Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Coraline by Neil Gaiman (2002)

This is the second time I've read Coraline, and I'd forgotten what a delightfully, deliciously dark and scary book this is.  The Narnia-ness of the plot is unmistakable.  Lewis's Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy finding a nondescript wardrobe that leads to another world, a world with, among other oddities,  talking animals and people turned to stone and a monstrous witch, a world that ultimately wants to keep them (at least for a while) as kings and queens.  Coraline finds a nondescript door that leads another another world as well, with talking animals (rats, a cat) and people turned into ghosts and a witchy monster who also wants to keep her indefinitely, at first as a spoiled princess, and the more likely as a princely snack.  What I always love about Gaiman, what he does so brilliantly, is that he takes these modern folk tales, and spins them around, re-sculpts and re-colors them, into something completely different.  If Coraline is a perfectly thrown pot, then Narnia is a glaze, but also Alice, and the darker parts of the Grimms, and Stephen King, and Beowulf, and The Twlight Zone, and Neil Gaiman himself.  (like The Graveyard Book had some cultural reference to Tolkien, so does Coraline:  at one point, when Coraline grabs one of the soul marbles she's desperately trying to find, the creature from whom she grabs it awakens and says "Thief! Give it back! Stop! Thief!" which, of course, echoes these famous lines from The Hobbit:  "Thief, thief, thief!  Baggins!  We hates it, we hates it, we hates it forever!") .

The book is both something derivative - in the most pleasing and and interesting of ways - and something unique.  It's also really scary, true horror.  What's different about Coraline from the Pevensies is that you never get the feeling that Pevensies realize the danger they are in from the White Witch, or even miss their parents in the least. What's worse to a modern child than being kidnapped by a stranger?  So if anything, Coraline updates Narnia, makes it more realistic, gives Coraline feelings that the Pevensies (save Edmund) lacked.  Like Edmund, she in intrigued and attracted by the monster; Edmund eventually realizes he's been seduced by something evil.  Coraline is never really seduced, and knows instinctively the danger she's in.  Unlike Narnia, in Corarline's world, there isn't an Aslan to come save the day.  This is where the worlds diverge; Coraline is frightened to death, but knows she has no choice but to keep battling the monster.  The Pevensies - again save Edmund - act like Narnia is more of an exciting lark.  The danger is much more clear and present in Coraline.

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."

CoralineCoraline by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is frightening, but like all the best scary stories to tell in the dark, in such a good and satisfying way.  The modern parent and modern child have many worries, but one of the biggest ones (besides getting shot and killed at school) would be stranger danger and being kidnapped.  Gaiman has taken that modern fear and mixed it in with some Narniana, to create a delightfully and deliciously dark and scary horror story.  I say Narnia because Coraline is a descendant of Lewis ( E. Nesbit is the literary Australopithecus here).  Four children enter a nondescript wardrobe to find another world full of talking animals and a monstrous witch, and are asked to stay there indefinitely as kings and queens; Coraline enters a nondescript door into another world with talking animals (rats, a cat) and a witchly monster who wants her to stay indefinitely as a princess (of sorts, although ultimately as a princely snack).  Gaiman has done it again; if Coraline is a pot thrown on a wheel, then Narnia is a glaze, as is Alice, and Stephen King, and Beowulf, and Tolkien, and the darkest corners of the Grimms.  It's derivative in only the most pleasing sense; those bits and pieces of modern and ancient folklore that Gaiman glazes the pot don't detract from a solid, eerie, most original plot.   This was published for children, but I guess I'm a big child, because I loved this book.

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