Check out our episode here! Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Coraline, her mother and father moved into a large house that had an attic, a cellar, and an overgrown garden. They did not own the whole house, they only had a small flat in part of it. On the ground floor lived Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, they once trod the boards, but they are now old and round and have a number of Highland terriers. They always mispronounce Coraline’s name, it’s Coraline not Caroline. In the flat above lives a crazy old man with a big mustache who said he was training mice for a circus. He would not show Coraline the mouse circus.
Coraline liked to explore. In the big garden, she found an old tennis court, a rockery that was all rocks, and a fairy ring. She also found a well Miss Spink and Miss Forcible warned her away from. Coraline also found animals including a haughty black cat. Coraline could explore the garden to her heart's content so long as she dressed warmly, but then the weather turned and she had to stay indoors, so she started to explore there. Her parents were perfectly happy for Coraline to do so, as long as she didn’t make a mess and left them to work. They even let her explore the drawing room.
Coraline counted everything blue and the windows and the doors. She found one locked door in the drawing room. It was a big, carved wooden door in the far corner. Her mother told Coraline it went nowhere. The big black key to the door was on a string of keys on the kitchen door frame. Her mother used it to show her a brick wall behind. It went somewhere once, before the house was separated into flats, but now there is a brick wall, and Coraline’s mother doesn’t bother to lock the door after she's shown Coraline nothing is behind it.
Later that night, Coraline hears strange noises and climbs out of bed to investigate. Something scuttles in the shadows and darts into the drawing room. A black shape edges from behind furniture, then dashes to the farthest corner. The door to nowhere is slightly ajar. Returning to bed, Coraline dreams of singing rats ((We are small but we are many / We are many, we are small / We were here before you rose / We will be here when you fall))
The next day the rain has stopped but a thick fog has descended over the house. This does not deter Coraline from exploring the gardens, in suitable attire of course. She meets Miss Forcible and Miss Spink separately, and the old man upstairs whose mice have a message for her, “Don’t go through the door.” Dismissing this warning, Coraline goes back inside with little success finding entertainment. She draws a picture of the mist, her mother declares it modern, she checks the old door, finds it locked, and goes to speak with her father, who is perpetually busy and tells her to visit the neighbors. So she does, to Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, the latter of whom reads her tea leaves and sees danger in her future, and the former gives her a stone with a hole in it to help with the bad things.
As school was only a week away from starting, Coraline was dragged to the department store for her uniform. Her mother refused the Day-Glo green gloves. Pity. When they got home at lunchtime there was nothing to eat, so while Coraline’s mother popped to the shops, Coraline took this time as an opportunity to open the door.
There was a dark hallway where once there was brick. It felt cold and smelled musty. Coraline ventured forth and found herself in her own drawing room. Well, not exactly, it looked the same but slightly off. Then she heard her mother calling for her so she went into the kitchen. The woman there looked like her mother, but again not. She was slightly taller, her skin paper white, her fingers too long with sharp red nails, but her eyes… where her eyes should have been were big black buttons. The woman introduces herself as her other mother and the man, he is her other father. Coraline takes this in stride and sits down to the delicious chicken dinner her other mother has made. Afterwards she is encouraged to play with the rats in her room who sing the disquieting song from her dream before burrowing into the clothes of the man upstairs who appeared in her doorway. With the rats' departure, Coraline goes outside to explore.
The house outside is the same as the house inside, familiar but slightly off; the Misses Forcible and Spink’s door is brightly painted with signs pointing to an astounding theatrical triumph. On a wall near the house sits a proud and distinguished black cat, who Coraline hears speak in the back of her mind. It seems cats live in both worlds as this is the same one from home. Before it saunters off, it tells Coraline it was good she brought protection. Protection?
Coraline decides to explore the Misses Forcible and Spink’s flat. It is dark inside with rows of velvet cushioned seats facing a stage. A Terrier asks her for a ticket, and though she doesn’t have one, shows her to a seat anyway where other dogs are patiently waiting for the show to start, and soon it does. Misses Forcible and Spink make dramatic entrances, one on a unicycle, the other scattering flowers before they unzip their fluffy coats and faces and step out looking younger and trim with button eyes. The show is part theatrical Shakespeare production, part circus performance and Coraline is a “volunteer” who has a balloon atop her head popped by a blindfolded knife-wielding Miss Forcible. The box of chocolates she wins is given to the dog sitting next to her. The show, she is told, will go on forever so Coraline leaves. Waiting for her in the garden is her other mother and other father who want her to stay forever and ever. All Coraline will have to do is have her eyes replaced by buttons. Coraline declines and hastens through the drawing room door. Though this world is more interesting than home, she doesn’t want to stay.
