Coraline – Neil Gaiman

Post 334

How did I not know that the animated movie Coraline was based on a Neil Gaiman novel? I bought the DVD years ago and though it was a little weird, I did like the story. Only recently did I find out that Coraline was a novel first. Shame on me!

Anyway, as soon as I stumbled upon the book, I bought it. I read it a few weeks later and I really liked it! I won’t say love, but serious like! Like in the movie, Coraline is a pale girl with black hair, a busy mother, and a scatterbrained father. They move to a house in the woods so that her father can focus better on his writing. It’s an old villa that they share with two old ladies living together and an older gentleman upstairs. Coraline isn’t very happy with the move and she feels uncomfortable in the big, creepy house. She makes the best of it though, exploring the grounds and, when it’s raining, also the inside of the house.

That’s how she discovers the door leading to nowhere. And even though all three of her neighbours warn Coraline not to open the door, that danger lies ahead, she takes the key from the kitchen when her mother isn’t home anyway. She opens the door to find a dark hallway, leading to another apartment: an exact copy of her own. Not only that, she also finds another set of parents: other mother and other father, who look exactly like her parents except for one detail – they have black buttons for eyes. She loves her time in the other world, with parents who actually make time for her, food she loves and toys spinning and moving around. She is allowed to do whatever she wants and is having an amazing time. Then, the other mother tells Coraline she could stay forever if only she would allow her eyes to be sewn shut with black buttons.

This scares Coraline, so she runs back through the hallway to her own house. Her parents aren’t around again, so she fixes herself dinner and goes to bed. But when her parents still aren’t around the following morning, she gets scared. That’s when the cat she’s seen before who could talk in the other world, comes up to her. He takes her to a mirror where she sees her parents have been trapped by the other mother. Upon returning, she refuses the buttons, so she’s punished by the other mother and thrown in a small closet. There she encounters the ghosts of 3 children that the other mother took before. She is keeping their souls so the children can’t move on. When she’s released, Coraline proposes a game: if she can find the ghost children’s souls and her parents, then they should all be released. If she can’t, she will allow the buttons to be sewn in her eyes.

With the help of a talisman stone, Coraline slowly but surely manages to find the ghost children’s souls. She even finds out where her parents are being held, but she can’t free them yet. She also knows the other mother won’t just let them all go free, so she decides to trick her. After she has found all three children, she tells the other mother that she knows her parents are being held in the dark hallway between the two worlds. When the other mother opens the door to prove her wrong, she quickly threw the cat at the mother, grabs the snowglobe and the three marbles containing the children’s souls and runs through the hallway to safety. Back in her own apartment, she falls asleep in a chair, where her parents find her later. They don’t remember and act as if nothing happened.

That night, Coraline dreams of the 3 children she saved, who warn her that the other mother will be coming for her. And indeed, over the next few days, she notices a hand scurrying around the house – which she believes to be looking for the key to the hallway between the two worlds. So Coraline devises a plan to trap the hand and get rid of the key. A picnic by the well later, she has succeeded! The other mother will never be able to make it back to this world and Coraline goes back home, to get ready for school. The end.

Yes, quite a scary story. Lots of things going on. Nothing I would have enjoyed reading when I was young. But I’ve never been a fan of horror, heavy thrillers or very scary stories. But it is, in fact, a children’s story. It features a young heroine who, with the help of her talking cat sidekick, stands up to scary beings to face her fears. And all the while, she’s saying how scared she is. That’s the moral of the story: being brave isn’t about not being scared. It’s about doing the right thing, even when you’re scared. And that’s a lovely message! I would recommend this book to teens who don’t scare easily. Or to teens who can use a bit more courage, who would like to be braver.

Happy reading,

Loes M.

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