Friday, July 16, 2021

My Thoughts on Coraline.

 To my dearest friends and followers,

A couple weeks ago, I went to the local library and borrowed a small stack of books, one of those being Coraline by Neil Gaiman.
So...Coraline is an interesting one haha. It's a book that was published in 2002 and in 2009 it was adapted into a stop-motion claymation film with Laika.

I was aware when the Coraline film came out. My parents wouldn't have let me watch it, but it reminded me of Tim Burton's films which I also wasn't allowed to watch. That's probably a good thing, because having seen them now, I think they would have really scared me at the time.

In the summer of 2019, someone asked me and my husband if we'd seen the movie and then proceeded to tell us a little bit about it (if you're reading this, thanks Brianna 💜). It sounded creepy as hell, but it also intrigued me. I thought, "I should give that a watch." And then I put that in the back of my brain and didn't come back to it until early 2020. So my husband and I watched the movie.
So, here's the thing. I like scary movies. But for some reason, animated creepiness is more terrifying to me than live-action creepyness.
Basically, I thought the Coraline movie was REALLY creepy and disturbing. I wasn't sure if I even liked the movie or not. But it's one of those movies that you can't stop thinking about.
Earlier this year, I watched the movie again with my sister. And last week, I read the novella.
If you haven't read the book or seen the movie, then you might want to skip this post because I'm going to be giving away spoilers. XD

There are a few differences between the book and the movie. I'm honestly having a hard time deciding which I liked better as I can now say I enjoyed them both. The movie features a character not in the book: Wybie (short for Why Were You Born). Horrible, right? But he's a likable enough character and it's fun to see someone else in the movie who is Coraline's age. I kind of wish he was in the book.
The other thing is, the beldam seems to know what Coraline wants and what she (Coraline) thinks she's missing in life. How does she know this? In the movie, it seems to be through the eyes of the doll she made that Coraline now possesses. In the book, it's a little unclear how she knows, though we do see a spider-like shadow which seems to be her spying on Coraline.

I did a bit of research about the beldam and I found very little. I wanted to know, what is a beldam? Is it a creature found in folklore in different cultures? Is it a monster who appears in several fairy tales? I don't know. It seems maybe Neil Gaiman invented it, but don't quote me on that. What I did find, is that beldam basically means "witch". So who is the beldam in Coraline?

To answer that, I suppose we must first look at who Coraline is. Coraline Jones is around 10 years old when her family moves in to a new house. Only it's a very large victorian house that's been divided up into multiple apartments. Coraline's parents work at home and ignore her and want her to keep quiet and keep to herself. She's not allowed to play outside in the rain, and she's not allowed into the drawing room of the house. So her life seems rather dull. She loves exploring and has a wild imagination though. 
At one point when her mother asked where she was, she answered by saying she was "kidnapped by aliens," but managed to escape by "wearing a wig and laughing in a foreign accent." I really liked this side of Coraline and I wish they had shown it in the film. She's not as likable a character in the movie in my opinion. She shares a lot of traits with her mother and is mean to Wybie for really no reason that I can see.

So who is the beldam? She is the being who creates a world almost identical to Coraline's - with the house and the surrounding garden. The beldam then disguises herslef as Coraline's mother (and by disguising herself, it's hard to say if she can shape-shift or if she puts the idea in Coraline's head that she is her mother, therefore tricking Coraline into thinking that she looks like her actual mother). She also "creates" a creature to look like Coraline's father. I feel like I should note that the beldam doesn't really create something from nothing, rather she takes things which already exist and twists them and shapes them in to her liking, creating something new. 
The beldam has shiny black buttons instead of eyes. And she was a little bit too thin and a little bit too tall and her fingers were a little too long and her skin was a little bit whiter than Coraline's actual mother. The beldam introduces herself as Coraline's "other mother" and the father as the "other father". The other mother even says that everyone has "another mother." I sure hope not.

Coraline comes to learn that the other mother wants her to stay in her world that she created, but Coraline must allow the other mother to take her eyes out and sew on button eyes instead. Pretty messed up, right? That's because the eyes are the windows to the soul - and with the windows open or gone, the soul is vulnerable. And it appears that the other mother likes to feed on children's "lives", though she doesn't actually eat the soul, she just drains them of everything that makes up their lives - love and happiness and memories. Coraline is definitely not the first child the beldam has come after, but I do appreciate that in the movie, we get to learn a bit more backstory about who one of the other children was.

