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‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ and the entire universe from Egg to Rose

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

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Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane is an enchanting, profound story presented in light-hearted abstraction about childhood memories revisited. An unnamed man goes back to his hometown for a funeral, and stops by a neighbor’s house that he hasn’t been to in decades. In the back yard is a little duck pond, which he remembers a girl named Lettie Hempstock telling him was actually an ocean. “And in remembering that, I remembered everything.” So begins a suppressed tale that had been snipped out of the boy’s memory as fabric is snipped from a length of cloth, about an evil nanny named Ursula Monkton who wasn’t human, and a pond that was really an ocean of knowledge. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is for anyone craving a bit of nostalgia mixed with fantasy and a lot of imagination. It will transport you back to the beauty and terror the adult world still held as a child, and tell you a tale of grand imagination that could only come from the creative mind of a man who is unafraid to embrace his own childish whimsy.

Recommendations:

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith also has people bathing in metal bathtubs in the middle of the kitchen before and after impossible circumstances.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle discusses time and space travel, and ancient women who can conjure and manipulate the deep magic of the universe.

Demon Lover by Juliet Dark is about a woman who is also a door- between our world and the land of Faerie. Blythewood by Carol Goodman (pen name Juliet Dark) also has evil, shadowy crows who can devour a person in seconds and threaten to destroy the fabric of our world.

Mandrakes and other magical creatures are also mentioned in the Harry Potter book series by J. K. Rowling.

Other books by Neil Gaiman include: Stardust, The Book of Unnatural Creatures, Fragile Things, Smoke and Mirrors, Neverwhere, and more for children as well.

The Recipe:

Blackberry was mentioned a few times in this story, first as a jam topping on a hearty oatmeal breakfast given to the boy at Lettie’s house, and also just before Lettie sends away Ursula, who is floating in the sky and compares her own greedy desires to a “child stuffing its fat little face with blackberries from a bush.” So this recipe is a combination of blackberry and oatmeal, and for a little balance in flavor, lemon as well. Plus, lemons were something Lettie suggested that the boy should buy with the coin they found inside the fish in her pond that was an ocean. This recipe is gluten, dairy, egg, and oil free, but if you would like it to be more like average cookies, you can substitute the “oat flour” for all-purpose, the applesauce for milk, as well as the coconut oil for vegetable oil, and add one egg to the mix (or substitute for the banana) for fluffier cookies. The flaxseed is also not a requirement for this recipe.

Lemon Blackberry Breakfast Cookies

By Kristin Porter, Iowa Girl
Adapted from Gluten Free on a Shoestring

Ingredients:
3-3/4 cups old fashioned oats, divided (make sure they’re certified gluten free if you are gluten intolerant)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup mashed very ripe banana (about 1 medium banana)
1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons honey
1/4 cup + 1 Tablespoons coconut oil, melted
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
1 lb blackberries, rinsed then patted dry

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees then line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper and set aside. Add 1-3/4 cups oats to a food processor then process for 3-4 minutes or until very fine to make oat flour.
Add oat flour, remaining 2 cups oats, baking soda, salt, and ground flaxseed to a large bowl then mix to combine. Add applesauce, banana, honey, coconut oil, lemon zest, and lemon juice then mix until just combined. Carefully fold in blackberries then let batter sit for 10 minutes to thicken.
Scoop 1/4 cup batter (I used an ice cream scoop) onto prepared baking sheet then wet hand with water and press down to flatten slightly (cookies will not spread.) Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until cookies are golden brown around the edges and set on top. Cool completely then store in an airtight container for up to 2 days, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, or wrap individually in plastic wrap then freeze in a freezer bag. Wrap in a paper towel then microwave for 20 seconds to thaw.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does true art (books, paintings, music, sculptures, poems, etc.) fill the empty places in life? Is it created to ease this, and does it have the same effect on those who see it? What are some examples of “true art” for you?
  2. Were childhood memories lost for good for the protagonist of this story? Or were they, only for a time, the waiting, as he said, like old toys at the bottom of an adult closet? Are they for us?
  3. In remembering that the pond was actually Lettie Hempstock’s ocean, the man remembers everything. Is that the way of memory, that a small thing can trigger an entire event, sometimes over days? Is it always a word, or sometimes a smell, or a picture? what makes these images so powerful to the main character, to us? What do they symbolize?
  4. Is flea an appropriate name for the creature that called herself Ursula Monkton and implanted herself in the boy’s heart? Can you think of any other appropriate names for it?
  5. What is the connection among words, language, and magic and the real things of this world? Remember, Gran and Lettie Hempstock used the words of the “first language” against enemies like Ursula. Do any other books or stories mirror these connections as well?
  6. As a little boy, the narrator said he often looked in the mirror and felt that the thing looking back at him was not really himself, but wondered what was. If a person's face or body is injured, are they any less themselves? What makes a person who they are, and unique? Is it a combination of things?
  7. According to the narrator, “Small children believe themselves to be gods, or some of them do, and they can only be satisfied when the rest of the world goes along with their way of seeing things.” Is this true, and if so, where does it come from? Are adults just as guilty of this?
  8. The little boy despises adult books, and wonders, “Why didn’t adults want to read about Narnia, about secret islands and smugglers and dangerous fairies?” Why is this? And what makes such stories so fascinating for children? Is there a magic in the world that children still believe in and adults do not?
  9. Another major difference the boy notices between children and adults is that “Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands. Perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the path.” Why is this? What makes children fearless and adults so cautious? Could each learn from the other, in some ways? What about the narrator as a man- could he learn from his boyish self?
  10. Does “everyone want money”? Does it make us all happy, or can it lead to misery-and not just the lack of it? was this a brilliant way for Ursula to use adults for her own means?
  11. Books were where the little boy went “whenever real life was too hard or too inflexible.” Why is that? Was it the safest place for him to retreat? Where do we go as adults?
  12. Ursula spoke of walking the True Earth, and later the crows began to devour what we consider reality, leaving a pulsing gray nothingness. Is this what she meant by “True Earth”? If not, what could it be?
  13. The boy drank hot soup while in a hot bath to warm himself from the inside and outside. Have you ever tried this? Is it effective in warming the body or healing colds more quickly?
  14. What would be the issue with the seam showing when old Mrs. Hempstock cut up the fabric of the boy’s parents’ memories?
  15. Why did he want to remember his dad pushing him down in the tub, just because it happened? Was it a way of being guarded against his father or Ursula?
  16. Is it always too late for sorry, or is it sometimes necessary or important? Why?
  17. Is it true that are are no grown-ups, that adults look the same as everyone else, as they always did, and only their bodies change? Or do our experiences change us as well? Is this why many adults are shocked at the passing time, at their age, why they feel the same as they did when younger?
  18. Why is beauty an abstraction for children, but an imperative for adults, for men especially?
  19. Why is it easier to handle fear if it is something visible and specific, rather than a vague something? Does it have to do with how we go about defeating the thing we fear?
  20. What answers do you think the boy found, and forgot, inside the ocean? Why would the ends of the universe be called Egg and Rose? What do you think the boy truly looked like? How could this ocean lie underneath and inside everything and still contain all knowledge? Or is this perhaps the key to how it exists everywhere? Is knowledge and truth the true ocean?
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