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:
I know I shouldn’t have expected much from this book and honestly being someone who is completely obsessed with J.D. Salinger’s classic, The Catcher and the Rye I shouldn’t have picked up this piece of trash (it does not deserve to be called a book) in the first place, but curiosity got the best of me. Actually, that’s not entirely true. The thing is I just really love Holden Caulfield and I’ve missed him and was excited about the possibility of seeing him brought back to life again, even if it was 60 years later, with a new story. However, this isn’t the aged version of Holden Caulfield that I thought it would be.
This piece of trash starts off with Holden Caulfield in a retirement home. He seems to be surprised by the fact that he’s old and I’m left wondering if he has dementia or Alzheimer’s or another degenerative disease. He is really confused which seems out of character for Holden. However, I tried to put that past me and give the book a chance. But the thing is California makes it hard to give this piece of trash a chance because the more you read, the worst it gets.
This piece of trash didn’t really have a plot or a point or a purpose or any kind of organized structure. I guess that explains why the book was self-published (I mean absolutely no offense to those who are actual credible writers that self-publish…I just mean for this guy clearly there were no other options – who would want to publish this garbage under than him?). Most of this piece of trash is just about Holden wandering around aimlessly. He escapes his retirement home and then just goes to New York and Boston and randomly comes across people from his childhood like Stradlater. Phoebe’s there too and Holden’s obsession with her is downright creepy and leaves the reader feeling uncomfortable. I can understand how Holden would still see his sister 60 years later, but Stradlater? Really? And I mean it’s 60 years later – there’s a chance he could’ve even been dead to be honest. The chances of Holden staying in touch are slim to none and the book even seems to acknowledge that in a way; Holden seems surprised to find Stradlater. It doesn’t make much sense; it just feels like the author’s lame attempt to re-write The Catcher in the Rye and you don’t mess with a classic.
There’s some new characters in this piece of trash, too and they come off as well, trashy. Charlie is one of the main characters and I’m totally confused on who she is and why she’s in this sad excuse of a book. I think she was one of Holden’s students? But when was he ever a teacher? Did he ever even go to or finish college? California never addresses those questions – he just randomly places her in the book and the next thing you know she’s having a threesome with her boyfriend and the elderly Holden Caulfield. It’s sick and there’s no reason why it needs to be in the story at all.
Another noteworthy character in this piece of trash is J.D. Salinger himself. Yes, because it’s totally normal to write a spinoff of a book and to throw the original author in their randomly. Sure. Salinger has no purpose in being in this book, but then again neither does anyone else. I have no idea what was even going on in this part of the book. I know Holden found a notebook and he went to return it to his son but his son was J.D. Salinger? Or did I misread it? Does California even know which is which? Sometimes I don’t think he even knows what he’s doing. It made no sense. If Salinger was his son then everything would be backwards. Salinger is older than Holden? I don’t even know…
But I haven’t even gotten to the best part of this trash. Have I told you about Holden’s bladder yet? Now I know it might sound weird for me to talk about Holden’s bladder and you might think it’s something you really don’t need to know about, but trust me when I say that John David California wants you to know about Holden Caulfield’s bladder. In fact, California went so far as to make sure he wrote about Holden’s bladder no less than every 2-3 pages throughout the entire novel. I don’t think this piece of trash has a point at all, but if it did I bet it would probably have something to do with Holden’s bladder.
What do I mean by “Holden’s bladder?” I mean just that. I know every single time Holden has a full bladder, when he think he might have a full bladder, when his bladder is so full it causes him pain, and when he doesn’t realize he has a full bladder until it’s too late. I already mentioned that most of the novel involves Holden aimlessly wandering around. I lied. He’s not “just” aimlessly walking around – he’s also urinating on everything in sight because his bladder is always overflowing and there’s never a bathroom around but if there is one Holden would rather not use it. Why does the reader need to know this? We really don’t, trust me, California. The only reason I can think of as to why the sad excuse of an author decided this was important was because it was a sad attempt to show that Holden is 60 years older and obviously developed urinary incontinence.
California’s portrayal of an elderly Holden is disgraceful at best. He seems to play on the stereotype that all elderly men live in retirement homes, can’t control their bladders, and are confused. This isn’t just stereotyping, it feels like blatant ageism. Holden deserves better than this.
After reading 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye I’m left feeling disgusted and ashamed to even admit I’ve read this. It also makes me want to go rushing back to the original classic The Catcher in the Rye. I bet I’ll love it and appreciate it now more than ever.
I’m also left with two words to say:
I’m sorry to Mr. Salinger who never wanted this book released and who went so far as to have it banned from the US (I had to order it online specially to obtain a copy). I’m sorry for not respecting his wishes. I’m sorry that the book was ever written. I’m sorry the book was published. I’m sorry the book is banned from all parts of the world and that more people are still reading this piece of trash.
