Coraline by Neil Gaiman

It’s not very often that I find something online where an author says exactly why they wrote something and what they wanted to convey. However, the message of being brave does come across clear in the book and movie adaptation so it’s not really a surprise. I wanted to include the above post from him because I found it important to acknowledge that using any sort of literature or art meant to teach and/or entertain to guilt someone into acting the way you think they should is manipulative and harmful. And, although Coraline is a bit more bratty in the movie than in the book, she’s still just a kid – and kids just have more energy than we do! They want excitement! Adults don’t always have time for excitement and that makes both parties a bit exasperated.

In danger? thought Coraline to herself. It sounded exciting. It didn’t sound like a bad thing. Not really.

Coraline and her family just moved into a big, old house turned into several flats. She’s having a bit of a tough time with the move since her parents are always busy and she doesn’t have anyone to play with. Two of the other flats are occupied – one by two old ladies who are theater fanatics and the other by a man who claims he has trained circus mice who can play instruments. Coraline finds a locked door and gets her mom to open it only to find it bricked up. Her mom explains that there is an empty flat on the other side and it was most likely bricked off when the house was first split into flats. One day while Coraline is alone, she goes back to the door, opens it, and finds it no longer bricked up. She walks down the hall to another version of the house where her “Other Mother” lives, along with the “Other” versions of her dad and neighbors. Everything on this side of the door seems better. The food is better, she has more toys, more things to do, everyone is more attentive to her – but it’s hard not to sense the sinister nature under it all since everyone has buttons for eyes. When she’s told she has to have buttons sewn into her eyes in order to stay, she heads back home because obviously HELL NO! Except now her real parents are missing and she knows she has to go back and save them. Before she goes back, she recalls a moment between her and her father where he explained bravery to her. The story really hit me for some reason. It was a memory of the two of them coming across a swarm of wasps. He stayed behind and got stung after telling her to run. It’s just a powerful fatherly moment that she’s kept in her memories, and it reminds her of her parents love and strengthens her.

He said that he wasn’t scared when he was standing there and the wasps were stinging him and hurting him and he was watching me run away. Because he knew he had to give me enough time to run, or the wasps would have come after both of us … but going back again to get his glasses, when he knew the wasps were there, when he was really scared. That was brave.

So going back for her parents, even after feeling the sinister undertones of the world on the other side of that door and knowing the “Other Mother” is certainly dangerous, is a brave thing to do even though she knows it’s also something that needs to be done.

I also see the “Other Mother” and just the other world in general as a physical manifestation of anxiety/doubt. Kids don’t really understand the “I can’t right now I have work to do” excuse because they don’t know what work is. It may lead to feelings that they aren’t as important as whatever it is that has their parents undivided attention. Of course, this probably isn’t how all children feel. I got this sense from the other world more because I’ve always dealt with anxiety ever since I can remember and doubt comes along with anxiety. And there are certain points in the story that reinforce this idea for me. When Coraline goes back for her parents, Other Mother tries to convince her that her parents simply left her because they were tired of her. That seems like a thought that would have burrowed itself in Coraline’s head after being told to go play by herself several times. Also, trying to convince her to stay, one of the “other” neighbors also seems to echo Coraline’s own doubts back to her. “Nothing’s changed. You’ll go home. You’ll be bored. You’ll be ignored. No one will listen to you, not really listen to you.” Thoughts like these are often intrusive. How much you listen to them and believe them depends on your mental health really, and the more you believe them the stronger they’ll be. Coraline however seems to see them for what they are. She’s on a mission to find her parents and bring them back home, but it’s also a journey through and fight against these negative thoughts. In her own way, she’s working through something personal.

I don’t want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted? Just like that, and it didn’t mean anything. What then?

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