Show of hands: Who’s seen the film, Coraline? I have, but I do not remember it as well as I remembered the book. I read the book first, so that is probably why. I did it in the “right” order. The best thing about this story is that it is engaging for adults, even though it is marketed as a children’s book.
Frankly, if I read this at a young age, I would have been terrified. My first impression, as an adult, is that Coraline is a Carroll-esque tale. There are several parallels between Alice (of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass) and Coraline, and there is an ambivalent cat in each (although the Chesire cat is decidedly more Puckish). Even the malleable and ephemeral natures of the alternate worlds are comparable. After that, comparisons break down. Alice is in a world of dream, created from her own mind and only existing in the subconscious of a sleep state. Coraline travels from her reality to an other reality, created or maintained by an evil creature. Alice is never in any real danger. Coraline is in a world of danger. This is the attraction of the story. We all have some level of fear about a world beyond our control that may exist alongside our own. Certainly the world’s religions (and pathologists) have a greater grasp on this concept than most people. It is a reality for them. Alice must simply wake up. The draw of Gaiman’s story, then, is how Coraline reasons her way out.
This brings me to the coolest thing about this story, for me. In my post on Fragile Things, I mentioned that I came across Gaiman’s books due to a college class about adaptations in literature. One of the requirements was to adapt a book we read into something of our own, just to see how the creative process worked. All we needed was a concept and a plan. I thought Coraline would make the perfect Choose Your Own Adventure story. (I loved those books as a kid, and I’m in good company. Apparently Neil Patrick Harris loved those books, too. I digress.) I mapped out five of the major turning points and reworked them as decision points. Then, I wrote out the possible alternate scenarios if the reader–choosing for Coraline–picked an option other than that in the original plot. It was an interesting project, and one I enjoyed very much.
Basically, Coraline is the kind of book that says: With a little intuition, a lot of bravery, and a good friend, you can get through any tough spot. It ends as a feel-good story about a girl who overcomes a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, but the whole book is not sugary sweet as all that. Coraline faces challenges, and she must make difficult decisions. She also must trust a little to luck. I loved this story the first time I read it, and I enjoyed reading it again.