by Neil Gaiman




Cover by Dave McKean

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Neil Gaiman begins Coraline as a sort of Alice in Wonderland story about a young girl, Coraline, who loves exploring and finds her way into a topsy turvy universe when she goes through a strange door in her new house.  However, while Lewis Carroll included only a hint of danger in his classic story, Gaiman has no compunction about turning Coraline’s innocent exploration into a dark tale, feeding on children’s basest fears.

Although everything in the world Coraline enters seems familiar at first glance, she quickly begins to notice oddities in the people she sees, whether they are doppleganger’s for her eccentric neighbors or the people she comes to think of as “other mother” and “other father.”  Perhaps the strangest creature she meets, at least during her first explorations, is a nameless cat who can speak to her, further invoking the comparison to Alice in Wonderland.

On her first visit, the strange world seems rather innocuous, but upon her return to her own world, and subsequent explorations into the topsy turvy world, reveal that Coraline has altered many of the conditions of her life and it will require fast thinking to save not only herself, but also her parents and those who became trapped in this new world prior to her.

Fortunately for Coraline, she is a brave and resourceful girl, not given to panicking and able to solve the puzzles which are laid before her.  In fact, she is much more savvy than the heroine of Lewis’s books, even if she is faced with similar problems of talking animals and strange riddles.  At the same time, Coraline seems like a real child, not too precocious to be believed.

Gaiman does a good job in portraying his characters and their situations.  He plays on children’s fears of abandonment as well as juveniles need for empowerment.  She acts rationally, calling in the police when her parents first disappear, only resorting to her own heroics when it is clear that she is not going to get help from authority figures.

Coraline’s tale is short, but only because Gaiman doesn’t insist on unnecessary padding to lengthen the book.  It is written as a children’s book and will serve as a horror tale for those children who wish to read such things.  For adults, it will serve as an almost nostalgic look back on a time in childhood where the secrets of the universe could be hidden behind a forbidden door.

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