Author: Neil Gaiman
Intended audience: Young adult
First line: "Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house."
I decided to continue reading some young adult literature and thought Coraline by Neil Gaiman would be a good choice for the month of October. Coraline definitely has the requisite creepy factor that is a good choice for the weeks leading up to Halloween.
The beginning of the book is reminiscent of the magical wardrobe featured in the Narnia novels by C.S. Lewis. (This should come as no surprise since Gaiman has admitted that the Narnia books were some of his favorites.) Just as Lewis's children are bored and trying to entertain themselves, so is Coraline trying to amuse herself by exploring the new house and grounds to which her family has recently moved. The discovery of magical doorways to alternate universes are the exploratory results of bored children in both stories.
Coraline is curious about a locked door in the sitting room and asks her mother what is behind the door. Her mother unlocks the door using a big, black iron key. Behind the door is a red brick wall. The house was once a large single family residence but has, over time, been broken into a series of flats. Naturally, the opening between two rooms that now belong to separate flats had to be bricked up. Once Coraline's curiosity has been sated, Mother shuts and locks the door and Coraline goes about her explorations.
Later that night Coraline hears a noise and sees a dark shadow. She creeps out of bed and discovers the door in the sitting room is open a few inches. She goes to the door to take a look and discovers that the brick wall has disappeared and a dark corridor has taken its place. Of course, being a curious child, Coraline walks down the hallway only to discover another flat that looks just like hers. Not only is the flat the same, but this is where the "other mother" and "other father" live. The other mother and other father encourage Coraline to stay with them and promise to be more attentive than her real Mother and Father. She can eat all of her favorite foods and play with new and interesting toys. Sound good? Well, maybe ... if it weren't for the disturbingly skewed features of the "other flat" and the fact that other mother and other father have big black buttons sewn onto their faces where their eyes should be! Coraline runs back down the corridor to her own flat and quickly shuts and locks the mysterious door.
Next day Coraline discovers that her Mother and Father have disappeared. After two days, Coraline has determined that the other mother has captured her real parents and she must rescue them. What ensues is a chilling game of "find the missing parents" and "liberate the souls of those previously trapped by other mother." The other flat and other parents gradually begin to warp and look less and less like the real world and more and more like a nightmare. Does Coraline rescue her parents? Does she liberate the trapped souls? Does she escape the clutches of other mother? Well ... I wouldn't want to give away the ending.
Coraline is a modern fairy tale that includes traditional fairy tale trappings similar to those of the Brothers Grimm. The point of the tale though is not mere entertainment and chills; there are lessons to be learned such as the nature of bravery, contentment with what you have, and the importance of family. I can highly recommend this book for older children and adults. It might be a bit too scary for young children.
"Fairy tales are more than true; not because
they tell us that dragons exist, but because
they tell us that dragons can be beaten."
-- G.K. Chesterton