Holden deserved better and so did Salinger.
Hey guys! I know you already know by now what I’m going to say; I SUCK at the 30 Day Writing Challenge. It’s May 14th and I’m only on Day 8. But in my defense, at least I’m writing on a regular basis, right? Also, some of my entries have been really long and detailed…one of them even had to be broken in 2 posts!
So anyway, Day 8 of the 30 Day Writing Challenge asks me to write about a book I love and one I don’t.
If you’ve been following my blog, it should come to no surprise that I LOVE The Catcher in the Rye. I mean, I did recently write about how I’m obsessed with J.D. Salinger and everything. If you’ve been following my blog for a longer time, you might even remember my rant on how awful I thought The Hunger Games to be; it’s probably my #1 most hated book of all time.
These two novels are vastly different from one another. However, I can easily compare and contrast them to show why I loved one and hated the other. Here’s why I loved one and hated the other.
I had very different expectations for these two novels. When I first read The Catcher in the Rye, I was a junior in high school. I never heard of the book before. I thought based on the title this book would be about baseball or something. I wasn’t really looking forward to reading it, but I had to for school. I never expected to love it as much as I did.
In contrast, my expectations for The Hunger Games were extremely high. I first read this book my senior year of college, when it was exploding with popularity and the first film was released. I was required to read this book for my Writing Children’s Stories class, but had every intention to read it on my own even if it wasn’t part of my required college reading. I heard so much buzz about this book that I had to see what the big deal was. I also loved the concept/idea around it. I knew it had to do with a dystopian society and it sounded fascinating. However, the book never came close to meeting my expectations. It was incredibly disappointing.
These two books vary greatly on their use of dialogue. Catcher in the Rye has a fair amount of dialogue. The reader gets to see how Holden interacts with several characters including his teachers, Phoebe, Sally, Jane, etc. The dialogue helps to keep the story moving and brings it to life. While the novel is told in first person by Holden and we primarily are exposed to Holden’s thoughts and views, we can still get up close to other characters from the dialogue.
On the other hand, The Hunger Games uses very little dialogue. Katniss tells us what is happening. We also get long chunks of text that describe the setting and scenery. After reading this book I still didn’t feel like I knew Peeta, even though he was one of the main characters. All of the characters were easy to forget and I didn’t connect or relate to any of them. It was a really boring, long-winded story.
Character Driven Vs. Plot Driven
The Catcher in the Rye is definitely a character driven story. There is no doubt about it. Without Holden Caulfield, you have no story. The story is about Holden’s state of mental health, his thoughts, his feelings, and his actions. It makes him easy to remember and connect with. I really love the character driven style.
In contrast, The Hunger Games was definitely plot driven. The story is about a society where food is scarce and there are too many people to feed. The characters really don’t matter that much in this story. You can get rid of Katniss (please do, she is so annoying) and/or Peeta, and still have your story. I felt that with the plot driven story, I could never really get to know the characters all that well. They weren’t memorable or easy to connect or relate to. They were just kind of there taking up space on the page.
I think that the writer’s histories and their own personalities and maybe even the time periods they grew up in had a lot to do with their writing style. It was very very different.
J. D. Salinger is a classic writer, and I have always loved classic novels. Classic writers took their writing VERY seriously, and it shows. Salinger was fanatical about his writing, even if he didn’t publish it all and often said he regretted ever writing Catcher in the Rye. He would lock himself up for hours on hours every single day to write. He didn’t want a life outside of his writing at all. He’d write, revise, edit, rewrite, rinse and repeat. The result? A well-planned, well researched, well-written novel.
Salinger also had one sole purpose for his writing: for his own personal use and enjoyment. I don’t think Salinger’s intention was ever to make a lot of money off of it. I know it probably influenced him (why else would he submit to The New Yorker?), but he hated the fame that came with it. Also, much of his writing is based on personal experience, especially in The Catcher in the Rye. I think his writing was in many ways his way to collect his thoughts and ideas for his own peace of mind/mental health.
Suzanne Collins is a very different kind of writer. She is much less experienced and was likely just writing for fame and money. I don’t see her novel as leaving a lasting impact on people the way Catcher in the Rye did. I also don’t think much of her life was influenced by this novel. The Hunger Games didn’t give me the impression that Collins spent a lot of time doing research or revising her work. Actually, it was just the opposite. The Hunger Games read like a first draft to me. It was very messy and sloppy and as a writer, I was very disappointed in the sloppy writing from this “famous” author.
These are just a few of the differences between The Catcher in the Rye and The Hunger Games that explain why I loved one and hated the other. Have you ever read either (or both) of these novels? What was your opinion of them?