Coraline is a modern-day fairy tale, with all the trappings of an updated Hans Christian Anderson or a yarn from the Brothers Grimm. It has a young, adventurous female heroine, an evil “other mother” who blurs the line between reality and fantasy, and more than a hint of magic. Coraline, the heroine of this tale, finds an entrance to another world eerily similar to her own in her family’s new house. Once she enters this world, she encounters all sorts of odd re-imaginings of things in her old life. She returns to her real home to discover that her parents have gone missing. Will Coraline defeat her magical “other mother” and rescue her parents? And more importantly….when she re-enters the other realm, can she ever go back home?
Both Snow and Sabrina were excited about reviewing this graphic novel adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s juvenile fiction title, but rather than fight about it, we decided to do a collaborative review. Using the Chatzy software, we discussed our views of the latest offering from a master storyteller. [Script edited for clarity and to correct grammatical errors.]
Snow: So, Sabrina, had you read the novel before picking up this adaptation?
Sabrina: Actually, no. I had heard about it when it came out a few years back, but I never thought to read it. It slipped to the back of my mind until news about the graphic novel adaptation began to surface. You?
Snow: I read the novel when it first came out. I’ve been a Neil Gaiman fan for a while now and remember being excited that he’d written a juvenile title. So then, did you think that the graphic novel was clear and easy to follow?
Sabrina: More so than many other graphic novels I’ve read!
Snow: Interesting. I was a little worried that it might fall into the trap of both showing and telling at the same time, rather than letting the pictures do a good portion of the work. It did that a little, in my opinion, but I’m not certain that kids will mind.
Sabrina: In my opinion, the story was distinct, and not muddled and hard to follow, and the characters were very recognizable and unique. From what I saw, the art did a lot to help further the plot. I think that a book like Coraline almost requires illustrations to help visualize the fantasy world.
Snow: There weren’t any elements in the plot that bothered you? Because I’ve always felt that Coraline is a very well-written title and felt that it kept that when it transitioned into a graphic novel, but when I mentioned the graphic novel to a school librarian she said that she found the book confusing and odd. She said she hoped that the graphic novel would “clear things up.” I don’t think that the novel required pictures, though it did have illustrations (courtesy of Dave McKean), so I was leery about the graphic novel.
Sabrina: I think that the reason people may have a problem with the plot (I can see what the librarian is talking about) in the novel, is simply because it’s very non-traditional, plot-wise. It’s almost absurdist, in my opinion.
Snow: Hmm…good point. Which does back up the idea of it being a modern-day fairy tale. To me a lot of the traditional fairy tales are fairly absurdist.
Sabrina: I think it’s definitely a modern day fairy tale in many ways (and an extremely absurdist one at that). Coraline ventured into a fantasy world where she had an “other mother” and “other father” who wanted to keep her, a cat (almost exactly like her cat at home, except this one could talk) who had no name because he said he didn’t need one, and lost souls who are trapped in that mystical house.
Snow: I remember reading something a while back where Gaiman said that adults told him that Coraline was a very scary story, but kids just seemed to think of it as an adventurous fantasy. I like stories like that, where kids are soldiering through an odd situation, dealing with it fairly matter-of-factly. Do you think Gaiman was trying for any type of moral or “point” like in the old fairy tales? Or was he just crafting a spooky story?
Sabrina: Yes, I do. Coraline pulled off something incredible. It’s a book that’s written for kids, but appeals to all ages for different reasons. Kids like it for its spunky heroine, and magical creatures. My idea as to why it has a different effect on adults is this. Coraline was written not only with one moral for kids (always be brave and never give up), but with a different one for adults. Be happy with what you have. Coraline’s adventure can parallel one that many adults almost wish they could have. She explores a world that’s very different (yet very similar) to her own, but turns out to be very scary. So, why would this be scary to adults?
Snow: I think what makes it scary to adults is that we know to be scared. Coraline is afraid, but doesn’t see that she has any other choice. I think all too often adults would see giving up as a reasonable choice in a dangerous or terrifying situation.
