Wow, long time, no post. Am I right? I apologize for being so quiet on here lately. My initial plan was to dedicate much of my summer to get back into blogging and updating my marketing and deaf awareness social accounts, but then I ended up going all over Pennsylvania and spending a lot of time in Chicago and investing more time into studying and before I knew it summer was over and none of those goals got accomplished. But hey, I’m here now and that’s something, right?
Anyways, guys – we need to talk about Coraline.
For those of you who may not be familiar with Coraline it is a really creepy and really really really freaking weird children’s novel written by Neil Gaiman. This book was published in 2002 and became a movie a few years later (I’m not sure when exactly but I want to say the movie came out around 2007…does that sound about right?)
I was assigned to read this book for my Seminar I course this semester. When I found out it was going to be my required reading I went and watched the movie on Netflix right away. I have heard a lot about the movie and have been meaning to watch it for some time. On the surface, Coraline reminded me a lot of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride, two movies I always really loved. Now that I know that Coraline had many of the same producers and masterminds that those other movies had, it makes a lot of sense.
I thought the movie was interested. I liked it and couldn’t stop watching it, but I also thought it was one of the weirdest, creepiest movies I’ve ever seen in my life. I love horror movies but the only ones that ever really did a good job of scaring me are the Saw movies. I found most other horror movies to be completely comical.
Coraline was scarier to me than any of the Saw movies were.
…And the book was better than the movie but still somehow even more horrifying to me. I don’t know if I loved it or hated it. I thought it was super freaking weird, but at the same time I couldn’t put it down. I didn’t have to have the book read for class until September 20th. Last night was probably the worst time I could’ve read it since I was running on about 3 or 4 hours of sleep total (isn’t grad school fun?) but I started reading it during my commute to work earlier in the day and I couldn’t put it down. Despite how tired I was, I couldn’t sleep not knowing what was going to happen to Coraline next. It’s been awhile since a book captivated me as much as this one did, so there’s no denying that despite my concerns about the book’s weirdness, it was extremely well written.
But, Mr. Gaiman, I have a few questions for you now, none of which were included in your little Q&A session for the book’s 10 year anniversary edition. Here are my questions:
1. Why in the world is this book considered a children’s book?
I have friends that have young kids who have seen the movie version of Coraline and love it. If you’re three or even five years old and can handle Coraline, more power to you because despite your young age, you are stronger than I am apparently. I would never tell my friends or anyone not to let their kids read or watch this movie. It’s so well crafted that I don’t think you should deny a child the right to watch the movie or read the book if they want to.
But, at the same time when I have kids of my own I don’t think this is ever going to exactly be one of my reading recommendations for them. I might even be the kind of mom who keeps her copy of it under lock and key and tries to shelter their kids from discovering it.
My reasoning has nothing at all to do with the book’s craft, but everything to do with the creepiness of this book. I was afraid this book would give me nightmares last night and I’m 27 years old. The book literally talks about an “other mother” and an “other father” and the mother is really evil and literally plucks kids’ eyeballs out and replaces them with buttons. Is it me or is this not horrifying? How many kids saw this movie or read the book and were suddenly petrified of their dolls afterwards? I mean I’m always kind of petrified of dolls – they are creepy to begin with, but after seeing Coraline I think I’d kill anyone who handed me a doll…
2. What kind of a relationship does Neil Gaiman have with his own parents?
I’m not trying to sound like Sigmund Freud or anything, but Neil Gaiman must have some serious mommy issues to write a book that is this messed up.
But while I think the other mother is much more evil and disturbing, I wouldn’t say the father is off the hook exactly.
What was Gaiman’s inspiration for making his characters like this and is it a positive or a negative portrayal? In the book’s reading guide it seems as though Gaiman wants his readers to connect with the idea of their parents not having time to play with them as kids. I think that is a common theme in children’s books, but Gaiman is going much deeper than that with his portrayal of Coraline’s parents here.
The other mother is completely evil and creepy. Did Gaiman have a rough childhood with his mother? Would his mother or has his mother ever caused harm to him perhaps in a way that she believed would be to his benefit (like how the other mother wants to love Coraline and give her a happy life, but at the expense of her eyeballs?).
Were Gaiman’s parents divorced? Did his mother steal him away from his father as a child (kind of like the idea of kidnapping presented throughout the text?) Did it break his spirit (kind of like the idea of how the other mother stole the children’s souls)? Was Gaiman’s mother evil and manipulative and abusive not only towards Gaiman, but towards his father as well? Was his father simply “whipped” and living in a “whatever your mother says goes” kind of world when Gaiman was a child? Coraline’s other father just seems way too absent and nonchalant and a stark contrast of the other mother in this novel. Even Coraline’s real parents seem to have some issues and tension between them where the mother seems to play a dominating role and her real father is just kind of there.
Or – did Gaiman have a great family life with very loving, perfect parents and perhaps he used that as the inspiration to show children that even though their parents might be busy they still love them and their real parents are better than any kind of substitute they could ever dream of, no matter how mice or similar other people may seem?
Either way, it definitely seems as though Gaiman’s own experiences with his parents could have influenced this book.
3. What is with all of the mice?
Just when you think Coraline couldn’t get any weirder – there is a freaking mouse circus. You can’t make this kind of stuff up. What kind of drugs was Gaiman on when he wrote this book? No, seriously.
It’s really weird, but at the same time this could potentially be brilliant.
Circuses have been in the news a lot over the past decade or so – the time of Coraline’s peak. One of the main reasons why people are so angry about circuses is due to the treatment of animals used. We all care about animals like elephants and tigers and seals and horses and lions which are often used in these circus shows – but what about mice and rats? Do they even count as being animals?
