Coraline, p.11Neil Gaiman
The Coraline Reading Group Guide
A Coraline Q&A with Neil Gaiman
An excerpt of Neil Gaiman’s Newbery Medal–winning novel, The Graveyard Book
Coraline Reading Group Guide
About the Book
Coraline’s parents are too busy to play with her. She’s on her own, and when she goes exploring in her new apartment she unlocks a door that leads to a different world. At first it looks familiar, even intriguing, but Coraline quickly learns that evil lurks there. Soon, Coraline is caught in a life or death challenge—to save herself, her family, and three lost children. It is an experience that will forever change her.
Describe Coraline. What kind of a person is she? How does she like to spend her time?
How is Coraline treated by her parents? Who are the other adults in Coraline’s life and how do they treat her? What is the difference between how she is treated in the real world and the other world?
Before entering the other world, Coraline receives ominous warnings about her future. What are the warnings and from whom does she receive them? What do the messages mean?
When Coraline unlocks the door to the neighboring flat she knows she is doing something she is not supposed to (this page). But she does it anyway. Why? What are the consequences? Have you ever done something you knew you were not supposed to? How did this make you feel? What were the consequences of your actions?
When Coraline discovers her parents are missing, she calls the police (this page). What does she tell the officer? How does he respond? Why? How would you respond if you were the officer? Why? What would you have done if you were in Coraline’s situation?
How does Coraline define bravery (this page)? In what ways does Coraline demonstrate bravery? What is your definition of bravery?
The other mother tells Coraline: “We’re ready to love you and play with you and feed you and make your life interesting” (this page). How is Coraline’s life with her other family different from life with her real family? What does Coraline find appealing about life in the other world? What family would you choose? Why?
Coraline’s other mother tells her that if she wants to stay in the other world there is one thing she must do. What is it? What effect will it have on her?
Why does the other mother want Coraline? What does the cat think about this (this page)? Why has she taken the other children and Coralne’s parents?
Miss Spink and Miss Forcible give Coraline a special stone (this page). Why? What does the stone look like? What special power does the stone have? How does Coraline use it?
What challenge does Coraline present to her other mother (this page)? What will happen if she loses? What will happen if she wins? What makes her think winning is possible? Do you think this challenge is wise? Why or why not?
Do the mirrors Coraline encounters in the real world and the other world reflect reality or illusion? How do you know? What is the significance of mirrors in Coraline?
When Coraline finds her other father in the basement he tells her to flee (this page). When she refuses he turns on her, and tries to harm her. How does Coraline respond? What happens as a result?
Coraline explains to the old man upstairs, “I don’t want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if we just got everything we wanted? Just like that, and it didn’t mean anything. What then” (this page)? Do you agree or disagree with Coraline? Explain your thinking. How would you respond to her question?
How does Coraline’s life change when she returns to the real world with her parents? What does Coraline learn from the experience of being in the other world?
After Coraline returns to the real world she receives clues that the other mother’s work is not done. What are they? How does Coraline foil the other mother once and for all?
A Coraline Q&A with Neil Gaiman
In 2002, Neil Gaiman answered the first set of questions below about his brand-new book for young readers, Coraline. In the second section, ten years later, Neil reflects on a decade of his magical classic and answers some special new anniversary questions.
How did you think up the name “Coraline”?
I was typing “Caroline” and it was coming out wrong. Larry Niven, the science fiction author, said in an essay that writers should treasure their typing mistakes. Once I typed it, I knew it was somebody’s name, and I wanted to know what happened to her.
I recently discovered it was actually a real name, although it’s not been used much in English-speaking countries for a long time. And, at the turn of the century, it was a name for a brand of corset.
Coraline is called a fairy tale. Do you really believe in fairies?
Well, the only fairy in Coraline has been dead for hundreds of years, and some people read the book and never notice her at all. Coraline’s a fairy tale in the same way that “Hansel and Gretel” is a fairy tale.
As for believing in fairies…many years ago I wrote the copyright notice for a comic called The Books of Magic, in which I said words to the effect of “All the characters, human or otherwise, are imaginary, excepting only certain of the faerie folk, whom it might be unwise to offend by casting doubts on their existence. Or lack thereof.” A position I still wholeheartedly support and defend.
Did your parents insist on cooking “recipes” rather than regular food?
Actually, it was me who did that, and I stole that aspect of Coraline from my son, Mike, when he was young, and still called Mikey. If ever I made anything adventurous he’d shake his head and say, “Dad, you’ve made a recipe, haven’t you?” and he’d head off to the freezer compartment to find a box of microwavable French fries.
Whenever we’d go out to eat he’d order peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, until one day a waiter persuaded him to explore the rest of the menu, and he’s never looked back.
