Spooky portal fantasy

Neil Gaiman: Coraline. The Graphic Novel
Adapted and illustrated by P Craig Russell
Colourist: Lovern Kindzierski; letterer: Todd Klein
Bloomsbury 2008

Gaiman’s Coraline is a chilling portal fantasy, a warped version of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871) as seen through a distorting prism, and here impressively presented in graphic novel form. Coraline’s family moves to a flat in an old decaying mansion, but her parents are too wrapped up in themselves and their work to pay much attention to her. In her boredom, exasperated at the rather dotty aged residents in the other flats, she explores the house and eventually finds a locked door.

Though it’s bricked up she soon somehow finds herself through on the other side, only to find herself confronted by a psychic vampire of an ‘other’ mother with button eyes, eventually becoming trapped in a nightmare existence. However, just as Alice had both her Dinah and the Cheshire Cat, Coraline has a feline helper as adviser and companion, guiding her through the labyrinth and assisting her with the tricksy obstacles the other mother puts in her way.

Neil Gaiman’s spooky novella is well served by P Craig Russell’s adaptation: though Coraline’s appearance is a year or two older than I imagined her, he has rendered her moods and mannerisms exactly as I remember them from the text. Here body language and expression exactly mirror her boredom, sulkiness, irritation, confusion, fear, determination and joy. The supporting cast of assorted adults are also well characterised, their quirkiness brought out in appearance and behavioural tics.

The house is the epitome of the Victorian Gothick residence, all sash windows, French chateau touches and oppressive decor. The ‘other’ house is surrounded by mists, or loses definition the further Coraline walks away from it, only to find herself back where she started. And, naturally, it has its resident ghosts, rats, bats, a cellar and an attic filled with putrid rubbish, even an abandoned theatre. The level of detail is just right, mixing realism and illusion as it runs the gamut of everything from sweet dreams to nightmare, from normality to horror, from delight to distress.

The author’s ability to take cliché and weave it into an intricate seamless tapestry is always astonishing. The ambulating hand in The Adams Family films, the key from traditional Bluebeard tales, the holed stone of ghost stories and local legends, the object containing a soul familiar from both Russian lore and the Harry Potter series, the witch from Handel and Gretel, all are grist to Gaiman’s imaginative mill, transmuted to become integral to the tale and yet, with every appearance of being freshly minted. This version is true to the spirit of the original, and well worth more than a cursory glance.


2018 Ultimate Reading Challenge: a book which is a graphic novel

A previous review of Coraline and other tales appeared here

15 thoughts on “Spooky portal fantasy

  1. I did love Coraline – though my version is from ‘Coraline and other stories’ with illustrations by Dave McKean. I see what you mean about your Coraline looking older than you might imagine her – strikes a little off note for me, that. But the story is terrific, with its just quirky enough subsidiary characters and the terrifying Other Mother. But then, I do love Gaiman … 🙂 Great review Chris

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dave McKean’s art is very atmospheric, and certainly for the edition you’re talking about (I seem to have passed my copy on) at times unsettlingly ambiguous, amply intensified by the monochrome treatment. Gaiman is certainly blessed in the quality of the artists who bring his stories into the visual world. Glad you liked the review, Lynn!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. earthbalm

    I haven’t seen this but read “The Graveyard Book” adaptation. I’ve loved P Craig Russell’s art since the 70s comics days. Must check this out. Still having internet access problems.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve only got Volume One of the The Graveyard Book graphic adaptation, but like this version of Coraline it largely matches up with my visualisation of what the text conveyed, a testament to Gaiman’s skill with description and atmospheric detail. I’ve given my copy to my grandsons in the hopes they’ll be inspired or else I’d’ve passed it on to you.

      A lack of constant internet access is a bugger alright, especially as we all seem to rely on it so much these days. Hope it gets sorted soon for you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. earthbalm

        Likewise, it’s only volume one that I’ve read but I prefer Neil Gaiman’s original prose anyway. Was hoping to have a 20m ethernet cable delivered today but… no show. Safari just stopped working on the machine, tried looking through all of the security and wifi settings but nothing works. My iMac is fine and it’s what I’m currently typing on but all of my favourites are on the other (very aged) Mac. It’s also the computer I use for the Erf Barm work and I need to update some apps. Still, it’s not world-ending or anything.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Soon, one hopes, you’ll get your cable, but I’m sure we all share in your frustration—as connectivity gets more complex and efficient we feel powerless at any break in continuity, especially when the delay is longer than expected, when it then starts to feel personal.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Hmm. I definitely need to check this out. I love the film version of Coraline, making the other-mother’s world a bit more alluring so that when Coraline’s trapped, it’s genuinely freaky. Plus I did like the addition of a peer with the neighbor boy–it actually emphasizes Coraline’s loneliness because she has no clue how to talk to him, or, later, how to convince him what happened to her parents.
    Excellent post as always, my friend. 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I started to watch the film on TV but then got distracted and never returned to it, and have been waiting for it to be screened again, as I’m sure it will! Looked good, what I saw of it, but I wondered if it might give younger viewers nightmares—I suspect it would me… 😁

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Excellent point. Blondie wants nothing to do with it. Biff and Bash love it until Coraline wants to go home, and the other-mother reveals her creepy form. 🙂
        But…shoot, I forget the stop-motion animation company behind Coraline, but it’s SUCH a gorgeous film. I’ve yet to be disappointed in their work. Kubo was breathtaking.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I just looked up Laika Films on Wikipedia and I’ve not come across any of their other films, to my knowledge. I shall have to check out the trailers now and scan the tv guides for when they’re shown on the box!

          Liked by 1 person

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