So, back in August 2019, I presented a paper at Tolkien 2019 in Birmingham, UK. Before that, I had practiced it on the folks at my work and there is an audio file of it. I wanted to share it, even though it’s taken me a year to do so.
If the thingy below doesn’t work, maybe this link will.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
I read it as an: audiobook
Narrator: Neil Gaiman
Source: public library, though I own a paperback copy that I flipped through as he read it to me
Publisher: Harper Audio
Coraline Jones’s new flat has 13 doors that open and close. The 14th door is locked, and when Coraline’s mother uses the key to it, it opens onto a brick wall. She assumes it would have adjoined the empty flat next door but when Coraline goes exploring, she finds a hallway to another flat mirroring her own. In it are another mother and another father and all the same things Coraline is familiar with, only they are altered in a fundamental way. Everything is darker and more sinister. Her other mother wants to keep Coraline with her forever. To force Coraline to stay, the other mother steals Coraline’s real parents and hides them. Coraline, with the help of a very special cat, engages the other mother in a battle of wits to find the souls of three children she encountered while exploring the other world in exchange for her and her parents’ freedom.
I’ve read this many times before but don’t think I’ve ever actually reviewed it. Huh. Naturally, I loved it. In true Gaiman style, Coraline is a study in darkness and strangeness and creepy-crawly feelings that the things you thought you knew are just a little bit off somehow. It is just scary enough to be horrifying to younger readers but delightful to adults. Button eyes ought to be terrifying to anyone. I love the themes of liminal space, which Gaiman always includes in his writing and which he handles so beautifully. It is also an interesting thought exercise on what happens if you can get different parents, which is surely a thought that every child has had at one point or other. Who hasn’t thought at least once that they wish they could have parents that let them have everything they wanted? Coraline’s other mother tried it, though darkly, and Coraline herself came to the conclusion that nobody actually wants everything they want, they want to want everything they want. There’s a big difference, and it is an important lesson to learn the distinction between the two.
It was funny because I chose to listen to it on audiobook this time and one night around midnight, my phone randomly turned itself on and started playing this book. Normally, it would have scared the bejesus out of me to hear a voice talking in the middle of the night. However, I recognized Neil’s voice and it didn’t scare me at all. I thought it was lovely. Instead, it worked itself into my dreams and I had an anxiety dream because I was in the middle of replacing my floors and my house was a mess and my furniture was all over the house and covered in tile dust and my overriding worry was, “Where am I going to have Neil Gaiman sit?? I don’t have anywhere for him to sit that’s clean!” And then I woke up and realized that he wasn’t actually at my house, though that would have made my entire life, it was just my phone reading to me in the middle of the night in his voice.