DISCLAIMER: I am a MA in Writing Student at Rowan University who has recently had the opportunity to study under Professor Atwood. The following review may be biased.
When I saw that I would be required to read MC Atwood’s debut young adult novel, The Devils You Know for my Seminar II class this semester as part of my MA in Writing program at Rowan University, I was very excited. Last fall I had a wonderful experience studying under Professor Atwood by taking her Writing Genre Fiction course. Atwood is hilarious and one of the kindest individuals I’ve ever met. She is also seriously talented as both a writer and an editor.
The Devils You Know was a real pleasure to read. I love that while the book is Atwood’s favorite genre – horror – it is also still young adult. While terrifying, it was also extremely relatable. This novel is about more than a creepy haunted house with scary clowns and dolls (seriously…so many dolls…). It’s a story about friendship and finding yourself in the midst of the terror known as high school.
In the beginning of the novel, Paul, Violet, Dylan, Ashley, and Gretchen don’t know each other very well for the most part. Paul is seen as being the cool black guy that everyone loves. Violet is the quiet “nice” girl that no one knows very well, but Paul has a crush on, and she is beginning to develop feelings for as well. Dylan tries a little too hard to be a bad ass and I can really see him as being a bit of a punk rocker/skater kid. Ashley is the stuck up, rich, right-winged Republican princess that owns the school and absolutely HATES Gretchen (the feeling appears to be mutual), and Gretchen is Dylan’s partner whom is every bit as weird and tough as he is.
The quintent rarely ever crosses paths and most certainly wouldn’t call each other friends. However, when the opportunity to visit the legendary Boulder House on a class field trip presents itself, all five members of the group sign up and find themselves forced to not only share in the same space and experiences, but to also work together as a team and get to REALLY know the truth about each other. Sometimes the truth can be completely alarming and sometimes you think you know someone (as is the case of Dylan and Gretchen), but later realize you don’t know that person at all.
For instance – who would’ve guessed that Paul likes to wear tights and role play during medieval events? Nice girls finish last…and get taken advantage of as seen by the way Mr. Rhinehart takes advantage of Violet by having an affair with her the day she turns 18. Dylan is not actually Dylan at all…he’s John Michael…and despite his foul mouth and constant use of the word “yo”, he’s not as tough as he wants people to think he is. He’s actually a very conservative Christian who attends church every week with his rich parents. On the other end of the spectrum, Ashley isn’t the conservative Christian she wants everyone to believe she is. In fact, she’s gay and she’s trying everything to hide her true identity from everyone, especially her Republican parents. After all, her father IS a well-known senator who HATES anyone that’s not straight. If he knew the truth about her it would destroy him and the rest of her family. What’s worst – she doesn’t hate Gretchen at all. In fact, she’s in love with her. As for Gretchen? She’s tough because she has to be, not because she wants to be. Her family is on food stamps and she makes her own clothes because she has no choice. Her mother is ill and the family constantly struggles with money.
In order to survive the house and everything in it – from demonic angels to creepy evil dolls to scary clowns to even whales and everything in between, the quintent must work together. However, when the quintent’s secrets are revealed to one another, they all feel such a strong sense of shame that they want to go through the house alone. However, they later learn that while they each have their own secrets, it doesn’t make them less and if anything, knowing the truth about who they are is what will not only bring them closer together, but also force them to want to stick together to support each other and to make it out of the house alive and beyond the house, to make it through high school alive, too.
Some of the novel’s strengths lie in the extreme attention to details, particularly with the imagery and descriptions of the house. It’s a very unique and clever book that while sticking to the main conventions of the horror genre, doesn’t fall into the trap of cliches. For example: there’s an entire room dedicated to whales and aquatic lives. I’ve never been afraid of whales and squids/octapuses, but I am now! I also really appreciated the way the novel took the very successful risk of having multiple narrators/points of views. Each chapter was told by a different character – Ashley, Gretchen, Dylan, Violet, and/or Paul. This allowed the reader to get up close and personal with all of the characters. Atwood did a great job of breaking them all down and creating an equal balance between each character’s voice so it never felt like you had too much of one character and not enough of another character. It also never got too confusing or overwhelming; five seemed like the perfect number.
