by Neil Gaiman
Published: August 4, 2002
Genres: Childrens, Horror
Format: eBook (162 pages)
Coraline lives with her preoccupied parents in part of a huge old house--a house so huge that other people live in it, too... round, old former actresses Miss Spink and Miss Forcible and their aging Highland terriers ("We trod the boards, luvvy") and the mustachioed old man under the roof ("'The reason you cannot see the mouse circus,' said the man upstairs, 'is that the mice are not yet ready and rehearsed.'") Coraline contents herself for weeks with exploring the vast garden and grounds. But with a little rain she becomes bored--so bored that she begins to count everything blue (153), the windows (21), and the doors (14). And it is the 14th door that--sometimes blocked with a wall of bricks--opens up for Coraline into an entirely alternate universe. Now, if you're thinking fondly of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, you're on the wrong track. Neil Gaiman's Coraline is far darker, far stranger, playing on our deepest fears. And, like Roald Dahl's work, it is delicious.
Short and Sweet Version
Even if you don’t like horror, pick up Coraline, a beautifully written children’s book about bravery, boredom, and getting everything you want. Turns out, getting everything you want isn’t as great as you’d think.
The Jessica Thinks Too Much Version
Coraline is horror light. All the creepy richness of a regular horror novel but with a light, happy ending instead. In all honesty, this book was the max amount of horror I could handle. The horror parts of the novel involved things like going in dark basements and you KNOW something is down there. There were gross parts involving bats and moving spider-egg-sac-things. Does she have to touch it? OH YES SHE DOES. The thing she needs is inside it (of course). This story is about bravery, which I obviously do not possess. I would not do any of the things Coraline did, especially touch the creepy egg-sac-thingy. As Neil Gaiman puts it, Coraline has “scared many adults and fewer children.” (Coraline 10th Anniversary Edition, Q&A with Neil Gaiman)
There’s also a general feeling of something being off, something not quite right. I think it’s mostly from his word choice when he uses similes. And they are gross.
The flat had walls the color of old milk.
– Neil Gaiman, Coraline 10th Anniversary Edition (p. 129)
There was a tiny doubt inside her, like a maggot in an apple core.
– Neil Gaiman, Coraline 10th Anniversary Edition (p. 75)
Why use “off-white” when “old milk” induces dry heaving?
The thing about Neil Gaiman is that he really nails childhood. He gets how kids work and how they think.
There was also a well. On the first day Coraline’s family moved in, Miss Spink and Miss Forcible made a point of telling Coraline how dangerous the well was, and they warned her to be sure she kept away from it. So Coraline set off to explore for it, so that she knew where it was, to keep away from it properly.
-Neil Gaiman, Coraline 10th Anniversary Edition (pp. 5-6).
Because seriously – what kid that was told there was something dangerous nearby wouldn’t do exactly that?
This parent gets points for a) not screaming at his kid for bugging him all the time about being bored and b) for coming up with the most tedious, time consuming game possible. I’m stealing this game for my kids to play tomorrow. “Where did you get this idea, mommy?” “A horror novel. You’ll love it. Have fun.”
“Then explore the flat,” suggested her father. “Look— here’s a piece of paper and a pen. Count all the doors and windows. List everything blue. Mount an expedition to discover the hot water tank. And leave me alone to work.”
– Neil Gaiman, Coraline 10th Anniversary Edition (p. 9)
And now for the random deep thought of the day from a cat.
“Cats don’t have names,” it said. “No?” said Coraline. “No,” said the cat. “Now, you people have names. That’s because you don’t know who you are. We know who we are, so we don’t need names.”
– Neil Gaiman, Coraline 10th Anniversary Edition (p. 43)
Like, WOW. I’m not exaggerating. It’s kind of deep. Without labels, do we really know who we are?
One of my favorite things about this book is when Coraline decides she doesn’t like this creepy, alternate reality that she found because it turns out – getting everything you want? Not so great.
Coraline sighed. “You really don’t understand, do you?” she said. “I don’t want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted? Just like that, and it didn’t mean anything. What then?”
– Neil Gaiman, Coraline 10th Anniversary Edition (pp. 144-145)
It’s true though, isn’t it? As a parent, I don’t give my kids everything they want on purpose because I know it would make them unhappy. It’s sad that I don’t have this problem as an adult because what I want gets longer by the hour. But kids? What they want is food made exactly their way and their parents to pay attention to them all day long. At least, that’s what Coraline wants. And that’s it. How beautiful is childhood that complete happiness is so simple.
Is getting everything you want closer to a horror novel or to a fairy tale?
It’s kind of crazy to me to realize after reading this that it’s probably closer to a horror novel. What do you think?
Content Rating: Mild, for some scary elements that might scare young children (or really wimpy adults).
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