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29 April 2009

Neil Giaman's Creepy Button-Eye Folk

Gaiman, Neil. (2002). Coraline. New York: HarperCollins.

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is the story of a young girl who is bored with the way her summer vacation is winding down. Both of her parents work from home, each at his or her own computer in his or her own study. Coraline enjoys exploring the gardens surrounding the old house in which her family rents a flat, but a late summer rainstorm puts a stop to her expeditions. Both parents are busy, and her mother tells her to explore the house, which is how she finds the bricked-up door in the parlor. Which is where the book actually begins, revealing the background situation in a smoothly woven tapestry of mini-scenes and flashbacks. Coraline has a delicious “through the looking glass” feel that is at once familiar, and yet utterly unpredictable.

The antagonist is Coraline’s Other Mother (doesn't every kid dreamed of having one of those now and then?), a twisted parody of her real mother who lives in a warped mirror image of Coraline’s real family’s flat. Like some great psychic spider, the Other Mother has spun a web of illusion to entice Coraline to stay with her on the other side of the parlor door forever (and also like a spider, she has a nasty tendency to suck the life out of her guests). When Coraline refuses and returns to her own flat, her parents disappear, sending her back through the parlor door to rescue them. Not only that, Coraline learns, but this is not the first time the Other Mother has lured a child into the faux world she’s created. Three ghosts, children whose souls have been taken by the other mother, are trapped in a cell behind a mirror, and they warn Coraline of the Other Mother’s true intentions. With the help of a cat who is able to cross from one world to the other at will, Coraline sets out to find her parents, along with the ghosts’ stolen souls.

This book is very tightly plotted, and Gaiman cauterizes most of the loose ends nicely in the end, though the fundamental explanation for the Other Mother’s existence is left to the imagination, as it should be. The characterization is particularly vivid, with Coraline obviously being the most fully realized. Her parents are rather sparsely depicted, but that serves the theme of the book, which is a sort of cautionary tale. “Be careful what you wish for,” it murmurs in your ear “because you might not like what you end up with.” Coraline yearns outwardly for adventure, and inwardly for parents (especially a mother) who pay her more attention. She gets both in the Other Mother, but soon realizes that what she had to start with was actually pretty good. This sort of wish fulfillment/cautionary tale hybrid works especially well for young adults, hauling them along on a journey of maturation along with the protagonist, and Coraline is an especially enjoyable example of the type.

Coraline, which won a Hugo Award, a Nebula Award, and the Bram Stoker Award, was one of the first young adult novels by this incredibly prolific author, who’s Graveyard Book has since garnered him a Newberry Award. Stardust, an illustrated novel (as opposed to a graphic novel), won the Alex Award in 2000. Gaiman has also published numerous adult novels, including Neverwhere and American Gods, as well as the popular and critically acclaimed Sandman series of graphic novels. Henry Selick’s stop-motion film based on Coraline was released in February 2009.

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