Coraline, among other things

09May10

Last night I went to a reading of Harold Pinter’s Ashes to Ashes for some of the Board and Faculty of the Psychoanalytic Institute, and it was wonderful, as was the discussion with audience and actors afterwards. On the surface the play is a wife telling her husband about an affair which may or may not have happened during their marriage, but it ends up being about (at least on a level close to the surface) the loss of her child to a Nazi officer who may or may not have been her lover. I’m tempted to spend this post talking about the play, but I do want to get to Coraline for Karen. As is so often the case, this will probably be a two or three part post.

image from Wikipedia

Karen asked that I read Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, illustrated by Dave McKean, who did the front cover art I picked up here from Wikipedia. In her comment she suggested that the book is about mothering and independence, which it is on one level. She also quoted Gaiman as saying that children read this book as an adventure, but to adults it’s horror. I think I read him as saying that it gives adults nightmares. Either is fascinating: why the difference? Gaiman also said that this is the book he’s most proud of.

Coraline won Hugo and Nebula Awards in 2003 and the Bram Stoker Award in 2004, and was made into the award winning movie by Henry Selick in 2009 with Dakota Fanning playing the lead character. I’ve seen the movie, which differed a bit from the book, but I won’t go into that now, either.

Coraline and her mother and father move into a new home, a huge old house that has been divided into four apartments. One of the apartments is vacant and Coraline’s family has the adjacent one. Upstairs is Mr. Bobo and his mouse circus and downstairs are Mrs. Spink and Miss Forcible, who are retired actresses (more or less). A black cat wanders the grounds. Coraline is pretty much benignly ignored by her busy mother and father and spends her time exploring the house and its environs. Coraline discovers a door in their unused drawing room that once led to unrented apartment, but now opens with a huge iron key to reveal only a brick wall. She hears scuttling noises in the night. Mrs. Spink and Miss Forcible read the tea leaves and tell Coraline she’s in danger. They give her a stone with a hole through it, telling her that it may help. Mr. Bobo tells Coraline the mice say she’s in danger and to be careful.

Coraline gets the key and opens the door, finding a tunnel to another world and the intimation of a presence that’s very old, and very slow. The other world is similar to her own but with small, disturbing  differences. She meets button-eyed doppelgangers of her mother and her father. Unlike her real mother and father, these are attentive. She’s served favorite foods and allowed to explore. The same black cat is there, but he’s able to talk. Still, there are things that disturb, a sense of not-quite-rightness. The toys seem to be alive. The old man upstairs (who also has button eyes) has rats, not mice, and the song they sing is ominous. The real black cat is there and can talk.

Coraline asks the cat if it is the “other cat” in the same sense as her “other mother” and “other father.” The cat answers, “You people are spread all over the place. Cats, on the other hand, keep ourselves together. If you see what I mean.” The cat tells her she was sensible to bring protection, and advises her to hang onto it, but does not explain. Coraline sees a disturbing stage production by other Mrs. Spinks and other Miss Forcible, then goes back into her own apartment and meets other mother. Other mother tells her she can stay forever and always if she wants to. Coraline touches the stone with the hole in it, in her pocket. There’s only one thing she has to do . . . button eyes.

So, what do the button eyes mean? Who do the other parents represent? The post is already too long, so more tomorrow (evening).

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One Response to “Coraline, among other things”


  1. 1 Instructions « FreePlayTherapy

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