So why four stars and not five? While I really enjoyed this book and struggled to put it down, it wasn’t perfect. There were still some things that bothered me with this book. One of the main things I didn’t like was Dylan’s character. He really annoyed me. I didn’t like his dialogue and I had trouble believing that’s how he would actually talk. I think there was an instance in the beginning where he said something along the lines of “I remembered to turn my swag on” which made me cringe. Do people even use the term “swag” anymore? I thought that died around 2008. “Fuck-a-doodle-doo” also sounded really awkward to me. I could believe him saying it once or twice, but constantly throughout the book? And no one ever comments on how weird it sounds? I had trouble buying it. Lastly, by the end of the book I was really annoyed by his constant use of the word “yo”. I think he said it but I feel like that would be something he’d say in the beginning of a sentence, not the end and reading it vs. hearing it – it reads kind of awkwardly and annoyed me as a reader. Lastly – his name is something completely different than what everyone calls him and no one knew this? I feel like the school would at least have his legal name down and probably call him by it on the first day of class. I just didn’t buy that as being his secret.
Also, reading this as a conservative Christian, I realize I’m a little biased but I did take some issues with the content of the novel. At times I felt like I was being attacked based on my views and like I was supposed to apologize or feel bad about being a conservative, Republican, Christian. I go to church every week the way Dylan/John Michael did – I don’t think that’s a “bad” thing in itself.
Lastly, demonic/fallen angels? The angels which are typically symbols for good, were made into symbols for evil. I wasn’t really okay with that imagery. I felt like the idea of Christianity throughout the novel was being shown in a negative light. Some of the jabs against Christianity/Republicans (such as the subtle George Bush reference…) felt a little over-done/cheap. I also thought of the impact/influence they may have on the novel’s target teenage audience which made me a little uncomfortable.
But overall I did really like this novel. It was very well researched, well written, and engaging. 4 out of 5 stars.
Hey guys! For those of you who don’t already know I am currently enrolled in a Writing Genre Fiction course at Rowan University as I work towards completing my MA in Writing. I took this class because I had to take something. I’ve never really been into genre fiction (although I do like horror) and I am actually more of a non-fiction writer which is completely different from genre fiction. This class has definitely taken me out of my comfort zone as a writer on more than one occasion.
I actually really enjoyed writing my horror story though. Initially I had planned to write about something related to trypophobia, the fear of holes, because I think the whole concept is so strange but fascinating. However, I quickly changed my idea once I read about one of my Facebook friend’s nightmares. Here’s how they described it in their Facebook post:
And with that, the beginning of my story was born. I was going to write a story about a creepy doll that wanted to suck the breath out of people. But first I had to answer, why would she do that?
I pulled a lot from my Christian beliefs about life and death and good and evil and somehow came up with a story in which everything starts off dark, gloomy, and depressing. The horror is portrayed as being normal or even good, whereas normalcy and goodness is portrayed as being evil. I will allow you as a reader to draw your own conclusions about why I took this path.
The story is below. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. 🙂
A Breath Of Life
When Lillian was born, her parents had every intention to call her Lily.
“She’s beautiful, just like a field of fresh lilies,” her father said.
However, Lillian wanted no parts in lilies, or any flowers for that matter. From the time Lillian was three, she demanded to be called “Lilith”.
Lillian, or shall we say “Lilith’s stubborn, eccentric side showed in ways far beyond her name. When her mother, Rose, wanted to dress her up in frilly dresses with bows in her hair, Lilith refused.
“But you’ll look so pretty!” Rose said.
“I don’t want to look pretty!” Lilith said. “Black. I want to wear black,” she said as she pointed to her beloved black sweater with her black pants and black shoes. Rose never knew of another five year with half as many black clothes as Lilith had, but she also knew it wasn’t worth arguing with Lilith; Lilith never lost an argument.