In the end, Coraline escapes the other mother and returns to the real world where her real parents don't even seem aware of what was happening. The book does leave the reader wondering if Coraline actually defeated the beldam...

One thing I might add here is that while we can all agree that the other mother is super creepy, I would beg to differ that she's actually not the scariest thing in the book. I guess I should mention how Coraline actually gets to the other world. There is a door in the drawing room that opens up to a brick wall, and on the other side of the wall is the other apartment which nobody lives in. However, sometimes this door opens into a hallway or a corridor  - a corridor that is similar the one in Coraline's actual house, only it's not her actual house, it's the house the other mother created to look like Coraline's house. Toward the end of the book when Coraline is running for her life back to the real world, we are told that "whatever the corridor was was older by far than the other mother. It was deep, and slow, and it knew that [Coraline] was there..."
Notice it says "whatever the corridor WAS" and not "whatever was IN the corridor." So that begs the question, is the entire corridor / other world in and of itself a living being like Tartarus in Greek mythology? Does that make the other mother a parasite within that being..?

Probably my favorite character in the book is the cat. He's just a stray black cat and for whatever reason, the other mother doesn't like him. I'd even go as far as to say she's scared of him.
The cat is cool and witty though. Coraline isn't really startled that the cat can talk and assumes that he's the "other cat", but the cat says, "I'm not the other anything. I'm me...You people are spread all over the place. Cats, on the other hand, keep ourselves together."

When Coraline asks him his name, he says, "Cat's don't have names...Now you people have names. That's because you don't know who you are. We know who we are, so we don't need names." And when Coraline is in the world that the other mother created, she asks, "...what is this place?" and the cat answers, "It's here." Coraline then wonders "whether cats could all talk where she came from and just chose not to, or whether they could only talk when they were here - wherever here was." 

Another favorite part is in chapter 5, when Coraline is back in the real world and the beldam has taken her real parents so she must go back to the other world to rescue them from the other mother. The cat is with her and she's telling the cat about a time when her father and her were out and were being attacked by wasps. Her father told Coraline to run ahead of him and he stayed back to let the wasps attack him so she could get away. In the process he loses his glasses, but he too makes it out ok, though he was stung nearly 40 times. He then went back to that spot to find the glasses. She remembers her father saying that he was not brave the first time because he didn't know the wasps were there. Staying there so she could get out was the only thing he could do. But when they both got out and he decided to go back to get his glasses - that was brave because he knew the dangers that were there. 
She tells the cat that she too is brave because she is choosing to go back to the other world when she knows the other mother is waiting for her. I appreciated that little insight. XD

I feel like the message of the story is pretty simple: the grass isn't always greener on the other side, or be careful what you wish for. On one hand, the message is so clear, it hits you over the head. On the other hand, the terrifying and disturbing images distract from what's really going on in the story and it might take a minute or two to actually grasp what's happening.

Coraline is a tricky book because it's one of those that's written for children and it will be found in the children's section of a bookstore, but I'm not sure how many children will actually appreciate it for what it is. Its message is simple, but the way that message is told is, in my opinion, not for children.

I really enjoyed the book as well as the movie, but if I'm choosing here, I think I'd have to choose the book. XD
Coraline had a lot more personality and imagination and was more likable. The cat had some pretty great lines that were missing in the movie. The corridor added a whole other dimension. The spider references are everywhere and plainly told to the reader (I had a difficult time interpreting several things from the movie when it came to that). Also, it's so fun to see Gaiman's writing style.

Whether you enjoy dark fantasy / horror stories or not, I would highly suggest reading Coraline if only to take note of the writing style itself. It is, after all, written by Neil Gaiman who is easily one of the best writers of fiction of our time.

Also, if you want to know more about Coraline and the history / backstories of the different characters, you should definitely take a look at the Horror History video series on YouTube made by CZ's World. His videos are slightly creepy, but extremely intriguing and insightful.

Thank you so much for reading!!

Yours truly,

Check out my young adult fantasy novel, The Story of Hollyhocks from my Ko-fi shop!!
Read Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Watch the Coraline movie!!

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