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Coraline by Neil Gaiman

The Hardest Button to Button

Neil Gaiman's short novel Coraline is a frightening fantasy that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'the grass is always greener on the other side'. Coraline Jones is an adventurous girl trapped in a small community in England, living in an apartment with her dull parents, eccentric neighbors who can never remember her name, and a mysterious black cat. The neighbors, Misses Spink and Forcible, are retired from the theater. Mr. Bobo, a foreign circus man who claims to be training his own circus of mice, lives in the flat above Coraline's. One rainy day when Coraline was stuck inside, unbearably bored, her father suggested exploring the flat. It was on this expedition that Coraline discovered a secret door in the drawing room. Coraline was greatly disappointed to find the door opened up to a brick wall. The next day the rain had stopped, so Coraline went for a walk. Mr. Bobo called to her from his flat, telling her his mice did not want her to go through the door. Having forgotten all about the bricked up doorway in the drawing room, this message had no meaning to Coraline, so she continued on her walk to Misses Spink and Forcible's flat. They invited her in for tea and, when she was finished, read her tea leaves. The ladies got into a brief argument about what the leaves foretold before deciding Coraline was in grave danger. They gave Coraline advice she didn't understand like 'don't wear green in the dressing room' and 'don't mention the Scottish play', then gave her a small stone with a hole in the center for protection. Coraline, who was excited and only a little concerned by this ominous premonition returned home, ate dinner, and went to bed. The next day, while her mother was out buying groceries, Coraline opened the door again and was astonished to find the brick wall gone. In its place she found a dark portal to which she could see no end. Being the fearless explorer she was, Coraline walked through the tunnel. On the other side she found another flat that looked exactly like her own. In this flat she discovered she had an 'other mother'. The other mother was much more fun than Coraline's real mother, who always focused on work, and she seemed to love Coraline much, much more. Her other father was also more fun and the food tasted better than anything her real parents made. The toys in Coraline's other bedroom were much more interesting than her toys back home. They crawled and writhed and fluttered about her room, welcoming her as she entered. Coraline loved this place, and was almost tempted to stay there and be loved by the other mother forever...until she found out she had to sew buttons into her own eyes. This frightened Coraline, so she hurried back through the tunnel to her real home. This act of 'rebellion' made the other mother angry, so she kidnapped Coraline's real parents. Coraline was having a nightmare, only she wasn't asleep. It was reality and she had no parents to go to for comfort. With the help of a talking cat from the real world, Coraline sets out to find her real parents and escape from the other mother. On her biggest adventure yet, Coraline discovers the true meaning of love, and the courage it takes to love what you have.

Gaiman's message is although it's easy to succumb to boredom, but it takes courage and imagination to love what you have been given. Gaiman achieves sending this message through a variety of characters and situations. When Coraline realizes her parents have been kidnapped by the other mother, she doesn't hesitate in finding a way to rescue them. First she tells Miss Spink.

“I haven't seen either of them since yesterday. I'm on my own. I think I've probably become a single child family.”

“Tell your mother that we found the Glasgow Empire press clippings we were telling her about. She seemed very interested when Miriam mentioned them to her” (Gaiman 50).

Coraline's second attempt is to call the police, but the officer obviously doesn't believe her.
“And do you know who stole them?” asked the police officer. Coraline could hear the smile in his voice, and she tried extra hard to sound like an adult might sound, to make him take her seriously”(Gaiman 54). Coraline finally decided to take matters into her own hands, faced her fears, and went back through the door in the drawing room, back to the other mother who scared her more than anything in either of the worlds. She decided to go back because she loved her parents, and, she realized, love takes courage. The talking cat had trouble finding that courage. It was very self-centered and treated Corline as if she were inferior to it. But it did not understand her love for her parents. Coraline told the cat a story about when her father rescued her from an angry wasp nest, and it though that that was the only reason she was trying to save her parents, it didn't understand that she loved them. The other mother can neither create nor love. That is why she was defeated in the end. She, Coraline was not a daughter to her, but a possession. Something to feed off of.

“Why does she want me?” Coraline asked the cat. “Why does she want me to stay here with her?”

“She wants something to love, I think,” said the cat. “Something that isn't her. She might want something to eat as well. It's hard to tell with creatures like that”(Gaiman 65).

The impact of this message is enhanced by the many symbols found throughout the story. Perhaps the most important of these symbols is the button eyes. The other mother wanted Coraline to forget about the real world and stay with her forever. She wanted to blind Coraline to the life she used to have, close her eyes to everything she once knew, and remain ignorant to the fact that the other mother didn't love her like a real mother would. Unlike the other children the other mother had tricked, Coraline wasn't going to give in. She wasn't going to give in easily, blind herself to her real world, her real parents. She was going to fight back with love and creativity. The actual writing is very creative. Some of the words or phrases may be a little bit hard for the American reader to understand because of the use of British slang terms, but none of it is impossible to figure out. Stunningly realistic characters, vivid settings, and common ideas such as emotions and thoughts, made this piece of fiction seem almost real. It convinces the reader that a girl who is small for her age really can defeat loathing and restriction with love and imagination.

Coraline was an amazing story. The mixture of humor and horror was just right, engulfing the reader in an adventure he or she won't soon forget. Although this is a fictional novel (I'm fairly certain I don't have an other mother fervently plotting to lure me into her realm through a brickless brick wall behind a locked door to pretend to love me and sew buttons into my eyes than take my soul), Gaiman did a wonderful job capturing the personalities of his characters and conveying his ideas to the reader, so that the story seemed quite plausible. There have been many stories about the importance of love and seemingly weak or unimportant, everyday people becoming heroes because of quick and creative thinking. Very few, however, create such an eclectic group and bring these diffident characters to life as well as Neil Gaiman did in Coraline. The development of the protagonist Coraline is what really stands out. In the beginning, Coraline thought the only way her life could be interesting was if her mother bought her Day-Glo green gloves and frog-shaped Wellington boots. By the end of the story she realizes that life is not about getting what you want, but the journey to getting what you want. “I don't want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I wanted? Just like that and it didn't mean anything. What then”(Gaiman 120)? The cat, too, changed from a self-centered, independent being, to someone who realizes that nobody can live without love. When Coraline rescued it from the other world, the cat came to the realization that it couldn't live so independently. It needed a companion to look out for it. The other mother never realized this. She never loved anyone or created anything of her own. She copied the real world, copied the real parents and neighbors and homes of children to bring them into her world and live off their souls. And she was defeated. Coraline explains the importance of overcoming boredom as an obstacle, and create something out of it. Be courageous and turn it into love.




Works Cited

Gaiman, Neil. Coraline. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. Print.



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