Lilith’s dark side took some getting used to. Sure, adults expected some edginess and darkness from a moody teenager, but no one ever expected it from a “sweet” seven-year-old girl. Still, as everyone got to know Lilith, they became more and more familiar with her unusual sense of style and life perspective.
When Lilith requested to have her eighth birthday part on Friday, October 13th, no one was surprised, even if it was three weeks before her actual birthday.
Lilith’s birthday party was different from those of most eight year olds (or seven year olds, if you want to be technical). All of the balloons were black. There were no pony rides or petting zoos or even a walk around character. Instead, Lilith surrounded herself with her beloved black cat, Bones. She replaced the cliched piñata with a series of sugar skulls and for entertainment she played the saddest songs she could find while guests had the opportunity to build their own personal graveyards.
Lilith didn’t have any friends. Her parents enrolled her in a local public school, but all of the other kids thought she was weird. The parents didn’t help; they couldn’t understand why a child of Lilith’s age would choose to be so dark. They most certainly didn’t want their normal children hanging around someone of Lilith’s kind.
Still, Lilith’s party wasn’t a total bust. She had her parents, her brother, Ryan, and several aunts, uncles, and cousins in attendance, mainly because they all either felt obligated to come or they were sorry for her. Her parents guessed it was a combination of the two emotions.
Other than her parents, Lilith’s family never quite got her. Her parents tried endlessly to tell her other relatives that Lilith liked dark things. Still, year after year after year Lilith would end up with frilly pink and purple dresses, my little pony figures, and cute “girly” things that she’d promptly throw in the trash immediately after all of her guests have left. When Lilith’s Aunt Violet gifted her with a new, custom-made American Girl doll, she realized that this year was no different. However, her mother was determined to put a stop to it.
“Look Lilith! She looks just like you!” Rose exclaimed.
“I DO NOT LOOK LIKE THIS!” Lilith corrected her mother.
“Sure you do. See, she had beautiful black hair just like you. And isn’t her dress gorgeous?”
“My hair covers my face and I don’t wear dresses,” Lilith corrected.
“I tried to get one that looked like you…this is the closest they could do…I even brought your picture in with me to the American Girl store…” Aunt Violet said, apologetically.
“It’s fine. Lilith loves it. It will do her good to have a new friend.” Rose said, you can even give her a nice new name. How about Eve? She suggested.
“Sure, whatever,” Lilith said.
The guests were invited to stay until dinner to enjoy Lilith’s favorite meal, spaghetti tacos. Many of the guests asked why they couldn’t have tacos OR spaghetti. Apparently, Lilith’s family didn’t understand the art of combining the two favorites into one, but Lilith didn’t mind.
When the last guest left shortly after 8, Lilith’s mother had a firm discussion with her daughter.
“I don’t understand why you found it necessary to be so rude to your guests today,” she said.
“I wasn’t rude!” Lilith said.
“Yes you were! You didn’t thank anyone for coming or for bringing your gifts. Your dear Aunt Violet went out of her way to visit NYC to get a custom American Girl doll made to look like you and your way of thanking her is by complaining!” Rose said.
“IT. DOES. NOT. LOOK. LIKE. ME,” Lilith argued.
“Whatever. Here’s what you’re going to do. You are going to learn to appreciate when people give you a gift. Remember, there are plenty of people on this planet that don’t even know what it is to be given a gift. Now I want you to take your doll up to bed with you to sleep with tonight. When you wake up in the morning I’ll help you to write a thank you letter to Aunt Violet explaining how much you love your new doll.”
“Yes, mama,” Lilith said. She knew it was no use arguing anymore, she had been clearly defeated this time around.
Lilith had no trouble falling asleep that night. A terrible thunderstorm has come in off the coast and threatened the area. Lilith was able to fall asleep to the sounds of heavy rain, and thunder with what she thought sounded like the occasional pang of hail. The surges of lightening gave way to just the right amount of light in her otherwise pitch-dark room to allow her to sleep comfortably and dream of all of her favorite monsters.