Coraline’s mother has not returned from the shops, and her father, who is on a day trip to London, hasn’t returned either. Coraline makes herself dinner and puts herself to bed. The next day there is still no sign of her parents. She makes do again, visits Miss Forcible and Miss Spink who ignore her comments of missing parents, and uses her pocket money to buy chocolate cake, apples and limeade for dinner. Her parents still haven’t returned that night and Coraline cries herself to sleep in their bed. The black cat wakes her at 3:12am and pushes her to the big mirror in the hall. Coraline can see the ghost of her parents in its reflection, and her mother uses her breath to write HELP US before it fades. Seeing the only sensible course of action is to get help, Coraline calls the police who are condescending and don’t believe her. It’s up to her. Gathering some supplies like a candle, apples and her stone with a hole in it, Coraline ventures back through the door in the drawing room.
On the other side of the door, Coraline’s other mother and other father are waiting. They are joyous that she has come back to them and tell her they will treat her better than her parents. Coraline challenges this and doesn’t fully believe the image the other mother shows her in the hallway mirror of her parents returning from a holiday abroad they could not have taken if they still had a daughter.
Now it is time for bed, and though Coraline does not want to sleep under the same roof as the other parents, she does. The black cat suggests she think of a challenge to win her parents back as the other mother creature loves a challenge though likely won’t play fair. The cat also suggests she get some rest as it will be a long day tomorrow. Though it probably won’t help matters, Coraline sleeps in her other bedroom with the toy chest blocking the door.
Coraline slept through the night, and in the morning she made the decision to put on the clothes her other mother had for her in the wardrobe, but these were more costumes than clothes. Gathering her last apple and the stone, Coraline sets out to find her parents. Sitting stock still in his study, Coraline finds her other father who tells her her other mother is off fixing the doors to stop the vermin from getting in, meaning the black cat. He then tells her the other mother said he shouldn’t talk to her, so he remains silent. Coraline leaves, checking the drawing room and finding the same old furniture and the same picture of a bowl of fruit, but the snow globe on the mantle is different.
Coraline explores outside until the trees become indistinguishable blobs of color and the white fog thickens, and she stumbles upon the cat who tells her there is nothing there and it was all constructed by her. Heading back inside and looking in the hallway mirror Coraline is confronted by her other mother, who has no reflection. She insists she and Coraline play a game but Coraline declines, she will not play, she will not stay, she will not love her; Coraline wants her parents and for them to go back home together. For her insolence, the other mother takes a key, opens the hallway mirror and locks Coraline inside, she is not to come out until she has learned some manners and is ready to be a loving daughter.
Inside the mirror is pitch black and cramped, barely the size of a closet, and Coraline isn’t alone. Along with a spider are the ghosts of children who have forgotten their names as the other mother fed on them until they were wisps and husks. She has them trapped in this space and their souls are hidden somewhere else. The children warn Coraline that the same will happen to her. Coraline doesn’t believe the other mother will leave her forgotten in this place because she needs to have her fun and games first, but she feels sorry for the ghost children and wants to help them. As Coraline drifts off to sleep, she feels a ghostly kiss on her cheek and hears a whisper of a voice say, “look through the stone.”
The other mother plucks a sleeping Coraline from the space in the mirror and carries her as she would a baby into the kitchen. As the other mother makes Coraline a cheese omelets, Coraline proposes a finding things game. If Coraline wins, the other mother will free her parents and the ghost children and let them return home. If she loses, she will submit to being a dutiful daughter and have buttons sewn into her eyes. The other mother loves games and the prize is tempting, so she swears by her right hand she will obey the rules and the game is on.
Coraline begins her search, at first under the watch of the other mother but soon alone. Deciding she would rather be in her own clothes, Coraline changes back into her pajamas in her bedroom; she also takes this opportunity to look at the toys scattered around the room and in the toy box. Remembering the advice of the ghost child, Coraline pulls out the stone with the hole in it and scans the room looking through the hole. Coraline sees a small light, a marble, and when she picks it up, she hears one of the ghost children’s voices. It sounds relieved and warns her the other mother will not be happy that she's found one of their souls. Deciding to explore further, Coraline goes to the flat of Misses Forcible and Spink.
