Jumping Across the Wall into Fantasy; Reading Sabriel with Bookclub

Fantasy is a genre that I love but, for some reason, takes me forever to get into. I have this intense love of Lord of the Rings, and sometimes I get snooty about my fantasy not living up to the ultimate love I have of Middle Earth. But when Sabriel was chosen for book club, I was excited! I do genuinely love fantasy; but when I started reading, I kept putting Sabriel off and letting other books interrupt me. When I got back into Sabriel, each time I’d get confused about terms and characters. The fantasy world-building was never fully absorbed into my reader brain. At a certain point, I put on my big girl reading pants and gave it a fair shot. Thank the good lord above I did, and that there are more books in the series! I am fully on team Sabriel now!


Sabriel lives in a world in which there’s a blurry barrier between the living and dead. The dead, with certain kinds of magic, can become reanimated and step back into the world of the living. Also, there’s a bunch of different gates in death until you’re actually, truly gone. Until you pass that last gate, you sill have a consciousness it seems and can kind of exist still. Sabriel’s father, Abhorsen is charged with keeping the dead… dead as much as he can. He can go past a few gates of death himself to do this job. At the start of the novel, Sabriel find her dad is gone, maybe dead, maybe not. Definitely in one of the gates of death though, perhaps trapped there? She sets off to save him only to find that it’s not a quick journey and she’s got a lot of growing up to do very quickly. She’s got two companions who toe the line not really between living and dying, but between actually being helpful or not.


Since this was a read I had a hard time getting into, I also had a tough time with questions. Until I really started cooking through the book, I was a little stuck. Here’s what I came up with though.


Think about things in your own life that are separated by barriers like the one between the living and the dead. These can be personal or geographical, they can be physical or metaphorical. Can people cross over and come back between these barriers? Are there consequences?

Discuss the death motifs in this novel. Crossing a river, being cold, different levels of death etc. Name others you can think of and talk about how they are used in this book and in other works you’ve seen. What’s new here?

What do you think about bells being used as a weapon against the dead? What may be the significance of music in this world if bells are the most powerful weapon? Especially considering that the charter stones and other magical parts of the book are quite hard and physical.

When Touchstone says that he must create new, better memories in order to be free of his old ones, he’s talking about proving himself and gaining redemption. Talk about his journey to redemption as well as Sabriel’s journey to prove herself worthy.

Abhorsen talks about when we become our titles, we lose everything else. At what point could your title become your identity like it does for Sabriel in the novel?


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