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Front cover by Paul A. Hotaling
Author Neil Gaiman
Illustrator Dave McKean
Cover artist Paul A. Hotaling
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Horror
Publisher Bloomsbury (UK)
Harper Collins (US)
Publication date
24 January 2002
Media type Print, e-book, audiobook
Pages 163
ISBN 0-06-113937-8
OCLC 71822484
LC Class PZ7.G1273 Co 2002

Coraline /ˈkɒrəln/[1] is a horror/fantasy novella by British author Neil Gaiman, published in 2002 by Bloomsbury and Harper Collins. It was awarded the 2003 Hugo Award for Best Novella,[2] the 2003 Nebula Award for Best Novella,[3] and the 2002 Bram Stoker Award for Best Work for Young Readers.[4] It has been compared to Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and has been adapted into a 2009 stop-motion film directed by Henry Selick.

Plot summary[edit]

Coraline Jones and her parents move into an old house that has been divided into flats. The other tenants include Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, two elderly women retired from the stage, and Mr. Bobinski, who claims to be training a mouse circus. The flat beside Coraline's remains decayed.

During a rainy day she discovers a locked door in a downstairs room. She gets the key from her mother and opens the door to discover that it has been bricked up. As she goes to visit her neighbours, Mr. Bobo relates to her a message from his mice: Don't go through the door. At tea with Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, Miss Spink spies danger in Coraline’s future after reading her tea leaves, and gives her a lucky stone. The ladies explain that the stone will make the unseen seen.

Despite these warnings, Coraline decides to unlock the door when she is home by herself. This time, she finds the brick wall behind the door gone. In its place is a long hallway that leads to a flat identical to her own, inhabited by her Other Mother and Other Father. They look like her parents, except that in place of eyes, they have shiny black buttons. The Other Mother, however, is notably different from her real mother, in that she is taller and thinner. Her black hair seems to move by itself, her skin is paper-white, and her nails are long and red. In this “Other World”, Coraline finds everything to be better than her reality: her Other Parents pay attention to her, her toy box is filled with animate toys that can move and fly, and the Other Miss Spink and Miss Forcible forever perform a cabaret show in their flat. She even finds that the feral Black Cat that wanders around the house in the real world can talk; however, she learns he is not of the Other World; he can travel from one world to the other, and has done so to warn Coraline of imminent danger, but Coraline pays him no heed. The Other Mother and other inhabitants of the Other World do not like the black cat.

The Button Mother offers Coraline the opportunity to stay in the Button World forever, and to do so, Coraline must allow buttons to be sewn into her eyes. Coraline is horrified and returns through the door to her home. Upon her return to her apartment, Coraline finds her real parents are missing. They do not return the next day, and the black cat wakes her and takes her to a mirror in her hallway, through which she can see her trapped parents. They signal to her by writing "Help Us" on the glass, from which Coraline deduces the Other Mother has kidnapped them. Though frightened of returning, Coraline goes back to the Other World to confront the Other Mother and rescue her parents. In the garden, Coraline is prompted by the Cat to challenge the Other Mother, as “her kind of thing loves games and challenges”. The Other Mother tries to convince Coraline to stay, but Coraline refuses, and is locked within a mirror as punishment.

Behind the mirror is darkness and a small space like a closet. There, she meets three ghost children, each from a different era. They had let the beldame (the Other Mother) sew buttons in their eyes. They tell Coraline how she eventually grew bored with them, and eventually they died and she cast their spirits aside. But they are trapped there because she has kept their souls. If their souls can be rescued from the Other Mother, then the ghosts can pass on. The ghost children implore Coraline to avoid their fate.

After the Other Mother releases Coraline from the mirror, Coraline proposes a game: if she can find the ghost children's souls and her parents, then she, her parents and the ghost children may go free. If she loses, then Coraline will let the Other Mother sew the buttons into her eyes and become a loving daughter to her.

Coraline searches through the Other World, overcomes all of the Other Mother's obstacles, uses her wits and Miss Spink's stone to locate the ghost children's souls and her parents, who are imprisoned in a snow globe on the mantle. The ghost children warn her that even if Coraline wins, the Other Mother will not let them go. So Coraline tricks the Other Mother: she announces that she knows her parents are hidden in the passageway between the worlds. The Other Mother cannot resist gloating by opening the door to show Coraline that her parents are not there. But as the Other Mother opens the door, Coraline throws the cat at the Other Mother, grabs the snow globe, and escapes to the real world with the key, and the Cat quickly follows. In escaping, she forces the door shut on the Other Mother's hand, severing it. Back in her home, Coraline finds her parents safe and with no memory of the events.

That night, Coraline has a dream in which she meets the three children before they move on to the afterlife. They warn her that her task is still not done: the other mother's severed hand is in Coraline's world, and will not stop until it locates and uses the key to open the door that connects the two worlds. Coraline goes to an old well in the woods by her house, luring the Other Mother’s hand there with the key, and tricks the Other Mother's hand into falling down the bottomless well.