How did you deal with long, boring, rainy days during the school holidays?
Well, on the good ones I’d get someone to drop me off at the local library, and I’d read. On the bad ones I’d stare out of the window and wonder what to do, and eventually wind up rereading the Narnia books.
What was the door that you were most scared to go through?
Well, Coraline’s door really was in the “drawing room” of our house. The house, long since knocked down, had been divided into two, and behind the door at the far end of the room was a red-brick wall. I was never certain there would always be a brick wall there, though.
Are things really magical, or do you make them magical by believing in them?
I think most things are pretty magical, and that it’s less a matter of belief than it is one of just stopping to notice.
What is the biggest key you have on your key ring and what does it open?
When I was boy I collected keys, for no real reason I could explain, and somewhere in the attic I still have a box filled with them, keys of all sizes and shapes and designs.
There aren’t any fun ones on the everyday key ring, though: the biggest opens the cabin, overlooking the lake, where I go and write each day. The cabin doesn’t have a phone, which helps.
What chocolate do you eat first if you’re given a whole box?
In a perfect world, I would first identify the chocolates from the Identify Your Chocolate guide and eat something with a name like “Caramel Surprise.” In the real world, I tend normally to accidentally pull out the chocolate truffles. By the way, I cannot see the point of “tangerine crèmes.”
Why do the batteries in things always run out just when you really need them?
It’s one of the rules. I don’t try and explain them. I just live here.
Did you let your children read Coraline before anyone else?
Well, I read it to Maddy, who was six when I finished it; and I forgot to give it to Holly (who is sixteen), so she just read it. “I hope you weren’t too old for it,” I told her, when she was done. “I don’t think you can be too old for Coraline,” she
What is your favorite time of day?
Really, really early in the morning, just as the sun is coming up. I don’t see it too often, but I love it when I do.
Have you ever had your future told?
Once, while waiting for a theater to open in New York, by an old woman. She told me I would die on an island. It hasn’t happened yet.
Will there be a film of Coraline?
Quite possibly. The film rights have been bought, and Henry Selick, who is most famous for directing The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach, has written the script and plans to direct it.
So many of my stories have been bought by Hollywood that I’ve long since stopped expecting any of them to actually happen, and will simply be pleasantly surprised if any of them actually do.
Will you write another children’s book?
Yes. The next one I want to write has a working title of The Graveyard Book.
Ten years of Coraline: Special Anniversary Questions
Looking back on ten years of Coraline, what surprises you the most about how the book has been and continues to be received?
That people love it, really. I thought it was much too odd and scary to be loved by anyone but me, and possibly my kids. I love that people, male and female and of all ages, identify with Coraline.
Throughout the last decade, Coraline has become a celebrated magical, literary classic and has now also successfully transitioned into both film and theater. Why do you think Coraline has been able to accomplish such a rare feat?
Coraline was published in 2002, illustrated by Dave McKean, and she went out into the world, accompanied by Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, not to mention her Other Mother, and scared many adults and fewer children. I was proud of her, proud of them all. And then I was able to gaze on, still proud but less immediately so, as I watched her transmute into an animated character in Henry Selick’s marvelous film, into an actress on a stage in Stephin Merritt’s haunting musical, into beautiful lines on paper in P. Craig Russell’s graphic novel. I do not know why it has worked so well, nor why it has changed its shape while never changing its essence. I think it’s because, at the end of the day (which is twilit and is about the time when the bats come out), it is not a story about fear, but one about bravery. After all, if a dragon is going to be defeated, it should be worth the fight, and the thing that calls herself the Other Mother is that.
How are you planning to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Coraline?
I do not know. Perhaps I shall start another book.
Excerpt from The Graveyard Book
Can a boy raised by the inhabitants of a graveyard face the monsters of the living world?
Read on for an excerpt of Neil Gaiman’s luminous novel,
THE GRAVEYARD BOOK
Ever since the child had learned to walk he had been his mother’s and father’s despair and delight, for there never was such a boy for wandering, for climbing up things, for getting into and out of things. That night, he had been woken by the sound of something on the floor beneath him falling with a crash. Awake, he soon became bored, and had begun looking for a way out of his crib. It had high sides, like the walls of his playpen downstairs, but he was convinced that he could scale it. All he needed was a step…
He pulled his large, golden teddy bear into the corner of the crib, then, holding the railing in his tiny hands, he put his foot onto the bear’s lap, the other foot up on the bear’s head, and he pulled himself up into a standing position, and then he half-climbed, half-toppled over the railing and out of the crib.
He landed with a muffled thump on a small mound of furry, fuzzy toys, some of them presents from relations from his first birthday, not six months gone, some of them inherited from his older sister. He was surprised when he hit the floor, but he did not cry out: if you cried they came and put you back in your crib.