The theatre looks decrepit and abandoned. Strange dog-bat creatures are dangling from the rafters. It's silent. Looking through the stone again, Coraline locates a small spark inside a goo sac. The sac contains the gelatinous mass of Misses Forcible and Spink, with their two young heads and too many limbs, and tight in their grasp is the soul marble. Coraline reaches in and manages to grab it when the strange dog-bats start flying about causing the button eyes of Misses Forcible and Spink to open and look right at her. Coraline pulls the marble free from the goo sac and makes her hasty escape from the flat. As she leaves, Coraline hears the whisper of a child's voice telling her to flee, to run away from this place.
Outside everything is turning formless, like the house is a half-formed idea of the thing. The mist swirls, shadows deepen and the house seems to twist and stretch. The other mother is waiting for Coraline, perfectly still and expressionless, her fury only betrayed by the tightness of her lips pressed together. Coraline informs the other mother that she has found two souls, and only has one to go. No reaction. The other mother offers to help Coraline, after all she won’t be able to get into the empty flat without a key which she coughs up and pulls from her mouth. She tosses it at Coraline who catches the damp key, then a chill wind blows and the other mother disappears.
Coraline goes to the empty flat, a voice of one of the ghost children warning her it is a trick. Coraline expects that is the case and unlocks the door. Inside, it is empty, old and dirty. Walking through the rooms, Coraline finds a trap door. She pulls it open, but there is only darkness inside and a switch only turns on a thin yellow light. Looking down through the stone, Coraline can see nothing so she goes down.
The room is filled with rubbish and the floor crunches, but she spots two feet amongst the debris. Pulling back a cloth hiding a figure, Coraline finds a pale, bloated featureless creature akin to a grub but with black button eyes. Coraline makes a sound of revulsion and the thing turns toward her. When it opens it’s maw and says “Coraline,” she realizes this is the other father. The other father was sent there to be punished for giving Coraline too much information. It confirms nothing but it is down there and that the other mother isn’t pleased. Its movements cause one of the buttons to fall off. Then, as Coraline begins to leave, it lunges toward her. Coraline grabs at the other button eye and pulls it off, blinding the creature; however, it listens closely, tracking her movements. Quietly as one can be, Coraline tiptoes out of the basement, closes the trapdoor, and walks out the front door, locking it behind her and hiding the key under the mat. Coraline desperately wants to go home.
Coraline heads to the attic flat where the crazy old man lives. At home it smells of tobacco, cheesy things and strange food, but here it smells of the rotted versions. Convincing herself of her bravery, Coraline pushes forth into the cramped flat. Many tiny singing voices can be heard, singing the same song from her dream and the one the rats were singing. From the shadows, red eyes stare at her and little feet scurry about. From a far room, a rustling voice says “little girl” and slowly she heads toward it. A figure stands at the end of the room, telling Coraline to stay, to play and eat food she likes and not be ignored. She can have Day-Glo green gloves and yellow Wellington boots in the shape of frogs. She can have whatever she wants. Coraline tells the figure she doesn’t want everything, no one does, and that it is a bad copy of a crazy old man and would never understand. Coraline pulls the stone from her pocket and starts to look around for the last marble and spots its tiny glow in the greasy raincoat of the figure.
The figure falls apart into black rats and Coraline loses sight of the marble. When she spots it, the largest rat has it in its paws and is by the door. Coraline gives chase and it scurries out. Running too fast down the stairs, Coraline falls, scraping her knee and hand, and when she stands up, the rat is gone. Dejected, Coraline closes her eyes, but then hears a cough. When she looks up, she spots the rat's surprised face and the other half of its body a few feet away, the black cat sitting smugly with a glass marble under its paw. The cat taps it toward Coraline, telling her it assumed she wouldn’t mind it getting involved and tells her the other mother has closed all the doors into this place, and now she'll never get home. Coraline promises that they will. With the third marble in hand, Coraline heads back inside to the twisted version of their home.
