Book Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

I remember seeing the movie, Coraline, years ago and thinking it was an odd, creepy movie and probably not really a children’s movie.  I don’t know why it gave me the creeps exactly.  I’m not much of a horror movie fan nowadays, but I used to love horror movies and was pretty fearless.

I wanted to revisit the story to see if it was just as creepy and weird.  The book did not disappoint.  It starts out innocently enough – a girl who is bored with older neighbors who are odd but harmless enough.  Then you get whiffs of the weirdness about to come – the tea leaves warning of danger, the mice warning her not to go through the door.

Spoiler alert – don’t read this next part if you don’t want to know about what happens in the story.  Coraline, of course, goes through the door (the door between her house and the empty house next door – her mom told her that there is a brick wall there so there is nothing to explore) because who is going to believe a old guy who talks to mice and passes on messages for mice?  She finds a sort of alternate universe where everything looks just as it does in her own house, but the people have buttons instead of eyes.  She calls the people the “other” people so her mom is her “other mom.”  Coraline gets creeped out by this other world and runs back to her own home.  Unfortunately, her parents disappeared and she has worked out that the other mom somehow kidnapped her parents so she has to go back to the other world.  The other mom takes the key to the door between the two worlds from Coraline.  The only other creature who seems to be able to freely travel between the two worlds is a black cat who can talk in the other world.  The cat is haughty but ends up being Coraline’s friend.  Later, the other mom locks Coraline up for being disobedient.

It is in this locked room that Coraline meets the shells of other children who have been caught by the other mom.  The children tell Coraline to run away but when they learn that she can’t until she finds her parents, they ask for her help in locating their souls so they can be free of the other mom.  Coraline makes a deal with the other mom – if she can find all 3 souls of the trapped children and her parents, the other mom has to let them all go.  If she can’t, she agrees to stay with the other mom and be obedient.  The other mom swears on her right hand that she will let Coraline and the others go.  With the help of a charm from one of the neighbors and the black cat, Coraline is able to find the 3 lost souls and figures out where her parents are hidden.  Unfortunately, the other mom has no intention of keeping her word to let them all go.  Coraline then has to trick the other mom into opening the door between the other world and her home.  She then throws the black cat at the other mom in order to makes it home with everyone safe and sound.

Or not.  Since the other mom swore on her right hand, the hand becomes unattached and travels to Coraline’s world to try to get the key.  Coraline throws both the key into a well and when the hand goes after it, she boards up the top of the well so that it can’t escape.

My version of the book had a Q&A session with the author.  In it, he says that there was a door like that in an old house that he lived in growing up.  He also spent quite a few rainy summer days reading the Narnia series (so there’s the whole door leading to a different world motif).

It was a short story (it’s supposed to be a children’s story) and an easy read.  I really liked this story – It wasn’t full of gory, bloody entrails or anything – it had the right amount of creep factor.  I think that many young children would get scared, but the ones who are 12+ would probably enjoy it … or adults.  It’s appropriate for Halloween .. and the movie was very well done so I would recommend that as well.

I’m going to try one of his adult books next.