Coraline: the forgotten nightmare

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Some book loyalists would never accept that some movies are better than the books that they are based on. They are right, of course, because the books came first and without the concept of the book itself- the movie would never be possible in the first place. While this is a logical argument we must also consider what gives us more pleasure- the movie or the book? In most cases, we can almost blindly say that the book is better(the Harry Potter series, the Hunger Games series, and the Lord of the Rings series.) But there are certain films where saying the actual book is ‘better’, is difficult. For example, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Brokeback Mountain and Coraline. Because Ang Lee almost changes nothing about the film, we cannot consider Brokeback Mountain but when it comes to Lemony Snicket’s series or Neil Gaiman’s short story, it is very difficult to say which one if better- the book or the film.


It was a rainy afternoon when I, my brother and my mother started watching Coraline. Except for the small interruption when we were distracted by two cats fighting, we were glued to the screen. But after watching it our reactions were widely different. My brother thought there was something eerie about the music and my mother thought it was skilfully animated but neither of them felt a fraction of the terror that I was feeling after watching the movie. I was just twelve years old then and the movie kept me awake at night. The fear was not logical and I could not explain what I was scared of but there was something very unnatural about the Other World that had been described in Coraline.

mckeanCoraline rat

Well of course it was unnatural. The entire world created by the Other Mother was unnatural because it was a mere distortion of reality which existed on the other side of the living corridor. The idea that there are certain things in the world which are older than history and yet cannot be explained, is not new. Coraline, who is tired with the sheer normalcy of her life is driven by her curiosity into exploring the other side of a door which normally opened to a brick wall, but at certain times revealed a long corridor which led anyone who passed through it to a new world. At least, that is what Coraline thought in the beginning. But this Other World was oddly familiar because Coraline realized soon enough that it was just a copy of the world that she knew. And like all other imitations, this world had almost similar to the real world but the tiny flaws were too stark not to notice. This Other World was not a world at all, it was a mere illusion that the Bedlam had created in order to entertain Coraline as long as it was needed to trap her. The smiles which were quite natural in the real world had become sinister and uncanny in their transition from real to unreal.


There is not much secrecy surrounding this story like A Series of Unfortunate Events, which is narrated by fictitious narrator who himself is one of the key characters even though he never takes a part in the main events which govern the plot. Neil Gaiman is pretty open about his intentions on writing a short story for his daughters. He also knows that this tale is nightmarish to some while it means almost nothing to the others. He introduced his Introduction at the very end of the book because of a very good reason- he wanted the story to slowly creep up on his readers.

I cannot help but mention the film as well, which according to me is a masterpiece. The music is almost as important as the entire movie itself, it is a different entity on its own. The many unimaginable sound effects that had been described in the book have been perfectly translated into reality. Also, the different songs are extremely haunting. Almost all of the songs are sung in no identifiable language but it is very easy for us to believe that it is one of the things of the past, like the living corridor, that hasn’t been discovered or understood yet. Drawing a comparison between Lewis Carroll’s Alice and Coraline is very obvious but they are extremely different. While Alice lets go on herself in a lucid dream, Coraline controls her fate. But the element of curiosity and an Other World, which is not quite right, are the two things that Coraline and Alice have in common.


I found the movie more colorful than the book because of the initial description of the Other Mother’s cooking, the Other Father’s garden and the entertainment by the Other Neighbors. But while the movie has its music to prevail over the book, the book has its illustrations which are woefully disturbing. Dave McKean does a wonderfully morbid job in capturing the cold terror of the book in his paintings. It is almost impossible to look away from his drawings without being disturbed and curious simultaneously.

Some books are simply ignored because no one has ever heard of them in the first place and movies(based on these books) are quite efficient in bringing these books to our notice. Coraline does more than that- the film directed by Henry Selick re-invents the nightmares that we ourselves did not know we were afraid of until we saw them.