Monday, March 9, 2009


By Neil Gaiman

This book made me think of fairy tales.

No, not the Disney-fied fairy tales that we’re all so familiar with. I mean the oldest and most unaltered ones, the ones that aren’t afraid to be scary or gruesome or cruel. The ones in which Cinderella’s stepsisters cut off their heels or toes so that their feet will fit into the glass slipper, or the three pigs trap the Big Bad Wolf in a pot and cook the flesh from his bones.

Coraline is like that. The title character innocently steps through a door in her new home to find herself in a place very much like that home, but more “interesting,” where an “other mother” with button eyes longs to keep Coraline for her very own. It doesn’t take Coraline very long at all to figure out that it is not a pleasant place. Bad things happen there: parents disappear, children lose their souls, familiar faces melt and morph into horrifying caricatures. Like the darkest fairy tales, this story is unabashedly and unrelentingly dark, off-kilter and sinister. Here, however, there is no handsome prince to save little Coraline. She must rely on herself and the erratic help of a very catlike cat.

Like most fairy tales, for those paying attention, Coraline has a lot to say about life and the world around us. It may even have a moral. The movie ads come right out and say it, with the cat intoning solemnly, “Be careful what you wish for,” but the book is never so obvious. I found myself musing on the nature of evil, the relationships between children and adults, even symbolism (I’m lousy at deciphering symbolism, but I’m pretty sure this book has it in abundance).

Finally, in the end, like the best fairy tales, this story has a happy ending. This book may be in the children’s section of the library, but it has a lot to offer adults, too. 4.5/5 stars


Lula O said...

This review reminded me that I've always wanted to read a book on the Grimm brothers. Original fairy tales are definitely more interesting than their cleaned up versions. This was a good book, and like I've said, that spidery, boney hand freaked me out! Yeech..the stuff of nightmares.

The Bradfords said...

I loved this book. I was just amazed at the morals and philosophies woven into the story. I need to re-read it and take notes. It was incredibly creepy, especially that hand!!! I covered the illustration on that page as I read.

You're right Stephanie, it is like the real fairy tales. I like the connection there. I have a fabulous version of Snow White where the queen is forced to wear iron shoes straight out of the fire and dance in them until she dies. Sometimes I like to tell my kids those real versions just to keep it real--"The Little Mermaid" anyone???? But it doesn't matter. They head right back to the Disney-fied version every time. At such times they probably think I'm their "other mother".

Are you going to see the movie? I don't know if it will be too scary for my Disney-fied daughters. I'd love to hear if anyone has seen it. The critics don't have enough good to say about it.

Tanja said...

I liked this book as well. I agree with suzette about all the little truths that are found in the book. I look forward to seeing the movie, except the large breasts they put on the old ladies

Stephanie said...

From now on, when I'm cranky and lose my temper, I'll say it wasn't me -- it was the "other mother!"

That hand...[shudder]. The illustrations, too. Come to think of it, big breasts on the old ladies is shudder-worthy as well!

Lula O said...

I'm finding the blaming the "other mother" theory very intriguing. Ah, if only that was true.