We slaughter these animals in mass quantities because we don’t think they matter. We seem them as being dirty, disgusting, diseased, evil, and not worthy of life. We perform clinical trials on them. We do all kinds of tests on them. If the rat or mouse dies in the process we don’t even grieve for them, we just simply take out the trash and go on with our lives.
This is where Gaiman is doing something really unique. Gaiman does what he does best and brings in the really freaking weird character of Mr. Bobo – most frequently referred to as “the man upstairs”. The man upstairs is training his mice and he seems them as being talented and kind of brilliant for their ability to perform music and hundreds or thousands of tricks. I don’t think anyone would argue that Mr. Bobo takes great care of his mice; he even talks about buying them new cheese to help them out a bit. How many other people would do this for mice or rats? I don’t know of anyone who would go through all of that for a rat. I know me personally if I see a mouse or a rat first off I’m grabbing my cat, Picasso, and making him kill the little menace, and that’s only if I feel like being nice that day.
I’m wondering if Gaiman chose to perhaps include the mice/rats in his book in this way to make a political statement on how we view animals and animals rights.
Or – is this something larger. Is it a political statement on how prejudice we are? How we view good and evil?
The latter statement seems like it may be a bit more accurate.
Because think of this. Most of us will look at a rat or a mouse as being evil, whether it does or does not actually bother us. Sure, a rat in the subway is probably filled with disease and if it bites us we’re probably going to get infected and die and that’s evil. But then there are still domesticated rats and mice that people actually keep as nice little house pets. Are those still evil?
And why is our first human instinct always to kill the rats and mice we found walking the streets? Why don’t we ever think to stop and pick up the animal or call animal control and to get them help and see if we can cure them of their diseases? We would do that for a dog or a chicken or any other animal. Why are rats and mice different?
And to further drag this point along. Let’s compare the mice to the other parents.
The mice – whom on normal non-Gaiman terms would be considered evil, filthy things, seem to represent something good, perhaps one of the only things that are good in this novel.
The other parents start off in the book as being good. We normally think of our mother and father as being loving, kind, and supportive of us. They are meant to protect us from all harm. Originally the other parents were supposed to be better versions of Coraline’s own real parents, but we soon found out that they actually weren’t as kind and loving and supportive as they seemed to be. They wouldn’t have protected Coraline or kept her safe. In fact, these two individuals we automatically assume are going to be a positive force in Coraline’s life are actually EVIL and a source of harm to Coraline and all whom they come into contact with.
That’s kind of an interesting little juxtaposition there, isn’t it?
4. Is Neil Gaiman wiccan or a witch or something?
Of all of the parts of the book, these were the elements that bothered me the most as a Christian. Gaiman seems to want to chalk it up as being just magic based on the reading guide and his answers to the questions in the Q&A for the 10th anniversary edition of Coraline but this is more than just Hansel and Gretel era-magic. I mean – tea leaves? Really? Miss Spink and Miss Forcible seem like true witches.
But are they evil? I think it’s debatable honestly. I don’t usually see them as being evil or bad the way you’d normally view a witch. This kind of goes back to the idea with the mice – something often seen as being evil is actually good.
But what is going on with those dogs? The images didn’t seem as strong in the book as they were in the movie, but they were equally as disturbing. They literally have a collection of dead dogs in their home. When their dogs get sick they don’t seem to really jump on helping them. I mean I know they take the dog to the vet and everything but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that they kind of WANTED the dogs to die so they could stuff them and grow their collection.
And doesn’t this kind of fit in with the theme of the dolls? Stuffed animals are like dolls right? It’s better to kill real, living things, to substitute them for stuffed items that can be whatever you want them to be or something along those lines? Creeeeeeeeeeeeepy, but it is what it is, right?
Also, who can forget that weird little song Coraline sings about be a “twitchy, witchy girl?”
Is Coraline the witch? Hmm…it’s possible.
5. Does Gaiman believe in God? How does Gaiman view God?
The whole magic and witchcraft stuff is only a small part of a larger whole in Coraline. He seems to be really commenting on bigger issues connecting back to religion and his views on God. I don’t think it’s any wonder that my Baptist friends aren’t all a big fan of this novel because these parts made me a little uncomfortable and these are some reasons why I may hesitate in recommending this book or movie to my future children one day.
First off, let’s talk about the other mother again. Who is she really? She is very evil almost like Satan, but I guess not that evil. Is she playing God? The novel does talk quite a bit about how the other mother created a world for the children and she’d create a world for Coraline if she’ll only agree to live with her. It explains how she could create something new every day so that Coraline would never be bored, but there is no outside because she hasn’t created that yet.
Christians believe that God created all things. We can have paradise in heaven if we only follow Christ and accept him in our heart. Coraline can have all things if she only allows her mother to sew buttons in her eyes and stay there forever. It’s different, but similiar, no?
Also let’s talk about those souls that the other mother is collecting from the children. This seems really really satanic to me. You always here of those sayings of “I sold my soul to the devil”, isn’t that exactly what these kids here have done? Are they in hell? It sure as heck doesn’t seem like they’re in heaven, that’s for sure.
I also want to mention that this doesn’t seem to be the first instance where Gaiman has commented about religion and God, for better or for worst. He has another novel for adults called American Gods. Now, I haven’t read it at all and have no idea what it’s about so I can’t really say anything other than this: it makes you wonder.
These are just five main questions I had after reading Coraline. Now that I’ve written them all out and analyzed this book in over 2600 words I can’t say that I am anywhere closer to knowing the answer to my questions. In fact, I’d argue that I have even MORE questions and I don’t even know if I liked the book or detested it.
To describe this book in just one word, only one word is needed to sum it all up: