Love Thy Mother: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman’s mild horror novella Coraline (2002) is a book I keep returning to whenever I find myself missing my own mother, and that is definitely the case today, during the Mother’s Day weekend. The story of Coraline is one where numerous contemporary parents and children could recognize themselves: the desperately bored little girl looking for adventure and companionship,  loads of time on her hands, the constantly busy, mildly disinterested parents, the geriatric part-senile neighbours, the appeal of the unknown. The straightforward third-person-narrative limited to Coraline’s perspective and matter-of-fact retelling of the events and conclusions drawn by the child-protagonist provides for a riveting story with a powerful message. As a masterful stylist that he is, Gaiman effortlessly pulls his readers into the story transporting them among the reality, the dream, and the dreamlike reality of Coraline’s world while leaving enough of murky space in-between to allow them to either embrace the button-eyed fantasy or hold tightly onto the clear-cut reality.

CoralineCoraline and her parents live in a rather shabby old house surrounded by elderly eccentric neighbours. One rainy day, as it usually happens, Coraline is left to her own devices and she decides to explore the mysterious, walled-up door in the living room that is supposed to lead nowhere, but that turns out to be a portal into another life, seemingly parallel to Coraline’s own. However, Coraline discovers that this door is a mouse-trap for snatching children set by the ‘other mother’, the woman who lives on the other side, who resembles Coraline’s own mother, except for a very significant difference – the black buttons sown into the sockets of her eyes. Despite the other mother’s great efforts, Coraline does not get sucked into this vortex and she grows to learn a significant lesson – love and accept your parents for who they are. Growing up raised by my grandparents and great-aunts and uncles fostering their own quirks and eccentricities, while my parents were constantly away for work, this is a lesson of which I needed to be constantly reminded. 

The other world seems highly appealing, with all of the other parents’ attention focusedOther Mother Coraline solely on Coraline, but she soon realises that she does not need all that smothering. She needs to rescue her own parents, who have been imprisoned in a glass snow globe by the other mother and kept on the mantlepiece in her flat. In the course of the rescue mission, and with the help of a faithful follower, the black cat, Coraline manages to save the souls of three other children who had been imprisoned by the other mother a long time ago. Eventually, she finds herself back in her own flat, asleep in the rarely-used living room, her parents back in front of their computer screens without any memory of having been trapped in a snow globe, yet she knows that it is still not over: Coraline and the cat need to get rid of one last thing – the other mother’s emissary, her ghostly-white right hand with blood-coloured claws that is still lurking in Coraline’s world trying to get hold of the old rusty key that opens the dark portal. This is where Gaiman spills fantasy into reality like a bucket of sudsy water into a freshly mowed garden, and makes the readers hold tightly onto their seats right until the very end of the ride.

© 2017 Erna G. – All Rights Reserved

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