Graveyard

Literature’s most famous graveyards

Posted by AK Lander | On May 24, 2017 12:19

Much of literature deals with the different emotions that face the human psyche and as key element of life are death, grief and mourning, these tropes are often present as either major or minor themes. However this does not explain the fascination that graveyards hold as not only a place of reverence but also for the setting for dramatic events.

 

Much of literature deals with the different emotions that face the human psyche and as key element of life are death, grief and mourning, these tropes are often present as either major or minor themes. However this does not explain the fascination that graveyards hold as not only a place of reverence but also for the setting for dramatic events.

From the traditional yet imposing yew tree, to the murmurs of untoward deeds done under the cover of darkness near gravestones, there is an otherworldly element that has long held appeal to both modern and historic writers. Whether as a place of sanctuary or condemnation, the graveyard is a trope that refuses to be ignored and continues to be an indication in literature today.  

 

Hamlet - William Shakespeare 

Cover of Hamlet

 

This is one of Shakespeare’s best known plays, and Ophelia’s death and Hamlet’s handling of the skull are motifs given gravitas by their setting. Many Shakespearean plays off set serious subjects with humorous asides, and the gravediggers (noted as clowns) play a similar role here.  Though a witty back and forth revels in gallows humour, it is not until Hamlet and Horatio enter that the seriousness of the scene comes into play.

As is often the case in Shakespeare, there is a moment of mistaken or unrecognised identity that leads Horatio to be far more candid than he would otherwise be. Ophelia’s unrecognised grave and Yorick’s unrecognised skull show the loss and confusion Hamlet currently feels. His disgust at discovering that the skull is Yorick’s enforces Hamlet’s morality upon himself. Though there is the unsettled aspect of Ophelia’s burial (as suicides were not able to be buried in consecrated ground and it was suspected that she took her own life), it is not until Laertes’ rage that Hamlet realises Ophelia’s death.

 

Dracula – Bram Stoker

Dracula Cover Image

 

While Dracula is the undisputed vampire narrative of significance, it remains a terrifying tale despite changing audiences and new expectations of fear. Count Dracula has found multiple reincarnations throughout popular culture however his initial introduction is terrifying, and no better place is host to Bram Stoker’s antagonist than a graveyard.

With Lucy set up as the epitome of adult innocence, feminine and dressed in white, the idea she has been feeding on young victims or pure souls is truly horrifying. The scene within the graveyard both exposes the depth of departure from the Lucy previously mentioned, describing this new creature as a monster that looks like Lucy but ‘unclean and full of hellfire’, as well as her redemption. Though Van Helsing’s responses seem extreme, after the creature attempts to lure her fiancé to his death, the necessary actions must be performed and she is returned to her former beautiful state.

 

Harry potter and the Goblet of Fire – J K Rowling

Inside The Goblet of Fire

 

The book series that defined a generation and brought fantasy back to the focus as a genre. Harry Potter was more than a character for many, embodying both sides of the human psyche and a likeable, fallible and well-rounded protagonist that inhabits a spectacular world. Cedric Diggory was very much the pinnacle of perfection in the novel, envied by harry and though not from the most prominent house, liked and admired by teachers and students alike. Unfortunately it is Harry’s noble attitude that condemns Cedric to death, had he been a little more selfish then ‘Kill the spare’ would remain unuttered, however the key success in this scene is how pivotal it is for the entire series.

Up until this point in the fourth book, the series is softened for the audience, while the Dursley’s may be dreadful, they are understandable to a young adult as many people struggle with their families. However the safety that has dominated up until this point, that good will prevail, is removed with that single utterance.

Though JK Rowling does not allow the character or the reader much time to dwell on the happenings, with the darkest wizard of that age rising before Harry’s very eyes, his supporters returning and the death of a much admired peer, all culminate to the death of Harry’s childhood and a much darker spin to the series from then on.

 

 A Christmas carol – Charles Dickens

Title Page of A Christmas Carol

 

While Dracula is the undisputed vampire narrative of significance, it remains a terrifying tale despite changing audiences and new expectations of fear. Count Dracula has found multiple reincarnations throughout popular culture however his initial introduction is terrifying, and no better place is host to Bram Stoker’s antagonist than a graveyard.

With Lucy set up as the epitome of adult innocence, feminine and dressed in white, the idea she has been feeding on young victims or pure souls is truly horrifying. The scene within the graveyard both exposes the depth of departure from the Lucy previously mentioned, describing this new creature as a monster that looks like Lucy but ‘unclean and full of hellfire’, as well as her redemption. Though Van Helsing’s responses seem extreme, after the creature attempts to lure her fiancé to his death, the necessary actions must be performed and she is returned to her former beautiful state.

 

The horse and his boy – CS Lewis

C S Lewis Plaque

 

Though not a graveyard proper, one of the most atmospheric scenes from this beloved children’s book is when the protagonist, Shasta is alone among the tombs of ancient kings. Though the Horse and His Boy is part of the Narnia series, it is an oddity among its peers, in failing to be set in Narnia and also refraining from including the characters so beloved from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. None the less, despite underlying inferences that tie it firmly to its time, it is a typical adventure story and bildungsroman narrative.

The burial place is an unexpected scene of comfort for a lonely boy. Separated from his friends and with an unwelcoming rendezvous, the addition of a cat’s presence is all Shasta needs to sleep soundly among an otherwise frightening setting. Though CS Lewis often belittles Shasta, inferring he is foolish or unwise, the reader truly feels for the lost little boy without a family and far from home.

Image Credit: Andrew Clark, for J. Martyn and H. HerringmanSelfie756ShannonJohn Leech, Bob Embleton