  • Coraline Jones – The young explorer. She is curious, intelligent, resourceful, and courageous. Coraline is often irritated by rain, crazy grown-ups (as they all seem to be), and not being taken seriously because of her young age. She's described as being "small for her age," but Coraline is not afraid to face anyone; she is the most adventurous person in the book.
  • Mrs. Jones – Coraline's mother.She is very busy most of the time, and sometimes a little inattentive, but she loves and cares about Coraline. She is nice, and helpful, though Coraline considers her to be rather boring. Coraline also gets annoyed with her real mother because she doesn't seem to want to let Coraline "fit in".
  • Mr. Jones – Coraline's father. He works at his house on the computer. He cares about Coraline very much and is kind, brave and helpful. He makes interesting food creations that Coraline strongly dislikes. He too is usually too busy to spend time with Coraline.
  • The Cat – A black cat from Coraline's world. The cat acts as a mentor to Coraline and guides her through her journey. He claims to have no name, explaining that cats do not need names to tell each other apart. Unlike many of the characters in the novel, he does not have an "Other World" counterpart, saying that unlike other creatures in the world, cats can "keep themselves together". He moves freely from one world to the other, although he seems to be only able to talk in the Other Mother's world. He is very sarcastic, though helpful towards Coraline. He's defiant of the Other Mother, but seems to tremble at the thought of being stuck in the Other Mother's world. He befriends Coraline and helps her escape from the Other Mother.
  • The Other Mother – The creature that created much of the Other World and the main villain of the novel. She looks similar to Coraline's real mother but taller and thinner, with long black hair that seems to move by itself, black button eyes, paper-white skin, and extremely long, twitchy fingers with long dark red nails. During the course of the novel, she grows taller, thinner, and paler, looking less and less like Coraline's mother. She cannot create, but only copy, twist and change things from the real world when constructing her version of it. She collects children, with whom she quickly becomes bored or frustrated, and imprisons them behind a magical mirror, slowly sucking the life from them. In the film her true form is a spidery, skeletal creature. She is referred to several times as "the beldam", a Middle English word meaning "grandmother," "ugly old woman," or "hag", and also used to refer to creatures of faery. However, the French for 'Belle-dame' is 'Beautiful lady'. There are connotations to 'Belle-mère' which literally translates as 'Beautiful Mother' but means 'Step-mother' which applies to the 'other mother'.
  • The Other Father – A creation of the Other Mother, who is used to help trick Coraline into staying in the Other Mother's world. Like her real father, he has a study and sits there during the day and will not talk to Coraline for long. He does not work, however; he merely occupies the study, as he is not permitted to talk to Coraline by himself. He is much more fun than Coraline's real father and always tries to be cheerful and fun in front of Coraline. In reality, the Other Father is sad and nervous. The Other Mother ends up punishing him for revealing too much to Coraline—she transforms him into a grub-like creature, and orders the Other Father to trap Coraline so she cannot win her challenge, but Coraline escapes.
  • Miss April Spink and Miss Miriam Forcible – A pair of retired actresses who live in the flat under Coraline's. They own many ageing Scotties, such as Hamish, Angus and Jock, and talk in theatre jargon, often referencing their time as actresses. They recognise the danger Coraline is in after reading her fortune through tea leaves and give her a stone with a hole in it to help protect her. In the other world they are young, pretty, and perform unendingly in front of many different dogs, who, in the Other World, behave like humans.
  • Mr. Bobo (In the film known as "Mr. Bobinsky") – A retired circus performer living in the flat above Coraline's; he is commonly referred to as the Crazy Old Man Upstairs. Over the course of the book he claims to be training mice to perform in a mouse circus, and often brings Coraline messages from them, though at first Coraline doubts he even has mice to train, and doesn't listen to what he says to be messages from the mice. His counterpart in the Other World trains rats, and is in fact made of rats.
  • The three ghost children – A trio of children who were previously victims of the Other Mother: two girls and one boy. The boy is described as having a dirty face and red trousers. One of the girls has brown hair, a pink blouse and a pink skirt. The other has a brown bonnet and brown dress. They were trapped by the other mother at different times before Coraline, and reside in the dark space behind the mirror. After having their souls restored, they go to the afterlife, but not before meeting Coraline for a last time, in a dream where she picnics with them. Here, she sees their true appearances and they thank her for freeing them from the Other Mother.



With the help of the animation studio Laika, director Henry Selick released a stop motion film adaptation in 2009, to generally positive reviews. At the 82nd Academy Awards, the film was nominated for Best Animated Feature. In the film, Coraline is depicted as having short blue hair and freckles. Henry Selick added a new character, Wyborn "Wybie" Lovat, who is an annoyance at first to Coraline in the real world but she grows to like him. In the Other world he cannot speak, but is an ally to Coraline. At the end of the film, Coraline reaches out to help Wybie tell his grandmother what is behind the little door.

Graphic novel[edit]

A graphic novel adaptation, published in 2008, was illustrated by P. Craig Russell and lettered by Todd Klein.[5]


A theatrical adaptation, with music and lyrics by Stephin Merritt and book by David Greenspan, premiered on 6 May 2009, produced by MCC Theater and True Love Productions Off-Broadway at The Lucille Lortel Theatre.[6] The production used non-traditional casting: nine-year-old Coraline was played by an adult, Jayne Houdyshell, and the Other Mother was played by David Greenspan.[6]

Video game[edit]

A video game adaptation, based on the film, was published and developed by D3 Publisher of America. The game was released on 27 January 2009 for the PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS and Wii platforms and contains features such as playing as Coraline, interacting with other characters, and playing minigames. The game received mostly negative reviews.


  1. ^ "The theatrical trailer for Coraline". Retrieved 8 December 2010. 
  2. ^ "The Hugo Awards : 2003 Hugo Awards". World Science Fiction Society. Retrieved 25 October 2009. 
  3. ^ "The Nebula Awards". Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Archived from the original on 28 August 2008. Retrieved 25 October 2009. 
  4. ^ "Past Stoker Nominees & Winners". Horror Writers Association. Retrieved 25 October 2009. 
  5. ^ Smith, Zack (19 August 2008). "P. Craig Russell – Adapting Coraline and More". Newsarama. Retrieved 27 October 2011. 
  6. ^ a b Blankenship, Mark (7 June 2009). "The Score and the Story, Inseparable". New York Times. pp. AR4. 

External links[edit]