Last night, I finished a wonderfully creepy little book by Neil Gaiman called Coraline. We gave the book to Girlzilla for Christmas, but I snatched it off her pile while whe was in the middle of her umpteenth reading of Harry Potter.
It’s supposed to be a kids book, but it’s a kids’ book in the same way that Grimm’s Fairy Tales are kids’ stories. Gaiman’s Coraline is a very strong and resourceful little girl up against a witch who has kidnapped her and her parents. The witch, who is chillingly referred to as the “other mother,” is trying to trick Coraline into coming to live with her voluntarily.
One piece of dialogue struck me in partcular (I’m paraphrasing somewhat):
“Stay here with us. We will listen to you and play with you and laugh with you. Your other mother will build whole worlds for you to explore, and tear them down every night when you are done. Every day will be better and brighter than the one that went before…”
“And will there be gray, wet days where I just don’t know what to do and there’s nothing to read or to watch and nowhere to go and the day drags on forever?”
“And will there be awful meals, with food made from recipes, with garlic and tarragon and braodbeans in?”
“Every meal will be a thing of joy. Nothing will pass your lips that does not entirely delight you.”
“And could I have day-glo green gloves to wear, and yellow Wellington boots in the shape of frogs?”
“Frogs, ducks, rhinos, octopuses — whatever you desire. The world will be built new for you every morning. If you stay here, you can have whatever you want.”
“You really don’t understand, do you? 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?”
Man, I was an adult before I learned that lesson. And I still need reminders.
Such a heroine is Coraline. I imagine that if Gaiman’s Coraline and Roald Dahl’s Veruca Salt were in the same room, they’d destroy each other in a matter/antimatter style reaction.
Anybody who reads faster than I (which is everybody) could read this in one sitting. And it would be a worthwhile sitting indeed.
To whet your appetite, Neil Gaiman answers readers questions in this public forum. It’s very interesting to get a glimpse into the process by which these remarkable characters were developed.