s obvious he’s trying too hard. It’s a bit like a too-loyal cover song, where it’s interesting to hear a younger band pay tribute to a classic, but you’re left feeling like an opportunity was missed.
“Danse Macabre,” on the other hand, is a home run. Here he tells a story that fits perfectly into the world he’s creating, but you can also see Gaiman drawing from the well of dreamlike writing that propelled Neil himself to be a writer. You can see the townspeople in their white flowers, and you can hear the music in the air. You can almost smell the perfume of those flowers in that air, and Gaiman plays of those sensual touchstones to bring the scene to life.
In the same way he uses those senses to draw you into the gothic beauty of “Danse Macabre,” he uses a darker version of that quality in “Nobody Owens’ School Days.” Here Bod, with the best intentions, uses what he’s been taught by Silas to put fear into the hearts of bullies. There’s a wicked joy at first in this, a happiness to see the mean kids get some comeuppance. That fades, though, as Bod goes too far, and learns that, ultimately there’s no joy in cruelty. This is probably my favorite chapter in the book. Where the earlier chapters focused on the adventure of a living boy existing in the world of the dead, we’re now seeing Bod want more answers. We’re coming to the end of this story, and significant changes for Bod. Jack is still out there, along with questions about what happened to his family and what will happen when it’s time for him to go out into the world. As we’re coming closer to the end we get the clearest sense things will need to change for Bod, and his childhood is ending.