I vividly remember sitting in a movie theater in 2008, probably seeing High School Musical 3, Horton Hears a Who, or some other children’s film. Then the trailer for Coraline played. I leaned over to my mother and said “I am not seeing that.” The film scared and scarred me immediately. It gives me the creeps from the premise alone. But did you know the book is even darker than the film? Here are some things about the Coraline novella that make me question its categorization as children’s literature.
A Brief Summary
Coraline follows the story of Coraline Jones, who has just moved into a new house with her somewhat neglectful parents. Naturally, she explores the household and finds a locked door that leads to a dark corridor. She decides to enter the corridor and finds herself in an apartment identical to her own. This copycat apartment even comes with copycat parents! They’re actually quite cool people if you ignore their buttons for eyes and evil motives. The ‘Other Mother’ even offers to let Coraline stay in this other world- if she will let her sew buttons into her eyes. Coraline decides against this and goes back down the corridor, only to find that her real parents are missing. It turns out the Other Mother kidnapped Coraline’s real parents. Coraline goes back to the other world and throughout many spoiler-filled events is able to save the day.
Yay for Coraline…right? Sure she rid the world of evil or something, but I’m still scared of button eyes and I watched these events from afar. If the basic plot isn’t traumatic enough, just wait until you hear about some of these details Gaiman just decided to throw in there.
Yes, this will contain some more scene-specific spoilers, but I don’t think it will ruin your overall reading experience.
1. The Other Mother’s Gory Injury
In the film, Coraline throws a cat at the other mother as a distraction tool so she can escape to the real world. Coraline leaves and all is great! In the book, however, what the cat actually does to the Other Mother is described in glorious detail. Like many otherworldly characters, the Other Mother does not simply bleed. Rather, she oozes black tar. Before the cat follows Coraline through the door, it takes one more swing at our antagonist: “It hissed, and swiped its scalpel-sharp claws at the other mother’s face in one wild rake which left black ooze trickling from several gashes on the other mother’s nose.” Lovely, right?
2. A Ghoulish Remark
If big, towering events don’t make a book horrifying, it might be the casual one-liners that suggest these characters are far more sinister than we may imagine. The Other Mother is no stranger to this type of horror. At one point in both the book and film, Coraline proposes a finding-things game in which she is tasked to find three souls. If she wins, she gets to go back home. If she loses, the Other Mother gets to fulfill her Coraline-with-buttons-as-eyes fantasy. Coraline isn’t convinced the Other Mother will stick to the agreement. To ensure her credibility, the Other Mother swears on her mother’s grave. Then, Coraline cheekily asks if her mother even has a grave. It’s the Other Mother’s reply that makes this scene much more bone-chilling in the book: “I put her in there myself. And when I found her trying to crawl out, I put her back.” It may seem witty and smart, but it sure says a lot about how far this character is willing to go – and how much danger our protagonist is in.
3. The Basement Scene
This scene is so disturbing it was left out of the film entirely. During the finding-things game, the Other Mother tricks Coraline into checking an unoccupied apartment in the house. In this apartment, Coraline discovers a trapdoor to a basement. The floor is covered with garbage and a human foot attached to a dough-like creature sticks out of the pile. Horrified, Coraline realizes this creature is the Other Father who has been punished due to giving Coraline too much information. The disfigured blob tells Coraline that he does not want to hurt Coraline, but due to manipulation from the Other Mother it is becoming hard to resist. Coraline then escapes the basement with the dough creature chasing her.
4. Singing Rats?
Black rats with glowing red eyes are creepy enough. It almost sounds like making them sing would lighten the mood…right? The night after finding the door, the rats sneak out of the other world and into Coraline’s bedroom and sing:
“We are small but we are many
We are many we are small
We were here before you rose
We will be here when you fall.”
Later, during the finding-things game, Coraline encounters the rats in an apartment. They begin to sing once again, but this time their song is even more ominous:
“We have eyes and we have nerveses
We have tails we have teeth
You’ll all get what you deserveses
When we rise from underneath.”
That. was. dark. I’ll be hiding under the covers until further notice if you need me.
5. Coraline is Ignored and Dismissed
When her parents go missing, Coraline goes to her neighbors, Miss Forcible and Miss Spink, for help. Although they don’t really help her, the movie neighbors at least acknowledge her problem. In the book, however, the pair straight up ignore Coraline and ask her to tell her mother that they found something she had been looking for. She reminds them that she can’t speak to her parents, as they are gone, but the ladies do not react. Coraline even decides to call the police for help. Same as the neighbors, the police are completely dismissive of Coraline’s problem and even tell her to ask her mom for hot chocolate and a hug. While these details are not as gory as some of the others it is still off-putting to see a child that’s in danger reach out for help and be completely dismissed – especially for young readers.
The Coraline book has definitely earned its categorization as horror fiction. But as for children’s literature, I’m not so sure. These were just a taste of some of the reasons why the Coraline novella is more horrifying than the film. For all the gory details you’ll just have to read the book yourself.
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