Sabrina: What I see Coraline as is almost a warning for adults as to why they should be happy with their lot in life, because once they venture outside their safe zone, they may never be able to go back. Coraline almost couldn’t go back home, and the thought of not being able to return to safety may seem thrilling to kids, but terrifying to adults who have transitioned through society.
Snow: Good points. Do you see any comparison with other books and graphic novels for kids? There’s the obvious–Harry Potter–but I think that that type of story is common in children’s fiction.
Sabrina: The only comparison I could think of would be to other fairy tales, like Anderson or the Brothers Grimm. Coraline is quite unlike any other book I’ve read, as far as the basic plotline goes.
Snow: True, but the spunky hero/heroine dealing with an odd situation crops up repeatedly. Howl’s Moving Castle, the works of Eva Ibbotson and Edgar Eager, even in movies like Spirited Away.
Sabrina: You raise a great point there with Spirited Away. I’ve only seen part of that movie, but I agree totally. Hayao Miyazaki is a master at creating female heroines, as is Eva Ibbotson (Which Witch is an amazing book, and should be required reading in all schools), as is Neil Gaiman.
Snow: Now then, you’d mentioned the art previously. What was your take on it?
Sabrina: The art I thought was very good. The character designs were excellent, especially the parallels between Coraline’s real mother and her “other mother”.
Snow: P. Craig Russell has a unique art style. He’s long been a favorite of mine, but I wasn’t sure at first how his style would mesh with the story. You’re right, though, the transitions between the “real” world and the “other” world were very well done. And I thought he gave the story a nice balance between creepy and realistic.
Sabrina: I think Russell’s art was very consistent in this volume, and the coloring and lighting was superb, I also think that the balance between fantasy and reality were extremely well-done, as well as the “real” and “other” worlds.
Snow: I really liked that Russell made Coraline look the age she was supposed to be, 10ish to 12ish, rather than making her look overly young or overly grownup, like too many graphic novel artists do.
Sabrina: That is a VERY good point. I’ve seen adaptations where the characters look way too old or way too young.
Snow: And the creepy bits and the hints at gruesomeness were there, but weren’t over the top, so they keep the book from being too gory for a middle school library.
Sabrina: Indeed. And there was no (unless I missed something) objectionable language or references, so it would be suitable for anyone.
Snow: We have this in the children’s graphic novel collection in my public library, which fits because the novel is in juvenile fiction. Depending on your elementary school, you might be able to get away with it. It is a long (186 page) graphic novel, so that might keep the younger readers (say under 4th grade) from picking it up and being too scared.
Sabrina: That’s true. Some younger readers may not be able to handle the very few scenes with any sort of scary images or violence (i.e., the bees, the rats, etc.), but shelving it with the juvenile fiction would be appropriate.
Snow: But I’d definitely recommend this for 5th grade and middle school. It’s so nice to find a well-done middle grade graphic novel. I only hope more are coming.
Sabrina: I really hope!! I’m currently waiting on the Coraline novel at my local library, and I will be looking for more of Neil Gaiman’s fiction in the future. I hope that more collaborations with P. Craig Russell are in the future. This one was excellent.
Snow: Well, that’s all I have to say on Coraline. It’s a well-done adaptation, good art, and a great choice for middle school and upper elementary age readers. Anything to add?
Sabrina: Adults, don’t shy away from this just because it’s in the juvenile section or because it’s a comic book! It’s something that readers of (nearly) all ages can enjoy, and parents might even enjoy this more than their kids!!
Snow: I agree. I became a fan of Gaiman’s work (as well as Russell’s) because I loved the very adult graphic novel series Sandman. My mother actually read Coraline before I did and loved it!
Sabrina: There’s also a stop-motion animation movie in the works, so be on the look-out for that. ‘Til next time, this is Sabrina Fritz.
Snow: And this is Snow Wildsmith! Thanks for reading!
(Review copy was graciously provided by the publisher.)