Shortly after Lilith entered a deep stage of REM sleep, the dreaming began. She saw the image of her favorite monster and only friend, Mr. Olga. Mr. Olga was tall, fat, and full of hair. He had a snaggle tooth, big mean claws, horns, and often wore a spike collar. In her art class at school, Lilith often drew pictures of Mr. Olga. Her classmates and her teacher, Miss Lana often said that Mr. Olga looked like a darker version of Sully from the Monsters, Inc. films, but Lilith knew he was far more unique than that.
Lilith’s dreams were always the same. She’d enter in to Mr. Olga’s home in the world of Sorrowville, a town of only two: her and Mr. Olga. This was the only place where they could truly be themselves and live freely among each other. They would plant cemeteries together (even though they never had any people to bury) and play with Mr. Olga’s black cats, Mischief and Despair. When they grew tired of that they’d put the radio on and play all of their favorite songs from My Chemical Romance, Black Veil Brides, and the occasional piece from Sleeping With Sirens. Then they would depart and count down the hours until the next day when they could do it all over again.
But tonight was different. Lilith knew that from the minute she stepped foot in Mr. Olga’s small cave in Sorrowville. The temperature wasn’t its breezy temperature of 66.6 degrees Fahrenheit the way her and Mr. Olga always set it. It was 34.14 degrees and set on Celsius. She felt warm and clammy and was even beginning to sweat a little, something she never thought was even possible in Sorrowville. What’s more, the town wasn’t its usual shades of black and grey with clouds and thunderstorms. The sky was bright blue without a single cloud in the atmosphere. The sun was bright and blazing hot, which explained why she was so warm. Her family would say it looked nice and she worried that if they ever seen this version of Sorrowville, they’d even want to join her and Mr. Olga. The very idea of that happening horrified Lilith.
Lilith and Mr. Olga weren’t the only ones in Sorrowville tonight. Instead, they were surrounded by the presence of a doll who looked like a prettier version of Lilith; it was her brand new custom-made American Girl doll from her Aunt Violet, Eve.
“What on earth do you think you’re doing?!?” Lilith said.
“I came here to play, Lillian. Don’t you want to be friends?” Eve said.
“My name is LILITH, NOT LILLIAN. AND NO! NO ONE IS ALLOWED HERE BUT ME AND MR. OLGA!” she screamed.
“Silly Lillian. Don’t you know that I am you?” she said.
Mr. Olga glanced at Lilith. “She does have your hair,” he admitted.
“YOU ARE NOTHING LIKE ME!” Lilith screamed, “I NEVER WEAR MY HAIR LIKE THAT AND I HATE DRESSES!”
“We can fix that, Lillian,” she said.
“I am perfectly fine the way I am. I don’t need to be fixed.”
“That’s too bad. You see, your Aunt Violet sent me here to fix you. She said it’s not normal for a girl your age to be so… dark. And depressing.
“Psh. What does she know. She can’t change me,” Lilith said.
“No she can’t. That’s what I’m here for,” Eve said. I came to suck the breath right from you.”
Mr. Olga started to laugh.
“Stop it!” Lilith said. “Why would you laugh at that?”
“Because she thinks she can suck the breath out of you. Did she forget that I’m a monster?” he said.
“Good point,” Lilith said.
Mr. Olga inched closer to the Eve’s face and placed his hands up high above his head to show off his freshly sharpened claws. He then let out a huge growl. “RAWRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!” he said.
Eve flew over top of Mr. Olga and made her way through to Lilith.
“Just one little bite. A little something soft, trying to be polite. Nothing too hard, it wouldn’t be nice,” the doll chanted as it took a bite out of Lilith’s neck.
“WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH YOU? ARE YOU A FRIGGEN VAMPIRE?!? Lilith screamed as Mr. Olga rushed over to her pry the doll off of her neck.