The other mother is waiting for her inside. It professes to love Coraline but Coraline doesn’t believe she knows what love is. The other mother is ready for Coraline to give up as she hasn’t found her parents, but Coraline says she knows exactly where they are, they are in the one place she hasn’t looked, the hallway between the worlds. Coraline desperately hopes her trick will work, that the other mother will want to gloat, but at the same time, Coraline is also desperate not to look at the snow globe on the mantelpiece.
The other mother falls for Coraline’s ploy and opens the door with the big iron key. As the door opens and the other mother looks smug, Coraline tosses the cat at her, grabs the snow globe, dashes to the door, taking the key out and shouting for the cat. It feels like Coraline is fighting against the wind as she tries to pull the door closed. Shouting “help me,” the ghostly hands of three children and two adults help give her strength and the door closes, but as it closes something scuttly falls on Coraline's head and thumps to the floor. Before running down the dark hallway, Coraline locks the door. In her home, she curls up on one of the uncomfortable armchairs and falls asleep with the cat on her lap.
Coraline is woken by the gentle shake of her mother, her real mother. Her mother has no recollection of the other mother and the copied flat, and she only remarks on the cat waiting at the front door, Coraline’s scraped knee and that dinner will be ready in 15 minutes. That night, Coraline puts the three marbles under her pillow and dreams she is at a picnic with three other children dressed strangely. They enjoy their picnic, play in the meadow, laugh and enjoy ice cream. Before the dream-sun sets, the other children warn Coraline that it isn’t over for her.
When Coraline wakes in the early hours, she hears scuttling outside her bedroom door. Thinking it is one of the rats, Coraline tells it to go away or it will be sorry. After a pause, she hears it scuttle away. It isn’t over, is it? Coraline checks her parents are in bed, and thankfully they are. While Coraline is looking out the front door something detaches itself from the shadows of the couch and scuttles toward her. It isn’t a rat or a spider, it’s the right hand of the other mother and it wants the iron key Coraline placed around her neck.
Coraline goes back to bed and as she puts her head on her pillow, she hears the crunch of broken glass. She finds the marbles broken, looking like empty shells. Gathering them up carefully, Coraline places them in a small blue box. When Coraline visits Miss Forcible and Miss Spink a day or so later, Miss Forcible reads her tea leaves and tells Coraline “everything’s mostly shipshape and Bristol fashion” except for one big clump which looks like a hand. One of their Scottie dogs whines and hides at this, Miss Spink noting it seems he’s been in some sort of fight. When Coraline sees the crazy old man from upstairs, he says something has frightened his mice.
As Coraline is drifting off to sleep that night, the hand scratches at her bedroom window leaving deep gouges in the glass. Coraline sleeps uneasily, waking often to plot and plan. The next morning, Coraline has a picnic with her dolls and borrows a paper tablecloth from her mother. When her mother queries playing with her dolls, Coraline calls them protective coloration, something she learned about in a book earlier. It seems she has a plan! Taking a box with the dolls, teacups, a jug of water, Coraline heads taking a circuitous route outside to set her trap at the hidden well. After removing some planks, Coraline spreads the tablecloth and sets the dolls up at the edge of the well with their cups and a little water in each to weigh the cloth down. Once it’s all set up, she retraces her steps.
Coraline knocks on the door of Misses Forcible and Spink, the iron key clearly displayed in her hand. Loudly declaring she can’t stay because she is going to play at the well with her dolls, she asks Miss Forcible how their dog is doing. Better, thank you for asking. With that, Coraline’s trap is set and she walks openly to the well. Coraline loudly offers her dolls salutations and carefully places the key on the tablecloth, keeping hold of the string, she then starts her picnic, watching the hand she spies in the bushes. Suddenly the hand bursts free, skitters toward the picnic, leaps and lands in the center of the tablecloth. As the hand closes around the key, it rips through the paper tablecloth and tumbles down into the darkness of the well. After a count of forty, Coraline hears a muffled splash.
Coraline puts the heavy planks back over the well and collects her things. The black cat comes sauntering over, jumps on top of the replaced planks, and gives Coraline a wink. When Coraline returns to the house, the crazy old man from upstairs, who Coraline finds out is called Mr. Bobo, tells her the mice say all is good and Coraline is their savior. Next, Coraline returns the stone to Miss Forcible and Miss Spink. The next day Coraline is to start school. Normally, the night before starting school, Coraline would be nervous and bubbling with apprehension, but there was nothing left to scare her.