Bob Hoff, the Moderator of one of our in-library book discussion groups sent me these “notes” from one of his participants. Bob wrote: “My book discussion group recently discussed Neil Gaiman’s newest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane (find this book in our catalog). … one person enjoyed it so much that she wrote “notes”. … She told me that she read the book in two hours.”
The Ocean at The End of The Lane by Neil Gaiman-Notes by Paulette Smyth
“This is a spiritual book that touches on many new age spiritual beliefs and uses new scientific theories to explain life. One of the spiritual hypotheses that Neil Gaiman employs is Cosmic Consciousness (CC), the belief that we all share one universal, all encompassing communal consciousness when we die. The pond at the end of the lane (which is the Ocean of the title) represents that communal consciousness that we blend into upon our death.
In this engrossing fable, a boy and his friend, Lettie embark on a quest for a gray and pink rag monster. This monster has started trouble on the earth by stirring up human greed for money. It feeds off humans’ greed and lust. The theory of CC is key as the boy and Lettie trek across other dimensions to find the evil thing that is stirring things up in our world.
The idea of cosmic consciousness clearly stands out when Lettie brings the Ocean in a bucket to the boy in the fairy ring and at her direction he steps in. (p.142) “I would stay here for the rest of time in the ocean which was the universe, which was the soul which was all that mattered.” Lettie tells him he can’t stay because his individuality would dissolve and he would become absorbed by the universe, become one with it. “You wouldn’t die in here, nothing ever dies in here, but if you stayed here for too long, after a while just a little of you would exist everywhere all spread out….there wouldn’t be anything left that would think of itself as an“I”. (p.145) In this communal consciousness we become all knowing, but when we leave it to be reborn into the earthly plane we forget this knowledge, another aspect of the CC belief of afterlife.
Some believers in CC also believe in reincarnation of the soul. Belief in reincarnation is evident throughout the story. One pertinent reincarnated being is the black kitten with the white-tipped ear. This cat is an animal guide sent from the afterlife to be of comfort to the boy.
The idea of reincarnation encompasses the idea that there are old souls who are more knowledgeable than newer souls, the old souls having lived and learned through many reincarnations. Old Mrs. Hempstock is one of them. There are many references throughout the story where she speaks of existing in different historic time periods. At the very beginning of the tale when we are first introduced to the old lady we are cautioned that she is no ordinary grandmother. Lettie is also an old soul, although not as old or as powerful as the Grandmother. At various points throughout the story the boy asks her how old she really is as she appears to him to be far older and wiser than her 11 years. He also recognizes her as a guardian repeatedly telling of the trust he places in her.
In this fable Neil Gaiman also explores the science of String Theory. String Theory basically contends that there are multiple universes in operation at the same time and that time itself is a concept imposed by man. This multi-dimensional property of existence allows for the possibility of movement from one dimension to another, and that time as we define it is really nonexistent. Dimensions lie next to one another like thin membranes. Lettie and the boy travel out of one dimension into another when they travel to find the gray and pink rag monster. To pass from one dimension to another one needs a portal. The lane and gaps in the hedgerows on the boundaries of the Hempstock farm act as portals to safety for humans and at the same time they are rigid barriers to evil. Several times in the story the boy talks about a child’s ability to find ways (portals) through the brush (dimensions) to reach a destination those adults would never conceive of, since adults stick to well-delineated roads. The pond is a portal to the afterlife or cosmic consciousness. The kitchen in the Hempstock farm house is a portal to past historical periods. The Hempstock women live in multiple dimensions, as well as, time periods. Lettie is part of the trinity of Hempstock women.
This story can be read on many levels. You could just read it as a fairytale with interesting plot and characters. You could read it as a story of a lonely, sometimes psychotic, possibly schizophrenic child who conjures up creatures to fill the void in his socially isolated life.
I think the author wrote it so superbly that the mythology, spirituality, and the theories at the forefront of today’s scientific advances in physics and consciousness are interwoven and blended so well that it makes for one terrific book that prods the mind to do some serious thinking. LOVED IT!!!!!!!!”
Paulette Smyth attends the fiction book group at the Bel Air branch on the 3rd Thursday of the month. Please see our website for details of this and other groups.