Mr. Olga clenched the doll tightly in his claws. He walked outside of his cave, towards the lake of misery and cast the doll threw the doll deep into the lake.
“Well done!” Lilith exclaimed, “Thank you for always taking such good care of me.” She gave Mr. Olga a big hug.
“You’re welcome,” he grunted.
Mr. Olga and Lilith began their walk back to Mr. Olga’s cave to resume their daily adventures. When Mr. Olga went to turn the knob on the cave door, the entire door knob fell off and the door flung open on its own.
Eve was standing there, glaring at both Lilith and Mr. Olga.
“You can’t get rid of me that easily, but it was cute for you to try,” she said.
“Not again! What do you want?” Lilith said.
“I already told you, Lillian. I want to suck the breath right out of you.”
“Okay, but why?”
“You need to change Lillian. It is not good to be so dark. Dark is a form of evil, and there is no place for evil in our world.
“Which is why Lilith comes with me to Sorrowville,” Mr. Olga explained.
“Yeah…about that. Sorrowville’s got to go, too.” Eve said.
“Go? Where?” Lilith asked.
“Bye bye. Sorrowville go bye bye,” the doll said as she struck a match and tossed it towards Mr. Olga. “Lilith, run! REMEMBER: 1 Peter 3:11!”
Lilith woke up covered in sweat and out of breath. Nightmares usually excited Lilith. She found them to be fascinating and entertaining, never scary the way her family and classmates described them. But even Lilith had to admit that the nightmare she just had was absolutely horrifying.
Lilith climbed out of bed and walked towards her window, hoping to find solace. She didn’t think it was still raining, but she always felt at peace with the passing of a storm. She pushed back her black curtains and opened the window by an inch and looked outside.
The sun was beginning to rise. The sky was bright and by society’s definition (though never Lilith’s), it was a beautiful shade of pinks, purples, and a hint of blue. There was no sign of the storm.
Lilith looked down towards the ground and then she saw it. Eve. Her custom-made American Girl Doll. It was holding a sign that read:
“Hi Lillian. I didn’t forget last night. Don’t forget 1 Peter 3:11. Also, remember Proverbs 16:17. Allow me to suck the breath right out of you. Or else. Love, your favorite doll.”
Lilith shut the window and pulled the curtains tight again. She ran into her bed and pulled the covers overhead, hoping to fall back asleep again. Her dreams were bad but reality was somehow even worse. She needed to get back to Sorrowville, back to Mr. Olga. She hoped he had survived the fire, that this dream would bring forth a new adventure, one without that stupid evil doll.
- 2. 1. And she was back into her deep REM Sleep, back in the darkness of Sorrowville.
Only there was no Mr. Olga this time. There was no darkness. The cave was even gone. She was greeted by the doll and a beautiful mansion on a bright and sunny day.
“Are you ready to follow Proverbs 16:17 yet?” she asked. “Will you allow me to suck the breath right out of you? Do you want to live?” she asked.
Lilith could not speak, she had no answers.
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:
Today my bible plan told me to read Chapters 11 and 12 of 1 Corinthians. I was definitely excited to see this on my bible plan for today because 1 Corinthians is my favorite book of the bible. This book has taught me so much about what it means to be a Christian woman and the roles of a man and a woman and the relationship they should have with one another and with God.
When I read these chapters today, verses 4-15 of 1 Corinthians surprised and confused me at first. These verses say that women must keep their heads covered at all times, whereas men are to keep their heads uncovered. The first thing that came to mind was honestly Muslim women. They must always keep their heads covered – is this the same thing? Have I been dishonoring God my whole life? Are the Muslim women onto something?
I breathed a sigh of relief when I read verse 15 which states, “But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” This verse seems to confirm that by a “covering” all that is really meant is hair. But what about women with short hair? Are they dishonoring God? How short is too short?
