"Essentially, the world of the graveyard is this glorious extended family,” says Gaiman, who chose a British cemetery as the book’s setting so Bod could interact with historic characters.
"The great thing about having an English cemetery is I could go back a very, very, very long way. And in America, you go back 250 years (in a cemetery), and then suddenly you’ve got a few dead Indians, and then you don’t have anybody at all, unless you decide to set it up in Maine or somewhere and sneak in some Vikings.”
"...and then you don't have anybody at all" suggests the continent was an empty land. In fact, prior to European contact, there were thriving Native communities all across the continent. At Nambe (my Native Nation), we established ourselves at our current village location in 1300. Before that, we were in other, nearby villages, and before that, the Pueblo people were in places like Mesa Verde, Bandelier, and Chaco Canyon.
Gaiman posted a response to Reese on her blog:
(And, of course, European Graveyards in the US go back much further than 250 years.)
A more sensible answer to why I didn't set The Graveyard Book in America was that I didn't want to, but I had a microphone stuck in front of my face by the Hornbook in front of a crowd of people at Book Expo or ALA, and I babbled.
Also apologies to any Icelandic or Norwegian readers who are offended by my imprecision. Obviously none of the Newfoundland settlers were Vikings.
I'm part Native American and I didn't really glean any sort of racist lean from what he said.
And I'm really sick of people looking for reasons to be offended.
There are so many other travesties going on in the world today, you should better save your time trying to call attention to them and not caring so much about what an author says.
Get offended because gay marriage is still illegal in most states, get upset about the recession...do something a touch more productive. Seriously.
Debbie, to put it bluntly, you need to calm down.
Neil's not discounting the deaths of millions of Native Americans. You jumped the gun, acted out of emotion, and didn't pause to really read what he said. There were no Native Americans being buried in European-style graveyards. Of course not.
What he was getting at is that a graveyard in England can go back a couple thousand years, to early AD, when the Romans first settled Britannia and earlier. There is more history. There are more peoples.
"And in America, you go back 250 years (in a cemetery), and then suddenly you've got a few dead Indians, and then you don't have anybody at all..." How could this not be read as anything except ignorant? Dr. Reese is not being emotional here. Mr. Gaiman specifically said "a few dead Indians." It's so tiring and stupid for people to continue to imagine that history in the Americas only began when Europeans invaded. Maybe Mr. Gaiman should have just specified that he wanted to write a book about werewolves or vampires or whatever and chose to situate the book in Europe since that continent has a long literary tradition peopled with such mythical creatures. That would have been preferable to disparaging Native peoples, as he did in the initial interview.
I like how so many of these comments essentially crack up to "how could you be such a jerk? Why would the phrase "a few dead Indians" be offensive? It doesn't offend me, and my great-great-great-great grandmother was a Cherokee princess! Get over being a minority, because none of us can relate, and you're just picking on famous person of the week."
If people don't know why a comment that SOUNDED LIKE it downplayed the mass genocide of a people could be offensive, then I don't know what to say. The OP could only take this comment in the context it was given where she first saw it. Neil explained its original context and it then made sense. But, in the context as it was from the blog she got it from, it seemed pointless and sensationalist to use the phrase "a few dead Indians," which, historically, has been used malevolently. Not to mention that it makes it seem that Indians are a thing of the past, and that there aren't currently millions of those Indians buried in European-esque cemeteries, thousands more with every passing year.
It must be nice to be unaffected by the constant derogatory comments about NAs, and to never have to wonder if someone you may respect is making one. I love Neil Gaiman, but he really worded this poorly. Full stop. It seems like a lot of you are just being troll-y to get into his good graces.
Rob weighs in
I understand the point Gaiman was trying to make. I think he did it poorly enough to deserve the criticism he got. In other words, I'm on Reese's side.
First, to reiterate the obvious, European history in North America goes back 500 years, not 250. By 1750 there were substantial European settlements along the Atlantic coast, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific coast as well as the Southwest and the Great Lakes area.
Some of the European settlements were built on top of Indian settlements. The Europeans might've buried their dead where the Indians previously buried their dead. So the "European-style graveyards" might have Indians buried informally, if not formally, in the same grounds. That would work fine for a story about ghosts inhabiting a graveyard.
More to the point, Europeans and Indians quickly began mingling in the same settlements. From 1550 to 1750 they were cohabitants in California, New Mexico, Texas, and Florida, and from 1625 to 1750 in New England, New York, Virginia, and on down the coast.
In some cases Indians joined the settlements voluntarily, became Spanish or English citizens, and intermarried with the foreigners. In other cases they were enslaved or forced into servitude. The Europeans coaxed them to convert to Christianity, after which they could receive a proper Christian burial. Pocahontas is merely the most famous example of an Indian who could've been buried in a European-style cemetery in America. (She's actually buried in England.)
Indeed, New Englanders created "praying towns" for the converted Indians to live in. Yes, towns full of Christianized Indians. Presumably their European-style graveyards had as many Indians as Englishmen.
Gaiman: right or wrong?
True, few of these old graveyards remain. So technically speaking, Gaiman is correct. Few of the American cemeteries established by Europeans go back before 1750.
But in a broader sense, he's incorrect. With his "Vikings" comment, he clearly implied that America was uninhabited between 1000 and 1750. At best his remarks grossly oversimplified the complex history of pre-Colonial America.
I presume he knows about Columbus and the Pilgrims, but it's not clear what else he knows about this period. In his MARVEL 1602 comic-book series, he wrote about an alternate timeline where the Roanoke Colony of North Carolina survived. In this universe, the New World was populated by a few shadowy Indians and dinosaurs.
This suggests Gaiman's attitude toward American history. Until his English ancestors came over and started civilizing the place, America was a mythical land. Indians, dinosaurs, monsters, and gods all mingled in a prehistoric Neverland. There were no cultures here with burial grounds or cemeteries--just forests and plains with Indians running free like animals.
Incidentally, Angel of Wrath's opinion that we shouldn't spend time correcting historical mistakes and stereotypes is just plain stupid. Experts have noted the harm of Native stereotyping again and again. Angel may be ignorant of why stereotyping is one of the most significant issues facing Indians, but we aren't.
For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Books.