Neil Gaiman

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on Coraline makes teaching easy.

Coraline Jones and her mother and father have just moved to a new town. Their new flat is part of a larger house which has been parceled up into individual units. The house’s other tenants include Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, two aging former actresses who own several Highland terriers, and an individual Coraline knows only as the crazy old man upstairs—a man who claims to be training a “mouse circus” to play tiny instruments. Coraline’s parents are often busy working in their studies, and, since it’s the end of the summer, Coraline is left to her own devices much of the time. One afternoon, exploring the yard, Coraline meets a black cat who runs away when she tries to pet it; another afternoon, stuck inside during a rainstorm, Coraline becomes curious about a large wooden door in the corner of the drawing room. Coraline’s mother opens the door with a black key to show her that it opens up onto a brick wall and explains that the door goes nowhere. As Coraline falls asleep that night, she hears a scuttling noise outside her door. She gets out of bed and follows the noise through the house toward the drawing room—when she flicks on the light, she sees that the door is open. Coraline returns to bed and tries to fall asleep, but she is disturbed by a nightmare about a chorus of rats singing a threatening song. The next day, the rain has given way to a thick mist. Coraline visits with her neighbors, since exploring is too hard in the fog. The man upstairs says that his mice have a message for Coraline: “Don’t go through the door.” At Miss Spink and Miss Forcible’s, Miss Spink reads Coraline’s tea leaves and warns her that she is in danger. She gives Coraline a pebble with a hole in it to carry as a talisman.

The next day, Coraline is bored and antsy when her mother heads out for groceries. Coraline uses the black key to open the door and finds that the brick wall has become a hallway. She walks through the hall and finds herself in another version of her home. In the kitchen there is a woman who looks like Coraline’s mother—but the “other mother” has black buttons for eyes. The other mother is happy to see Coraline and says she’s been waiting for her a long time. Coraline’s “other father” joins them for dinner and serves a sumptuous meal which stands in stark contrast to the fancy, nasty “recipes” Coraline’s real father often serves. After dinner, Coraline’s other parents urge her to go play in her bedroom. Coraline finds a pack of rats living under her bed—they sing her another ominous song. Perturbed, Coraline leaves her room and tells her other parents she’s going for a walk. Outside, Coraline encounters the same black cat from the “real” world—here, it’s able to talk to her, and its voice sounds like the voice at the back of her head. Coraline asks the cat about where she is, what she’s doing there, and who her other parents really are, but the cat doesn’t give Coraline any answers and instead darts off into the woods. Coraline decides to go visit the other Miss Spink and the other Miss Forcible. In this world, the two of them are beautiful young women who perform a never-ending show that combines Shakespearean soliloquy and circus acts to a rapt audience of talking terriers. Coraline leaves the performance and returns to her own flat, where her other parents tell her they’d like for her to stay with them forever. All she has to do, they tell her, is let them remove her eyes and replace them with buttons. Coraline refuses. Her other mother begrudgingly agrees to let Coraline return to her own world.

Back at home, Coraline locks the door tight behind her—but discovers that her mother still hasn’t returned home from the store and her father is nowhere to be found. Coraline visits with Misses Spink and Forcible, makes herself dinner, and gets into bed, where she cries herself to sleep. She’s awoken in the middle of the night by the cat batting her face with its paws. She asks the cat to take her to her parents, and the cat leads her to the hall mirror—Coraline sees her parents standing inside. They fog up the glass and write “HELP US.” Coraline dresses in slippers and a robe and uses the key to open the door once more. As she and the cat walk down the hall, Coraline tells the cat a story about a time when she and her father were chased by wasps. Her father got badly stung—but knew he had to go back for his glasses, which he’d dropped near their nest. True bravery, Coraline says, is going back into a scary situation even knowing how scary it is. At the other end of the hallway, Coraline finds her other mother waiting with open arms. Coraline asks where her parents are, and the other mother tells Coraline that they have abandoned her. Coraline refuses to believe the other mother’s lies. The other mother has one of her rats retrieve the black key, and Coraline asks why there isn’t a matching one in this world. The other father states that there’s only one key. The other mother, enraged, tells the other father to hush up and orders Coraline to bed. Coraline, afraid to sleep in her other room, asks the cat what the other mother wants with her. The cat supposes the other mother wants “something to love” or perhaps just “something to eat.” Coraline asks the cat how she can escape—the cat says that “creatures” like the other mother love games and suggests Coraline challenge her to one.

