Book Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

CoralineCoraline by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This may seem strange, but I found many similarities between Coraline and Marion Woodman‘s Addiction to Perfection: The Still Unravished Bride.

In Woodman’s book, she deals with two archetypal mothers, the positive mother and the negative mother. The positive mother is that which nourishes us, is authentic, and brings us the balance we need between the feminine and masculine aspects of ourselves. The negative mother is inauthentic, greedy, misleading, and if it feeds us at all, feeds us poison and lies.

In Coraline, there are also two mothers, Coraline’s real mother and the “other mother.” Her real mother isn’t perfect, but she loves Coraline and does her best for her. The other mother loves her, but in a greedy way. Gaiman writes, “It was true: the other mother loved her. But she loved Coraline as a miser loves money, or a dragon loves its gold.” The other mother wants essentially¬†to devour Coraline, and will use whatever tricks necessary to accomplish this.

Woodman describes a process of birthing ourselves as whole individuals, nurturing ourselves with our own inner, authentic mother. In the end of the book, Coraline escapes the other mother by running through a dark, warm, damp tunnel. Seems somewhat similar to a birth experience to me. Once on the other side again having vanquished the other mother, Coraline has become more herself. She’s not perfect and neither is her life, but she recognizes the joy that exists in her life and accepts and believes in her own power and wisdom.

There’s even something of a theme of hunger and eating/not eating in Coraline, which relates to Woodman’s focus on eating disorders as a way of trying to feed a starving part of ourselves.

I’m not going to revert back to my college English-major persona and write a 10-page critical essay with citations about images of the “mother” in Gaiman’s Coraline, but I thought it was interesting enough to give it a little time in my review here.

I initially picked this book up thinking it might be something I could read aloud to my five-year-old daughter. It’s rather too scary for her, I think (she still talks about how scary the scene in E.B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan was when Louis’ father crashes through the window of the music store, and it’s been probably six months since we read that book), but I can see enjoying reading it with her in a couple of years. It’s a modern story written in a classic fairytale style. I quite enjoyed it, willy-inducing images and all. And it was an enjoyable break from all of the “heavy” reading I’ve been doing lately.

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3 Replies to “Book Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman”

  1. On his blog, Neil Gaiman talks about how adults are much more freaked out by Coraline than children are. Of course, he intends it for kids older than yours. I found it terrifying when I read it while pregnant with N. He’s read the graphic novel but not seen the movie nor read the novel.

    Have you read the Graveyard Book? Definitely for older kids (I’m thinking 10 and up) but it’s really good.


    1. I haven’t read the Graveyard Book, but I might pick it up. I could definitely see that kids might be less freaked out by Coraline than grown-ups are. I thought about that as I was reading. I know that most times the parts that I think will scare the kids aren’t the parts that do. I mean, Alice in Wonderland kind of freaks me out sometimes, but my daughter had no problem with it at all (although she said Through the Looking Glass was too boring). I used to love (LOVE) scary books and movies, but motherhood seems to have diminished my enthusiasm for being scared.


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