I decided to Google this issue for more information. Here are 3 sources I looked at:
I feel like most of these sources say “we don’t really know” combined with “it was a cultural thing”. I am leaning towards it being a cultural tradition or custom. If we look back to scripture in verse 2 Paul states, “Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.”
Here, the word “ordinances” stands out the most. I assume an ordinance is a tradition, but what does Google say?
Okay, so not quite tradition but rather law – something much more serious. But whose law is it? Is it God’s law or is it the church’s? Context is everything here. I believe it was church law at the time since Paul is talking to the church of Corinth and helping them to remember their first love – the church. He is helping them to restructure since their church was filled with so much sin and unworthy of honor. In this verse then, Paul is praising them for holding the ordinances – or laws – of the church…the laws that Paul has put into place for them.
Verse 16 also stands out to me where it says, “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the church of God.” Two words stand out to me here: church and custom. I think of the word “custom” the same way that I think of the word “ordinance” – as meaning “tradition”. However, I was wrong about the definition of ordinance, so I could just as well be wrong about the definition of the word “custom”, so let’s look at Google.
Oh look at that – I was right on this one! Paul’s use of the word “custom” here shows he was talking about a tradition. Furthermore, he was talking about a tradition that is very specific for that time period. I believe this means that it’s not a defined, universal law for all of mankind meant to survive the test of time, but rather it was a church law for this specific church or this specific region (the people of Corinth) during that specific time. We can’t know exactly how specific this law was for the people or exactly how Paul intended us to interpret it, but I think it’s safe to assume that this law was for a specific time period. The word “church” used in this verse further confirms that it was a church tradition, not a law ordered by God.
So, where does that leave us and women in the church today? Well, I don’t think it’s “wrong” for women to adhere to this old custom and to choose to wear a head covering, but they also aren’t required to. I think it’s their choice. However, I think that the head covering was a symbol during that time that pledges a woman’s loyalty to her husband. Verses 13-15 states, “Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair; it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” The covering was something specific for women that men were not meant to wear. I think our society/culture has created its own version of that today. Some of the above sources I looked at say that it’s wedding rings, but I don’t think that is quite right because men wear wedding rings, too. However, I think they are on the right tract. This is what I think it is:
Yes, I know sometimes men will wear an engagement ring these days, but it is still far less common and by some even considered “taboo”. Male engagement rings are also usually much more masculine than female engagement rings (the traditional diamond ring). In the past when Paul was talking to the church of Corinth the head coverings were meant for married women to wear as a symbol of their loyalty to their husbands. I think the engagement ring has the same purpose in our culture today. A woman who is about to be married wears it to show her loyalty to her husband. Once the woman is married she adds a wedding ring but the woman usually wears the engagement ring with the wedding ring. Either way, it is still a symbol of her loyalty to her husband.
Another verse from chapter 11 that stood out to me was verse 17 that states, “Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worst.” Here Paul is condemning the church of Corinth for saying that the church is not uniting in a way that lifts up the congregation, but rather, it tears them down. When I read this I thought of the people of Corinth staring at women and whispering things like “Look at her hair, it’s not nearly long enough!” (assuming that the head covering was a woman’s hair and not an actual head piece). What good would that do? Paul is saying we shouldn’t be quick to judge and gossip and bring down people in the church, but instead we should unite and help each other out, for we are the body of Christ and when one member stumbles it is our job to help them back up.
1 Corinthians Chapter 12 further discusses the body of Christ and the role of the church and its members. In verse 26 Paul says, “And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it, or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” This reminds me of what Pastor Lex DeLong has preached – we are all united in Christ. We are one body of Christ and when one of our brothers and sisters of Christ falls, we all fall. When one of us rejoices, we all rejoices. We are all made up of one.
I don’t think this is the case in a lot of churches today and that makes me really sad. There are too many churches that are quick to judge, scorn, and gossip when one of the members sins or goes through a rough patch in life. Not only is that unbiblical, but I think that is sin in itself. God doesn’t want us to scorn other church members. I think he would want us to confront the individual and to help them to correct their behavior, but that’s it. The key word here: help. He would want us to help our brother or sister in Christ back up and if we’re gossiping and judging, that is not helping.
