Coraline – Neil “Scary Trousers” Gaiman at his best ….

Published On April 9, 2009 | By Richard Bruton | Books, Film TV & Theatre, Reviews


by Neil Gaiman, with illustrations by Dave McKean

coraline book.jpg   Coraline Cover.jpg

(Two versions of Coraline: The movie tie-in cover and the Dave McKean cover)

We first started to read Coraline a few years ago, but Molly age 7 found it just a little bit too disturbing, dealing as it does with child abduction and the intense fear of parents who mean you nothing but harm.

But she’s 9 now and had seen a few trailers for the forthcoming movie. I’m a great believer in the old adage that you should always go to the original source and suggested to her that if she wants to see the movie, we should really read the book together first. Luckily, she’s into a little more darkness and Coraline fits into that quite nicely. We read it at bedtime over a week, Molly enjoying that frisson of fear and taking great pleasure in cowering under the covers at all the pertinent moments.

This is her take on Coraline:

I liked Coraline because it’s really scary, the Other Mother and Other Father have those horribly freaky black button eyes and they want to make  Coraline just like they are. But Coraline stands up to them both, being really brave as she plots and plans and rescues the ghosts in the Other Mother’s house and her real mum and dad. This is a really good book and you should read it.
Molly Bruton Aged 9.

Coraline Jones has just moved into a new house with her parents and is busy exploring. Actually it’s just part of a big old house, split into flats. And on her very first day she notices the door to the other half of the house next door. When asked, Coraline’s mother gets the big old black key to the door and opens it, showing Coraline how it opens onto bare brick where once there was a passageway through the house. She shuts it. But she doesn’t lock it. And that’s a big mistake.

She’s a smart child, easily bored, intensely curious and often finds herself at a loose end when her parents find themselves far too busy doing all that boring grown up stuff that means they can’t give any time to Coraline. So she goes off exploring the house, the garden and gets to meet her neighbours; Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, two retired actresses and the crazy old man with the big moustache who lives in the flat upstairs working on his amazing mouse circus. On her journeys she manages to pick up a stray black cat, who seems remarkably curious about Coraline. But exploring her side of  the house and the garden can only keep an inquisitive little girl occupied for so long and her curiosity is piqued when she realises that she can get through the adjoining door to other side of the house.

And that’s when her troubles begin. Because through the door was a mirror copy of her house, except darker, more foreboding. And in the house were her Other father and Other Mother:

A woman stood in the kitchen with her back to Coraline. She looked a little like Coraline’s mother. Only …
Only her skin was white as paper.
Only she was taller and thinner.
Only her fingers were too long, and they never stopped moving, and her dark red fingernails were curved and sharp.
“Coraline?” the woman said. “Is that you?”
And then she turned around. Her eyes were big black buttons. 

From then on, Coraline’s boring life gets stranger and scarier. Her Other Mother wants Coraline to stay with them in the other house. She promises Coraline all sorts of fine things, a life without boredom and two parents who will attend to her every wish. And all Coraline has to do is get those lovely black buttons sewed on… (You can see why the seven year old Molly thought it was a little too scary can’t you?).

Coraline rejects her Other Mother and gets back through the door. But things have changed. The house is empty, her parents have gone, vanished. All that’s left is their images, trapped in the hallway mirror. And that’s when the really scary part starts. Coraline’s growing acceptance of the situation, her realisation that she’s still a little girl and she really misses mom and dad, is the moment you realise Gaiman’s really got you here. It’s so sad, so horrible, so well written.

After this Coraline comes to the inevitable conclusion that her parents, her real parents, have been taken by her Other Mother and makes the incredibly brave decision to go and rescue them. And in the process, she discovers the real horror of her Other Mother. But thankfully, Coraline Jones is a resourceful and strong little heroine, perfect for keeping the rapt attention of Molly all the way through this excellent book. She loved the fact Coraline was so clever and resourceful and faced up to the terror of her situation. And the absolute horror of the tale; losing your parents, abduction by something so old and terrible as the Other Mother, had her squirming with the delight only a good chill can cause.

Coraline McKean 2.jpg  Coraline McKean 1.jpg

(Two of Dave McKean’s illustrations for Coraline; the Other Mother and Coraline meeting Miss Spink.)

I have a strange relationship with Neil Gaiman and his fiction. I’ve always enjoyed his comics and genuinely believe that some of them are real classics. But his adult prose stuff really doesn’t do anything for me. I keep trying to read his stuff but I just don’t connect with it at all. But his children’s work is wonderful stuff – especially when it’s read out loud. In fact, the one time I really enjoyed a piece of Gaiman’s adult prose was when I got the audiobook of Study In Emerald, the half hour Cthulu meets Holmes short story he did. I think that might be the key actually – I prefer Gaiman the storyteller to Gaiman the prose writer, and his children’s fiction fits more into the mode of storyteller than prose writer I think.

Anyway, I’ve always read Gaiman to Molly. Why I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish and Wolves In The Walls were staples of her early bedtime stories and have been favourites ever since. And although it’s for older children, with only a few illustrations from Dave McKean (very lovely illustrations though as you can see from the examples above), Coraline is just as much a firm favourite here as his earlier picture books and it’s one I can see us coming back to many times in the future.

There’s a film version of Coraline due in the cinema in May and from the looks of the trailer it’s going to be quite wonderful. A high-def, stop motion animation shot in 3D from the director of A Nightmare Before Christmas; Henry Selick. But do yourself and any child you can read a story to a favour: Get the book, settle down, start reading and enjoy a great adventure and a good scare.

(Trailer from the forthcoming Coraline movie.)

Richard Bruton – and if you’re wondering about the whole Neil “Scary Trousers” Gaiman thing – it’s explained here.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton

– Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he’s written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard’s day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children’s graphic novel library in the country.

One Response to Coraline – Neil “Scary Trousers” Gaiman at his best ….

  1. abby says:

    Coraline is a film that employs computer enhanced stop action animation. So visually it’s sort of a combination of the old and the new. What’s more, some theaters show it in 3-D and it was neat wearing the special glasses and occasionally being startled as images seem to be jumping out right off from the screen itself.