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Literature / Coraline

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"What is there to be frightened of, about buttons?"

A 2002 novella written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean. Coraline Jones is a girl with loving but distracted and inattentive parents. Having recently moved into a new home, she finds life boring. Then, one afternoon, she opens a mysterious door in her house. And behind that door lies a different world where Coraline finds doting parents who give her wonderful toys and home-cooked meals. But something oddly sinister lurks just beneath the surface...

A graphic novel adaptation was released in 2008. It follows the book almost exactly.

The Film of the Book was released in February 6, 2009, under the same name.


This book includes examples of:

  • Accidental Misnaming: Miss Spink, Miss Forcible, and Mr. Bobo mistakenly call Coraline "Caroline", despite her repeatedly correcting them. Meanwhile, their Other World counterparts always call her by her correct name.
  • Adult Fear: Gaiman cites this as the reason the story is, ironically, scarier for grown-ups than for children. The Adult Fears go over children's heads, so they read it as an adventure story with some creepy monsters, delivering familiar Aesops such as "Be brave" and "Be Careful What You Wish For." Adults, on the other hand, get the message, "If you neglect your children, they might be kidnapped, mutilated, and murdered by somebody who pretends to be you."
    • Not to mention some of the creepy vibes the Other Mother gives off toward Coraline. The song by Azam Ali, ''The Cold Black Key'', inspired by the story, actually seems to play up this side of their relationship. She courts you now...
  • Adults Are Useless: Averted. Miss Spink and Miss Forcible provide some genuine help to Coraline, while Mr. Bobo sends her a message that warns of danger. They ultimately can't help her defeat the Other Mother—only Coraline can willingly pass between the worlds—but they do what they can from their end to aid her.
  • All Take and No Give: The Other Mother just wants something to love other than herself... and feed, dress, and take the souls of children so she can possess them completely.
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  • All Up to You
  • All Your Powers Combined: When Coraline is fleeing the Other World for the final time, she struggles to close the door, and calls upon the ghost children—who she's saved by now—and her parents to help her; they're able to channel strength to her to seal the passage.
  • And You Were There: Everyone in the Other World is (deliberately) based on someone Coraline knows in the mortal world. Except the Cat, that is.
  • Animal Motifs: The novel describes the Other Mother using various bits of spidery imagery; she's made into a full-blown spider lady in the film.
  • Apologetic Attacker: The Other Father.
  • Arc Words "Ever and always".
  • Bad "Bad Acting": The illusion the Other Mother shows Coraline, of her parents coming home from a holiday to try and make her think her parents don't love her. Coraline actually doubts whether it was true or not...for about ten seconds.
  • Big Bad: The Other Mother.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: They just might try to sew buttons onto your eyes.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: Black button eyes of evil.
  • Body Horror: Geez, where do you start?
  • Catchphrase: Almost everyone Coraline meets on her first visit to the other world says "for ever and always."
  • Cats Are Mean: Downplayed, merely a...
  • Cats Are Snarkers: The Cat has a very smart aleck-y attitude.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • "Protective Coloration", anyone?
    • The well.
    • The self-bored stone, which proves essential for finding the Ghost Children's souls.
  • Cool Gate: The wooden door leading to the Other World.
  • Creative Sterility: The Other Mother suffers from this — it's actually a major plot point.
  • Creepy Basement: CREEPY? Try absolutely terrifying.
  • Curiosity Is a Crapshoot: Coraline just had to go through the door...
  • Dangerously Garish Environment: The Other World is very colourful, with bright clothes on the people, flowers, etc., but it's run by demon-like creatures who want to kill Coraline. Unlike in the movie, the world doesn't become less colourful but instead it becomes less defined, and is described as looking like a drawing.
  • Dark World: The Other World is a perfect example of this. Interestingly enough, it first tries to look like an improvement over the real world.
  • Death of a Child: Coraline encounters the three ghost children abducted by the other Mother prior to her arrival. Avoided with Coraline herself however.
  • Defanged Horrors: Believe it or not. It's scary, but it's scary in a way that kids can usually handle.
  • Down the Rabbit Hole: Perfectly sums it up.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The passageway between the worlds turns out to be one of these towards the end.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: While Coraline is looking for the third ghost child's soul, she realizes that the Other Mother can't actually create anything—she can generate illusions and facsimiles of things in the real world, but they're just copies...which makes Coraline ask herself: what's the point of that snow globe on the mantel?
  • Evil Counterpart: The Other Mother.
  • Exact Words: The Other Mother swears on her right hand she'll let Coraline go if she wins their game. Technically speaking, by having her right hand follow Coraline after the Other Mother breaks her word, she's keeping up her end of the bargain.
  • Eye Scream: The Other Mother wishes to sew buttons into Coraline's eyes. She's done it to other children before Coraline, as well.
  • Face-Revealing Turn
  • Fairy Tale
  • The Fair Folk: The Other Mother is heavily implied to be this. Her other name, the beldam, is a synonym for witch, but might be a play on words related to a poem about a fairy that lures knights to her hill and sucks the life out of them. "Belle Dame" is homophonous, it being French for "Beautiful Lady" and "Step-mother" for that matter. And if we know anything about fairy tales....
    • One of the ghost children is also a fairy.
    • That stone-with-a-hole-in-it? That's a self-bored stone, which according to Celtic Mythology tradition would allow you to see through faerie illusions.
