Coraline was originally a novel written by Neil Gaiman and released in 2002, and later adapted into a stop-motion film in 2009. Both the novel and the film have entertained many, and have captivated their audiences with their creepy but adventurous stories.
Gaiman’s novel is about a young girl whose name is none other than Coraline. She and her parents move into a flat that is part of a 150-year-old manor called the Pink Palace. The other tenants include an older, seemingly crazy old man who lives in the flat above Coraline’s, and Misses Spink and Forcible, who were two elderly retired actresses who lived in the flat below.
Coraline is introduced as a very restless and adventurous girl. Her mother and father are writers for a plant catalog who also dabble in gardening. Although Coraline is eager to explore, her parents are bound to their computers, and are constantly exhausted due to working and trying to make ends meet.
We are also shown the rebellious side of Coraline very early in the novel. Coraline is warned to stay away from a specific well, and the day after her family is settled into their flat, Coraline goes to find this well so that she can “keep away from it properly”.
However, one day when the rain hinders Coraline from going on any adventures outside the Pink Palace, her father suggests that she count all the doors and windows of the flat, and in the midst of this “fun” activity, she stumbles across this mysterious small door that linked her flat to the empty flat next door. However, she is disappointed when she discovers that the door is bricked up.
That night when she is laying in bed, she hears a creaking noise downstairs and goes to investigate, only to find the same red bricks behind the foreboding door. Although she is dissatisfied, she returns to her bed and dreams about “little black shapes with red eyes and sharp yellow teeth” who sing:
“We are small but we are many
We are many we are small
We were here before you rose
We will be here when you fall”
This foreshadowing dream had me hooked, and I could not wait to read more!
The next day, as she is walking around the Pink Palace through a thick, blinding mist, she shares a brief hello-and-goodbye with Misses Spink and Forcible, and she is greeted by the crazy man from upstairs who goes on to explain how his mice do not like mist. Then, he delivers a message allegedly from the spoken mice, saying not to go through the door. This entirely befuddles Coraline, but she casually shrugs it off and returns to her flat to join her mother, who is typing away at her computer.
At this point, I could not help but feel sorry for the poor girl. I completely understand the life of a working mother, but the fact that her mother ignored the fact that Coraline wanted her attention really bothered me. And when Coraline asked what she could do for fun, her mother only passed her a piece of paper and said, “Draw something.”
Coraline eventually decides to go visit the two old ladies downstairs, and during this visit, Miss Spink offers to read Coraline’s tea leaves, only to warn her that she is in “terrible danger”. After asking what kind of danger she was in, Misses Spink and Forcible admit that they are not sure, that the tea leaves were too vague, so they advise her not to “wear green in her dressing room” or “mention the Scottish Play”. Then, they give her a strange stone (a hag stone) with a hole in the center, and inform her that these stones are good for bad things sometimes.
First of all, I really admire how Neil Gaiman included mist with this scene, being that mist or fog symbolize the “unknown”. Secondly, I have to admit that Misses Spink and Forcible are ultimately my favorite characters. Aside from the fact that they are hilariously bickering old ladies, they are genuinely sweet, and they make it well known that they care about Coraline, although they cannot seem to get her name right. “A” for effort though, right? Not to mention that they dabble in divination! When I read about a sweet old lady, I’m already in love, but when you add any kind of witchcraft to a creepy story, I am SOLD!
After having a dispute with her mother over a pair of gloves, Coraline is later home alone while her mother is food shopping, and she takes the giant step into the other world after unlocking the little door.
On the other side of this door is a tunnel that leads into another flat that is the mirror image of her own flat. Although the flat is laid out in the same style as her home, the room is significantly more uplifting and far less depressing than that of her home. A prime example of this drastic change is an oil painting of a boy, which was almost exactly the same as the painting in Coraline’s own home. Although the paintings are similar, Coraline notices the facial expression on the boy in the painting has been altered.
The next person we meet is a woman who looks similar to Coraline’s mother, despite her pale complexion, her height and thinness, her fingernails, and her BUTTON EYES! Coraline is immediately taken aback by this, but the Other Mother quickly begins to win her over with her warmth and motherly affection.
After meeting her Other Father, Coraline enjoys a delicious meal with them, fulfilling her undying craving for some decent food. After the more than pleasant meal, Coraline enters her other bedroom, where she finds a group of rats under her bed. The mood is changed immediately when the rats sing an unsettling song:
“We have teeth and we have tails
We have tails we have eyes
We were here before you fell
You will be here when we rise”
While Coraline is exploring outside, a cat she had seen from her own world approaches her, and she notices that his particular cat does not have buttons. When she insists that the cat must be the “other cat”, the cat simply replies, “No. I’m not the other anything. I’m me.” When Coraline asks how the cat is able to talk, he says, “I just can”.
OKAY! This made me CRAZY! Here, Coraline and I both have all these questions swarming around in our brains, and this feline has the audacity to say, “I just can”. That’s fine! No logic needed here! Carry on!
After pinpointing cats’ superiority to humans, the sarcastic cat warns Coraline that this world is indeed not what she believes it to be. Neglecting the cat’s warning, she carries on with her exploration to the other Misses Spink and Forcible’s flat, where she experiences young versions of them performing in a theatre. (By the way, if you have seen the movie, this scene in the book is way less disturbing. If you know, you know.)
