I read Coraline last night. All of it. Every word. Wafting through my head in Neil Gaiman’s deep slow British voice. It took hours, but I couldn’t stop until the little girl had set her world back to rights.
If you haven’t met her, Coraline is a bored little girl who prefers microwaved pizza and chocolate cake; who turns up her nose at her father’s adventurous cooking, and is annoyed by her parents because they work too much and ignore her. She lives in an enormous old gothic house inhabited by eccentric people far more “interesting” than her parents.
She is bold, smart-alecky, and defiant. And like most children, Coraline is curious. She likes to explore.
That’s how she meets the “other mother”… the “beldame”… the monster who can suck a child’s soul out through her eyeballs and into a glass marble. For eyes are the heart of the soul. All the beldame leaves behind is a filmy shell with black button eyes…she sews them in with a long needle and black thread.
She is D’Sonoqua, child-stealer of the Northwest Coast First People; the abusive step-mother in Cinderella who uses her new child for slave labour; the jealous poisoned apple-wielding queen in Snow White; the fire-building cannibal witch in Hansel and Gretel who cages and fattens little boys and girls with sweets before she cooks and eats them.
She is the Nightmare of a child neglected, bored, disbelieved, lonely, powerless, and vulnerable.
Coraline’s world is fraught with danger, but there is only one thing to do with a beldame that steals your parents and intends to suck your soul into a glass marble.
Fight. You must be brave and strong and smart and you must fight. You must solve the monster’s riddle; creep down the grave-dark corridor; descend into the moldy damp belly of a basement; ignore the skittering rats and spiders; and confront the monster. Even the bits that detach and creep after you, like the beldame’s clickety right hand. You must fight and win and you must do it alone. There is no other way.
All children must know this.
We cannot protect our children by locking them in glass rooms like butterflies. Glass cracks and breaks; evil seeps in like a virus; keys are lost and found; monsters lurk outside the door…and often inside. Butterflies grow sad and sick and die.
All children meet their monsters.
I did not meet the beldame as a child. My monsters were marauding pedophiles, child-stealers more Hearts in Atlantis than Coraline, but with similar intentions: to steal my soul. The crunch of tires on gravel meant HIDE. If no one is home, huddle behind father’s armchair and do not make a sound. Do not breathe. BECOME INVISIBLE. If walking to school: find a ditch, a creek bed, a copse of trees. VANISH. Take to the woods and fields. RUN. But it does not work. Monsters are strong; have powerful senses. They sniff you out…eventually, and you must fight.
I did not meet the beldame as a child. But I know she exists. I’ve met her since.
Every child has a monster. So every child must have courage and a plan and a voice. Give them magic, a mojo. An amulet for protection. An animal to confide in. Secret power words and numbers. An escape route through the woods. A hiding place. A song. Stories.
Stories in which the child confronts and beats the monster. Because as much as we try to deny it, we all know: monsters exist everywhere.