In the morning, Coraline goes into the kitchen to find her other father waiting for her. His face has become vague and doughy, and when Coraline asks him questions about the other mother, he refuses—or is unable—to answer. Coraline tries to explore the grounds around the house but finds that the farther she walks, the less there is. Coraline returns to the house and encounters the other mother. She asks what the other mother has done with her parents. The other mother, frustrated with Coraline’s impudence, pulls her down the hall, opens the mirror, and throws Coraline into a cupboard. Inside the dark of the cupboard, Coraline hears voices and feels shapes around her. She soon realizes that there are three children in the cupboard with her. The children explain that the other mother—whom they refer to as “the beldam,” another word for witch—lured them all here as she lured Coraline. Some of the children seem to have been trapped for centuries, and have become shells of their former selves. The other children beg Coraline to find their souls, which are scattered through the other mother’s world, and rescue them. As Coraline falls asleep, one of the children entreats her to “look through the stone.”

The next morning, the other mother releases Coraline from the cupboard and makes her a sumptuous breakfast. Coraline reluctantly eats. After breakfast, she challenges the other mother to a game. If Coraline wins the “finding-things” game and locates the souls of the three children—as well as her parents—the other mother must let them all leave; if Coraline loses, she’ll stay forever and let the other mother put buttons on her eyes. The other mother gleefully agrees to the challenge. Coraline goes to her bedroom and searches it top-to-bottom but is unable to find anything resembling a soul. Coraline then remembers the lost children’s advice—she lifts Miss Spink’s stone to her eye and looks through the hole. The stone renders the world black-and-white save for a small marble which glows bright red—Coraline realizes that the lost children’s souls are trapped in marbles. After securing the marble, Coraline heads to Miss Spink and Miss Forcible’s flat to search for the second. The theater inside looks as if it has been abandoned for centuries. All of the dogs have transformed into hairless, bat-like creatures, and Misses Spink and Forcible have turned into a waxy, double-headed thing suspended in an egg-like sac. Coraline spots a soul inside the sac, retrieves it, and escapes the theater as the creature wakes and the bat-dogs descend upon her. Outside, the other mother offers Coraline a key to the empty flat around the corner. Coraline takes it, though she knows the other mother might be leading her into a trap. In the empty flat, Coraline encounters a reeking, grub-like creature that she realizes is the other father. The grub apologizes for what Coraline is going through—but admits it can’t defy the other mother, and then attacks Coraline. She narrowly escapes its clutches. Next, Coraline heads to the flat belonging to the other crazy old man upstairs. Inside, she finds the other crazy old man in his bedroom and realizes that he is made entirely of rats. After spotting a marble in the paws of the largest rat, she lunges at it, but the rats flee the apartment, tripping Coraline as she chases them down the stairs. Coraline fears all is lost—but soon the cat brings her the decapitated giant rat, the third and final soul still in its paws. As Coraline looks around, she sees that the world has become covered in mist and the house has lost its shape. The cat becomes nervous and states that the other mother, angry that Coraline has found all three souls, has sealed off all the ways in and out of her world. Coraline picks up the frightened cat and carries it inside. She encounters the other mother in the parlor and notices a snow globe with two figures inside it on the mantelpiece—Coraline realizes it must contain her parents, as there is no slow globe on the mantelpiece in her own home. Coraline tricks the other mother into opening the hall door—then throws the cat at her face, seizes the globe from the mantel, and runs down the hall. She attempts to shut the door behind her, but hears something fall to the ground with a sickening thump as she does. Coraline runs home through the hall, locking the door from the other side before falling asleep, exhausted, on the sofa in the drawing room.

Coraline wakes to find that her parents are home. They seem to have no knowledge or memory of being entrapped in the other mother’s world. Coraline is relieved to have them back. She happily lets them work undisturbed throughout the afternoon, then eats the “recipe” her father cooks for dinner. That night, Coraline has a dream in which she and the three lost children enjoy a picnic in a meadow. The children thank Coraline for saving them—but warn her that “the beldam” is not done with her. Coraline awakens from the dream to hear a familiar scuttling in the hall. She gets up, follows the scuttling to the front door, and opens it to look outside. Coraline is horrified when the other mother’s hand—searching for the black key, no doubt—rushes between her legs and out into the yard. As the days go by, Coraline takes to carrying the black key around her neck. The hand attacks one of Miss Spink and Miss Forcible’s dogs, makes an appearance at Coraline’s bedroom window, and perturbs the crazy old man’s mouse circus. Coraline knows she needs to vanquish the other mother once and for all. She devises a plan to trap the hand in a deep well at the edge of the woods near her house. After setting up a fake tea party with some old dolls, Coraline lures the hand onto a thin paper tablecloth concealing the well—then drops both the hand and the key into its depths before covering it with heavy wooden boards. The cat, watching from a distance, winks at Coraline in approval. Coraline returns home, enjoys an evening with her parents, and falls asleep peacefully to the sounds of the mouse circus practicing their instruments. Coraline is starting a new year at a new school the next day—but knows nothing she’ll encounter there could possibly scare her anymore.