Concluding her fun and adventurous evening in the other world, Coraline returns “home” to her other parents, where they ask Coraline whether she likes it there or not. When she says that she in fact does like this other world, the Other Father informs her that there is one tiny condition in order for her to stay… She has to have buttons sewn into her eyes! To no surprise, Coraline says no, but the other parents insist that they want her to stay, and that the button sewing procedure “won’t hurt”. After realizing that Coraline is still reluctant, the Other Mother says they only want what’s “best for her”. Coraline abruptly says that she’s leaving, and, unbothered, the Other Mother says that they will see her soon, that she’ll definitely be back. Pushing this away, Coraline returns home.
Back home, Coraline slowly comes to the realization that her parents are indeed missing, and there are no signs of their return. When she goes to have tea with Misses Spink and Forcible, she tells them of her missing parents, but they act careless and neglectful to this. Seeing no hope, Coraline returns home.
Remember when I said these two were my favorite characters? Yeah, this put a damper on our relationship… (If you can name where this quote is from, I will give you a nice shoutout on my next blog!)
Coraline eventually cries herself to sleep in her parents’ bed, and is later awakened by the cat, who silently implies that he can lead her to her parents. She eventually follows the cat to a mirror, where both her mother and father were trapped inside. When they realize that Coraline cannot hear them, her mother writes HELP US backwards on the glass.
Determined to rescue her parents, Coraline returns to the other world, where the Other Mother and Other Father still try to convince Coraline to stay. Another one of the Other Mother’s tricks is showing Coraline the illusion in a mirror of her real parents enjoying a vacation without her. Coraline refuses to believe this, and demands that they release her parents.
Later on, the Other Father makes it known that he is not allowed to talk when the Other Mother is not around, and he lets out the secret that there is nowhere else but that particular house and those particular grounds in that world, being that that is all the Other Mother has built.
Coraline and the cat explore the outside in attempt to discover a new part of the world, only to discover that there is in fact nothing else. The cat’s answer to this is “Walk around the world.”
“Small world,” Coraline says, and the cat explains that the world is indeed big enough for her. Then, he compares the Other Mother to a spider by saying, “Spiders’ webs only have to be large enough to catch flies.”
Personally, I love that comparison.
Back at the other flat, the Other Mother suggests that they play a game, and Coraline refuses. After trying to win Coraline’s love for the millionth time, Coraline flatly says, “I have no plans to love you.”
After the Other Mother offers her one of her yummy beetles enclosed in a white paper bag, Coraline disgustedly declines, and they have, yet, another contradiction, and the Other Mother declares that Coraline has no manners, and as punishment, she locks Coraline inside a mirror.
Inside the mirror, Coraline meets three ghost children. (ONE IS EVEN A FAIRY! Read for yourself!) The ghost children tell Coraline of their own experience with the Other Mother: ie. How they fell into her trap, and still wanted more, and wound up losing their everlasting soul to her cruel web. They advise Coraline to engage in a game with her, and they beg her to find their souls.
So, eventually, Coraline and the Other Mother agree to play this game after Coraline says the Other Mother should genuinely win her. This particular game consists of Coraline scavenging through the “wonders” that the Other Mother made to find the ghost children’s souls AND her parents.
One small detail that the movie does not include is when the Other Mother swears to Coraline on her right hand that she is going to keep her word if Coraline wins.
During this game, Coraline does manage to find the souls of the children in pretty much the same manner as in the movie, but the novel does include one pretty creepy monster that the movie however does not include. Like in the real world, there is an empty flat next to Coraline’s other flat, and the Other Mother tricks her into going into that flat. Gaiman already opens this scene with suspense when Coraline enters an old, foul, dilapidated room. The creature that dwells inside this flat is described as “pale and swollen like a grub, with thin, sticklike arms and feet. It has almost no features on its face, which had puffed and swollen like risen bread dough.” After being nearly defeated by this monster, Coraline manages to escape.
Coraline does not however win the game in the end. Instead, she has to trick the Other Mother by claiming that her parents are trapped inside the tiny door—the perfect way to make the Other Mother open the door! After throwing the cat onto the Other Mother during a fight with her, Coraline does manage to escape with the souls and the snow globe.
After the ghost children are freed during a dream, Coraline – and the reader – expects it all to be over and done for, BUT this is not quite the case. Remember how the Other Mother swore on her right hand? Yeah, it escaped with Coraline. And Coraline winds up defeating said hand by setting up a fake picnic with her dolls.
(I’m way too old for dolls… No you’re not, Coraline. Again, if you know, you know.)
The hand falls down the well from the beginning of the novel, and all is well. Coraline has her family and her weird, friendly neighbors back, and they all live happily ever after.
I cannot lie at all, I love both the movie and the novel. But being that I did watch the movie before reading the novel, I was expecting to read about the doll and Wybie Lovat, but these characters are indeed not in the book. However, I think the scary dough monster and the fairy ghost child make up for those nicely, so I am satisfied.
I think Neil Gaiman’s story itself is very inspiring, creative, and overall, cleverly creepy! The pacing is spot-on, and each scene is written in perfect detail. Overall, I offer this novel a five-star rating, and I could definitely read it several more times!