When I read these verses I also felt extremely thankful and blessed to belong to such a wonderful church now – Washington Baptist Church in Turnersville, NJ. We are not perfect, as nobody is except God, but I do believe that we are doing an incredible job with striving to become the kind of church Paul talks about in the bible in chapters like Corinth. I know that from my experience being a member of this church we are a group of people that make up the body of Christ that really does care for and love one another. Some churches I’ve been to and you’re just another nameless face. Yes, our church is small, but I truly believe that even if we grew exponentially, this would still be the kind of church where everyone takes the time to get to know everyone and to pray for each other. When someone is hurting in the church, we all feel it and when someone is succeeding, we feel their joy. We’ve cried together as a church, but we’ve also laughed, smiled, rejoiced, and ate way more than we probably should (we’re a church that really loves food :)).
Are you looking for a new church to attend? Washington Baptist Church would love to have you! Come join us for Sunday School on Sundays at 9:30 followed by our sermon at 10:30. For more information:
I was off of all jobs today so it was one of the rare occasions when I was able to wear a t-shirt and jeans. I embraced the opportunity by wearing one of my new Jeremy Camp shirts that I purchased at the concert I attended on April 29th that I briefly wrote about in my last blog. The shirt is all black and white and it says on it “I want my life to be only Christ in Me”. The phrase was taken from Jeremy Camp’s song, “Christ In Me”.
The official music video for Jeremy Camp’s “Christ In Me”, which my shirt is based off of.
Even though today was my day off, I had many places to go and errands to run. One of these errands included a trip to ShopRite for groceries. As my dad and I were bagging the cashier asked me about my shirt. It took me a few minutes to realize she was talking to me because it was hard to hear her (If you’ve ever been to the Glassboro ShopRite then you should know how loud that store can get). The woman asked me where I got my shirt from so I told her it was a Jeremy Camp concert and she told me that she recognized the song from somewhere.
The woman and I then continued to share stories of different Christian musicians we’ve seen live including Danny Gokey, TobyMac, Casting Crowns, Natalie Grant, the Newsboys, and various others. She told me about something called Loop Events and she wrote down the website on some receipt paper to give to me.
She briefly explained what it was to me. Through Loop Events people like me and her can volunteer to help out at different Christian concerts and tours. It is a way to use your God-given talents and skills to help reach others that attend these shows, people who may not be yet saved. The volunteers might help to sell merchandise for the artist or give out information on sponsoring a child for an organization that specializes in that or help pass out information from KLove or another Christian radio station. It may not sound like much, but it gives you an opportunity to interact with people even if just for a few minutes or even seconds and those minutes or seconds can be life-changing, even if just for one out of thousands of people. That one conversation, that 1 person can make the biggest difference sometimes.
The woman also told me how tough it could be sometimes to work as a cashier at ShopRite. She was an older woman – I’d say probably about 60, and as a former cashier myself, I definitely sympathized with her. However, she said, “Everyone tells me God has me here for a reason, but sometimes it’s hard especially when I’m not really supposed to talk about him to people”. I loved how she tried to look at her job, one that she wasn’t too fond of (not many of us are fond of cashier jobs) in a positive light and as a way that can be used to worship and honor God and share his word (even though it’s not always easy). That to me was inspirational and commendable. I also understood all too well how relieved she must have felt to see me coming in wearing a Jeremy Camp shirt and therefore almost giving her permission to share her faith with me. I feel that a lot too. It’s hard to be a Christian in today’s society because our current society seems so determined to shut God out. Opportunities like this one to share the gospel and our love for Christ seem to becoming few and rare between.
When I got home tonight I looked up Loop Events. Unfortunately there aren’t any opportunities around me to volunteer at the moment, but I will keep an eye out. I would love to volunteer; I go to mostly all of these local shows anyway and I’d love to share my faith in Christ and connect with other concert-goers and perhaps make some friends along the way.