  • Fate Worse than Death: What happened to the ghost children, and what would happen to Coraline—the Other Mother fed on their love, removing their eyes so they would be imprisoned in her world forever, possessing them so completely that they lose their sense of identity and their consciousness is tossed aside. They're Not Quite Dead, referring to themselves as dried husks, and can't move on to the next life until someone saves their souls.
  • Femme Fatalons: The Other Mother.
  • Fisher Kingdom: Arguably, the Other World counts. After spending a night there, Coraline notes feeling cloudy and groggy, and only after touching the adder stone - which is stated to be protection against the Other Mother - in her pocket does she truly feel like herself again.
  • Glamour Failure: The Other Mother doesn't show up in mirrors. When Coraline asks her why, she simply replies that mirrors can't be trusted.
    • The Other World itself begins to suffer this as Coraline finds each of the Ghost Children's souls—as the Other Mother grows angrier and starts losing her hold on the place, it fades and flattens into something resembling a children's drawing, with no depth or color.
  • The Grotesque: The transformed Other Miss Spink and Miss Forcible and by the end, what's left of the Other Father.
  • Helping Hands: The Other Mother loses her hand, which goes looking for the key to the door.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: The creepy chant sung by the rats. Sadly absent from the film.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Miss Spink and Miss Forcible.
  • Impossible Task: Coraline has to find all 3 ghost souls to win the "game" the Other Mother agreed to play with her. Oh, and her missing parents, who are also lost in the Other World.
  • It May Help You on Your Quest: The self-bored stone, courtesy of the Misses. They're good for bad things, sometimes... Anyway, it might help...
  • Kid Hero: Coraline.
  • Knife-Throwing Act: The Other Miss Spink and Forcible perform this with Coraline.
  • Lean and Mean: The Other Mother. This is always the case in the book, but in the film she starts off being identical to the real Mrs. Jones and switches to this trope when Coraline starts screwing things up for her.
  • Little Miss Snarker: Coraline tends to say things in a rather flat, deadpan tone.
  • Magical Land: The Other World.
  • Matricide: Played with. The Other Mother has put her Mother to the grave, "And when I caught her trying to crawl out, I put her back in". So the Mother of Other Mother perhaps isn't dead, by for all intents and purposes, she is.
  • Mind-Control Eyes: Everyone in the Other World (under the Other Mother's control) has buttons for eyes.
  • New House, New Problems: The book starts with Coraline and her family moving.
  • No Need for Names: The cat is only ever known as "the cat". According to him, cats don't have names, and they don't need them because unlike humans, they know who they are.
  • Non-Human Sidekick: The cat.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Excellently evoked for a lot of the scares.
  • Not the First Victim: Coraline's discovery of the three ghost children invokes this, though the victims end up playing a larger role in the plot than usual for this trope.
  • Only Smart People May Pass: If Coraline doesn't find her parents and the souls of the ghost children, she has to stay in the Other World.
  • Papa Wolf: Coraline tells the Cat a story of how she and her father stumbled into some bees, her father told Coraline to run, while he stayed behind to be the one getting the majority of the bee stings.
  • Parental Love Song: The "twitchy-witchy" song, in which Coraline's father expresses his affection by telling her (goofily) the things he'll do for her and the things he would never do.
  • Parents in Distress: Coraline's parents are kidnapped by the Other Mother and she has to challenge the Other Mother to save them.
  • Plot Coupon: The souls of the Ghost Children.
  • Plucky Girl: Coraline.
  • Police Are Useless: Coraline calls the police to report her parents kidnapped, but is told to go to bed by the cop. Understandable, since she told him her parents were stuck in a mirror...
  • Protagonist Title: Coraline, starring Coraline.
  • Psychic Powers: Miss Spink and Miss Forcible have mild psychic ability: they accurately read tea leaves to tell Coraline's future, and Miss Spink gives Coraline a self-bored stone, sensing that girl might need it soon.
    • There's also Mr. Bobo's mice, who send Coraline a cryptic warning "not to go through the door"; Mr. Bobo himself can communicate with the mice.
  • Pun: After her parents disappear, Coraline remarks to Miss Spink and Miss Forcible that she thinks she's become a "single-child family".
  • Reading Tea Leaves: Spink and Forcible try and warn Coraline when they see an omen of doom in her tea leaves.
  • Real Fake Door: This occurs one time Coraline goes to the Other World.
  • See-Thru Specs: The stone with the hole in it.
  • Shout-Out: At the beginning of Chapter 8, the illustration shows a mess of toys, including a Pikachu's head.
  • Sore Loser: After Coraline finds the first soul, the Other Mother sends a roaring wind indoors to slow her down. She also has no intention of letting Coraline go, whether she wins or not.
  • Stylistic Suck: Coraline's Story.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: The other mother tells Coraline she shouldn't listen to ghosts because they don't exist and everyone knows ghosts are liars.
  • Talking Animal: The cat.
  • Threshold Guardians
  • Toys
  • Trapped in Another World: Coraline in the Other World (eventually and temporarily). As for the ghost children, they're stuck there until Coraline can find their souls.
  • Urban Fantasy
  • Vague Age: Seems to be the case with Coraline. The illustration for the first chapter makes her look like a teenager, but the story she writes on her father's computer is the work of an eight-year-old.
  • Vagueness Is Coming: Lampshaded. When Miss Spink and Miss Forcible read Coraline's tea leaves for the first time, they warn her that she's in serious danger. She asks what that danger is, and they explain that they can't tell—the leaves are good for general predictions, but don't reveal anything about specifics.
  • Wicked Stepmother: The Other Mother.
  • Wicked Witch: The Other Mother.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Discussed. Coraline tells her parents a story about confusing alien abductors by wearing a wig and talking in a foreign accent.
  • Yandere: The Other Mother.
  • You Dirty Rat!: Good world = mice. Bad world = rats. Simple.
  • You Won't Feel a Thing!: At one point the Other Parents tell Coraline this when they try to convince her to let them sew the buttons on her eyes. Coraline doesn't believe them for an instant.