Children's Illustration

Breathing life into Neil Gaiman’s Liza Hempstock (the witch).

Original illustration by Kamalini Govender (Of Tales & Dreams).

Things I do on a Saturday evening. Read. Chase my cat around the house. Drink coffee even though it’ll keep my awake all night…and this. Ponder Neil Gaiman stories. I am possibly a Gaiman worshiper (do those exist?) because I love the way he strings words together like magic dust teetering on a black hole. Genius.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona Quote

In my post-graduate studies, I am pursuing the exploration of Gaiman’s young adult/ Children’s Literature novels. I’m particularly looking at his use of Gothic elements which brings up very pertinent and interesting questions and solutions for the psychological development of children who are exposed to such literature. Fusing Gothic elements into Children’s Literature has proven useful in getting children to face subconscious wishes or fears that require fulfillment, and that usually pop up as a neurosis or five, or problematic behaviors later on in life. By facing grotesque or unnerving characters and stories in fiction, children are finding an outlet for the things that they cannot yet make sense of. By having heroes and heroines battle the demons and lurking danger in front of their eyes as they read the words and form the stories in their imaginations, children are in fact undergoing development and learning useful ways of coping which will have a benefit in the ways that they problem-solve and face their own demons in the real world. It’s completely and utterly fascinating that I can spend my time digging through Gothic flavored stories and increase my ever growing appetite for the inner workings of the mind. *insert nerdy goth girl dance…if imaginable.

Liza Hempstock (the girl I spent my evening illustrating, above), is a character (one I quite take to) in Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (2008).

The Graveyard Book

Liza is a witch. And she’s dead. She has a sharp tongue and as all witches do, she bites. Yet, she was just a girl who died at sixteen due to small-minded bigots. Gaiman does not only bring attention to the plight of non-conforming women but he also highlights the fear and hatred that ensues with people who are ‘different’. Liza, after-all, was not persecuted for non-existent claims…she really was a witch, and she continues in death to be a figure that has no set place. She’s a wanderer. No home.Not even a tombstone to tell us where she is buried. She represents the diaspora found pocketed all over the world. Misunderstood, fragile within and ready to set light to the world if she so fancies. She is also a representation of tenderness as she uses her powers to help Bod, the teenage boy with the strange destiny, that lives in the graveyard.

Chris Riddell's Liza Hempstock.
Illustrator Chris Riddell’s Liza Hempstock.

Despite being dead, her warm heart and fiery spirit shine through in Gaiman’s tale. We begin to feel the underlying sadness of a girl put to death at such an early age, and we wonder…what could have been? If she were alive and breathing, of flesh, what possibilities could there have been for her and Bod (the boy she clearly is in love with)? Instead, Liza swallows her regret and human passions, quietly living on the brink of the living…near a tombstone that no one thought to give her except a lost Nobody (Bod’s real name by the way). Bod tries to do something kind for Liza and he gets her a tombstone to root her somewhere concrete. But if all we’ve ever known is listless wandering and limbo, is that extension of  kindness enough to appease the hunger and pain that lives in our spirits.

Life can very much be like Bod and Liza’s relationship. Complicated. We miss opportunities, sometimes due to our own carelessness or because of circumstance. But memories can help us transform our current situations and can call us to action. And if memories can do that, then the imagination (which can recall those past moments) can use the thoughts produced by fiction to steer and guide us too. I can’t wait to see where my research takes me in regards to children’s fiction, the imagination and development.

Anyway, I decided it wasn’t enough to give Liza a tombstone in the novel and I took it upon myself to breathe life into her through digital illustration. I specifically chose the childish sketchiness and the slight touch of a manga-wispy feeling of the art strokes. By giving her outline the feeling that she’s in-between finished and unfinished I wanted to show the lingering nature that is Liza who is always there but not there.

Maybe I spend too much time living in Neil Gaiman novels. Maybe…



Published by

Kamalini Govender

I'm that girl that looks badass in her black boots reading Gothic Psychoanalytic Lit but really just wants to pew pew pew with someone.

9 thoughts on “Breathing life into Neil Gaiman’s Liza Hempstock (the witch).”

    1. You must read Neil Gaiman…he has this wonderful way of putting the world into perspective. Some people don’t get him but I feel like when he writes he’s writing from somewhere deep within the recesses of my soul. See? I’m a total fangirl,lol! Hope you’re having a wonderful day dear!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I really enjoyed reading this Kams. I am definitely going to read the book. How intriguing. …… one has to wonder what might have been of all the women crucified and tormented for not conforming to the suffocating expectations of society. I must make more of effort to not become another casualty. Love you lots. Xxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading 🙂 It’s always extra special when family support me. One should never conform if it’s bad for you or taking something away from developing yourself. You must start compiling a reading list for the boys. Reading to them and getting them to eventually read by themselves when they’re older is imperative to their thinking. I’ll come and visit soon soon! *witch dust


  2. hi fi! I am another Neil Gaiman worshiper and I am so glad to have met you! khekhee

    I felt the same way about Liza Hempstock.. All that the little girl could have been died as a myth because some people just chose to believe that she was an evil doer! If you can even call her by such name. I am going to review this book soon, even though it has been reviewed a million times already. lol Have you read his latest book?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know! I truly felt most connected to Liza and I hope Gaiman writes her into a future story or tells us more about her past one day 🙂 I haven’t read his latest work but I will definitely be getting my hands on it. I love everything he touches 🙂 So nice to cyber meet you dear 🙂


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