Have any of you guys used Loop before? If so – what was your experience like?
Today I read chapters 9-10 of 1 Corinthians. There were several parts of chapter 10 that really stood out to me. The first verse that caught my attention was one that I have previously highlighted and it is 1 Corinthians 10:21 which states, “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakes of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.” What this verse means is we have to be careful who we choose to spend our time with, what activities we decide to partake in, and really what we VALUE in this world. Do we value God or do we value man? You can have God or the world, but you can’t have both things.
This reminds me a lot of the Jeremy Camp song, “Give Me Jesus”. I saw Jeremy Camp perform a phenomenal show at Living Waters church in Burlington last weekend and the words really stayed with me in this song in particular. The words of this song are very simple and it works. Perhaps that was Camp’s point even – to strip the song of the bare necessities – Jesus. The chorus simply states, “Give me Jesus. Give me Jesus, Give me Jesus. You can have all this world, Just give me Jesus” (Camp). If you’re a Christian and you are truly saved and truly choose to follow God and to live in Christ, that’s all you need in the world. When we die and go to heaven nothing here on Earth is going to matter; the only thing that matters is our love and belief in Christ.
Here is a lyric video featuring Jeremy Camp’s “Give Me Jesus”. Thanks to iamSB for posting it on YouTube!
Another passage that stood out to me was 1 Corinthians 10: 26 which states, “For the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” God created this earth and everything on it including all of mankind. We need to honor God in all that we do and remember to whom we belong. This ties in with verse 31, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” As Christians and disciples of God we need to consider our actions and how we live our lives and the things we choose to partake in each day. Are we glorifying and honoring God? Do our actions show us as being God’s people? Can everyone see Christ in us?
1 Corinthians 10 concludes with verse 33 which states, “Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” It is important for us to live Godly lives and to act in a way and to live in a way that is god-pleasing and god-honoring so that people will see Christ in us so that we may reach those who are not saved and to help to bring them to Christ. This doesn’t mean we have to be perfect; we will never be perfect. It just means that we will strive to be the people that God created us to be and that people will see Christ in us and be so inspired by our lives and the way we live in Christ, that they will be compelled to follow Christ, too.
The controlling values of 1 Corinthians 10 might look something like this:
Purpose: We must reject the world to follow God.
Context: Following the world will cause us to sin, commit idolatry, and separate us from God.
The opposing controlling values may look like this:
Purpose: Following the world will give us more opportunities and grant us higher status among society.
Context: Chasing materialistic worldly things can never fully satisfy us; only the love and grace of a savior can fulfill us.
Actually, looking at that again now after letting it sit, perhaps the opposing controlling value may be:
Purpose: If we don’t follow the world, we will be missing out.
Context: Following the world closes the door on God where we will receive better gifts than what the world can give us.
Am I living a Christ-focused life? I want to think yes, but to be honest, this is something I need to work on. Attending a public university and juggling my Master’s courses with teaching and working full time can be a challenge. I am guilty of putting God on the backburner so I can do all of these other things when in reality God should always be my priority. When people look at me and my life, is God the first thing that comes to mind? I’d like to think so, but I can’t help but think they see me as being a student or a social media marketer first and a Christian second. I need to fix this.
These verses really touched me today because 1. I need to get back to reading my Bible on a daily basis and not just immersing myself in his word, but LIVING his word and living for Christ and not the world. Also, 1 Corinthians 10:33 reminds me so much of my mission statement and what I want to accomplish in life; to please God. I am writing a novel not for my own gain and not for my audience’s gain, but for the glory of God. Everything that I do in life is for God’s glory and to honor and serve him and to share his love and his word with others. This is something that is so easy to forget and something I need to be reminded of. When I grow tired and when I question my work and why I am doing this, I remember him. None of this is for me, it’s all for him and I am exactly where God wants me to be doing the things he wants me to do for him.