He crawled out of the room.
Stairs that went up were tricky things, and he had not yet entirely mastered them. Stairs that went down however, he had discovered, were fairly simple. He did them sitting down, bumping from step to step on his well-padded bottom.
He sucked on his nummer, the rubber pacifier his mother had just begun to tell him that he was getting too old for.
His diaper had worked itself loose on his journey on his bottom down the stairs, and when he reached the last step, when he reached the little hall and stood up, the diaper fell off. He stepped out of it. He was only wearing a child’s nightshirt. The stairs that led back up to his room and his family were steep, but the door to the street was open and inviting….
The child stepped out of the house a little hesitantly. The fog wreathed around him like a long-lost friend. And then, uncertainly at first, then with increasing speed and confidence, the boy tottered up the hill.
The fog was thinner as you approached the top of the hill. The half-moon shone, not as bright as day, not by any means, but enough to see the graveyard, enough for that.
You could see the abandoned funeral chapel, iron doors padlocked, ivy on the sides of the spire, a small tree growing out of the guttering at roof level.
You could see stones and tombs and vaults and memorial plaques. You could see the occasional dash or scuttle of a rabbit or a vole or a weasel as it slipped out of the undergrowth and across the path.
You would have seen these things, in the moonlight, if you had been there that night.
You might not have seen a pale, plump woman, who walked the path near the front gates, and if you had seen her, with a second, more careful glance you would have realized that she was only moonlight, mist, and shadow. The plump, pale woman was there, though. She walked the path that led through a clutch of half-fallen tombstones towards the front gates.
The gates were locked. They were always locked at four in the afternoon in winter, at eight at night in summer. Spike-topped iron railings ran around part of the cemetery, a high brick wall around the rest of it. The bars of the gates were closely spaced: they would have stopped a grown man from getting through, even stopped a ten-year-old child…
“Owens!” called the pale woman, in a voice that might have been the rustle of the wind through the long grass. “Owens! Come and look at this!”
She crouched down and peered at something on the ground, as a patch of shadow moved into the moonlight, revealing itself to be a grizzled man in his mid-forties. He looked down at his wife, and then looked at what she was looking at, and he scratched his head.
“Mistress Owens?” he said, for he came from a more formal age than our own. “Is that what I think it is?”
And at that moment the thing he was inspecting seemed to catch sight of Mrs. Owens, for it opened its mouth, letting the rubber nipple it was sucking fall to the ground, and it reached out a small, chubby fist, as if it were trying for all the world to hold on to Mrs. Owens’s pale finger.
“Strike me silly,” said Mr. Owens, “if that isn’t a baby.”
“Of course it’s a baby,” said his wife. “And the question is, what is to be done with it?”
“I daresay that is a question, Mistress Owens,” said her husband. “And yet, it is not our question. For this here baby is unquestionably alive, and as such is nothing to do with us, and is no part of our world.”
“Look at him smile!” said Mrs. Owens. “He has the sweetest of smiles,” and with one insubstantial hand she stroked the child’s sparse blond hair. The little boy giggled with delight.
A chilly breeze blew across the graveyard, scattering the fog in the lower slopes of the place (for the graveyard covered the whole of the top of the hill, and its paths wound up the hill and down and back upon themselves). A rattling: someone at the main gate of the graveyard was pulling and shaking it, rattling the old gates and the heavy padlock and chain that held them.
“There now,” said Owens, “it’s the babe’s family, come to bring him back to the loving bosom. Leave the little man
Mrs. Owens said, “He dun’t look like nobody’s family, that one.” The man in the dark coat had given up on rattling the main gates and was now examining the smaller side gate. It, too, was well-locked. There had been some vandalism in the graveyard the previous year, and the council had Taken Steps.
“Come on, Mistress Owens. Leave it be. There’s a dear,” said Mr. Owens, when he saw a ghost, and his mouth dropped open, and he found himself unable to think of anything to say.
You might think—and if you did, you would be right—that Mr. Owens should not have taken on so at seeing a ghost, given that Mr. and Mrs. Owens were themselves dead and had been for a few hundred years now, and given that the entirety of their social life, or very nearly, was spent with those who were also dead. But there was a difference between the folk of the graveyard and this: a raw, flickering, startling shape the grey color of television static, all panic and naked emotion which flooded the Owenses as if it was their own. Three figures, two large, one smaller, but only one of them was in focus, was more than an outline or a shimmer. And the figure said, My baby! He is trying to harm my baby!
A clattering. The man outside was hauling a heavy metal garbage can across the alley to the high brick wall that ran around that part of the graveyard.
“Protect my son!” said the ghost, and Mrs. Owens thought it was a woman. Of course, the babe’s mother.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman / Fantasy / Young Adult / Horror have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes