“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
I still can’t believe that a novel such as Coraline is marketed and written for children. I was, frankly, terrified all the way through my reading experience, and yet unable to put the novel down.
When Coraline moves into a new house with her inattentive parents, she is intrigued by the locked door in the drawing room, but when it is opened, the door reveals a bricked up wall. Later, a mysterious passageway appears and Coraline crawls through it only to discover a house exactly the same as her own. In this alternate world, Coraline meets her “other” parents who treat her the way she has always wished to be treated – even if they are a little frightening with black button eyes. When Coraline discovers that her “other” parents want to keep her, she is drawn into a terrifying game against her “other” mother: she must rescue her missing parents and free three trapped souls, before the “other” mother claims her forever.
“I have no plans to love you,” said Coraline. “No matter what. You can’t make me love you.”
Gaiman’s novel is perhaps the most intense children’s novel I have ever read. The story is quite elementary, and yet the plot never diminishes. If anything, the novel’s short length and fast pacing enhances the book, as the tension is quietly subtle and not annoyingly excessive. The result is a chilling story about a little girl who must outsmart a formidable and calculable evil in order to save her parents.
Coraline is an inspiring character. She is this small and savage adventurer, who is as tough as nails but still a darling who you can’t help but cheer on. She is very capable and a great role model for children as she stands up to a bully, despite her fear.
“How do I know you’ll keep your word?” asked Coraline.
“I swear it,” said the other mother. “I swear it on my own mother’s grave.”
“Does she have a grave?” asked Coraline.
“Oh yes,” said the other mother. “I put her in there myself. And when I found her trying to crawl out, I put her back.”
The “other” mother was a disturbing villain. I am that type of reader that supports the bad guy and roots for them to come out the victor. This is probably the first instance where I wanted the villain to be defeated and the hero to prevail. I watched the 2009 movie immediately after finishing the novel, and was thoroughly impressed by the film’s portrayal of the “other” mother and her nightmarish hand. The “other” mother’s character was very true to the book.
Neil Gaiman’s novels are so frightening because he takes the mundane and reconstructs it: the result leaves the reader feeling disturbed and horrified, and yet unable to explain why they feel that way. When you break it down, there is nothing particularly frightening about buttons, a well, red nails on a hand, dogs, or marbles. And yet Gaiman’s unique twist on these ordinary objects transforms them into something creepy and almost macabre.
“The sky had never seemed so sky, the world had never seemed so world … Nothing, she thought, had ever been so interesting.”
The writing is in tune with the novel and the protagonist. Gaiman’s frank descriptions allowed the text and the pace to flow naturally. While the writing is simple in its explanations of “This happened and then this happened and then this happened,” it worked perfectly for this particular novel as it allowed the reader focus completely on the story instead of flowery prose. The novel is a very quick read and can easily be read in one sitting.
Coraline is a deliciously strange novel that absorbs the reader into a horrifying alternate reality that you cannot put down. Whoever said this novel is for children is a damn liar.