Coraline and Other Stories
by Neil Gaiman.
Bloomsbury Publishing 2009.
This is a collection of eleven Gaiman short stories (and one poem) repackaged for the young reader market. The novella Coraline is added to Bloomsbury’s earlier Gaiman collection M for Magic, while M for Magic was itself a throwing together of disparate tales, some from the adult collection Smoke and Mirrors, some from other publications, all deemed suitable to send a chill down pre-teen, teen and, of course, adult readers.
So the moral is, if you already have these titles in your library you may want to pass on this ‘new’ title.
Or then again, you might not.
This is a good place to start, with the almost flawless Coraline¹ together with the other chillers about the fears and bogeys that haunt the childish and not so childish imagination, deliciously presented in a volume with pages that are black-edged and including Dave McKean’s original nightmarish illustrations for Coraline. This story about a girl (don’t call her ‘Caroline’!) who finds a way into a parallel house where her mother has been replaced by a sinister figure with buttons for eyes is both a terrifying and yet satisfying modern equivalent of all those Grimm fairytales such as Hansel and Gretel, with their bewitching and unspeakable devouring figures.
Outstanding are the pieces that bring horror (and sometimes humour) rather too close to home; Troll Bridge, Don’t Ask Jack, Chivalry, The Price and The Witch’s Headstone, whether set in the UK or the States, all remind the reader that the veil separating reality and the supernatural may be awfully thin. Chivalry is a humorous take on the grail quest,² while The Witch’s Headstone became chapter 4 of The Graveyard Book.³
Less engaging but just as skilfully written are the more alien, fantastic or futuristic stories such as How to Sell the Ponti Bridge and Sunbird; these are more for those who have leanings towards genre fiction, but they are still rooted in a rich Western cultural heritage.
Gaiman is a master at bringing the unexpected to the seemingly banal; don’t read this if you don’t ever want to have his disturbing visions floating up to your consciousness unbidden.
¹ I reviewed a graphic version of Coraline here.
² Chivalry appeared as a graphic novel in 2022, illustrated by Colleen Doran.
³ I reviewed Volume 1 of the graphic version of The Graveyard Book, adapted by P Craig Russell, here, and contributed to a discussion of the novel here for Witch Week 2020.
Review first published 27th March 2013, revised and reposted now for Wyrd and Wonder