The Halloween Countdown: 4 – The Other Mother, from Neil Gaiman’s Coraline

Did you also want to have a different mother when you were younger? I can assure you: not this one. Number four!

“It sounded like her mother. Coraline went into the kitchen, where the voice had come from. A woman stood in the kitchen with her back to Coraline. She looked a little like Coraline’s mother. Only…

Only her skin was white as paper.

Only she was taller and thinner.

Only her fingers were too long, and they never stopped moving, and her dark red fingernails were curved and sharp.”

Neil Gaiman, Coraline

The scariest monsters are those who act like they aren’t scary at all. They pretend to be all nice, to care about you, and even to love you. This is exactly what happens in Neil Gaiman’s novella Coraline. The eponymous heroine arrives in a different world from her own, but which is exactly like her own – apart from some minor details. At first it all looks really nice, and she even prefers her other mother and father over her real parents, because they pay attention to her, and cook dinner for her, where her real parents don’t. But is this woman really like her real mother?

Coraline wanders around the other world, and starts realising that things are not as good as they seem; the other mother traps children there, and looks less and less like her real mother. When she says Coraline can stay there forever, but has to replace her real eyes with buttons, she flees. When she finds out that her real parents are missing, she decides to go back and rescue them. It is only through her own wit that she manages to rescue everyone, and to get rid of the other mother (except for her hand, which makes it to the real world).

The other mother is described in such a scary way, that at several points in the story I had to stop reading and look up from the book. I needed to make sure that I hadn’t accidentally travelled to this other world, which of course I hadn’t. Even though it becomes clear quite early on that the other mother is not kind at all, I love how Gaiman played with the universal notion that all children, at one point, would like to trade their parents for better ones. Well, children, let this be a warning: this is what happens when you wish too hard. Oh, and here’s another one: if you think someone looks like your mother, make sure to check her eyes…

Were you scared of the other mother too? Or would you like to travel to the other world and see what it’s like? Are there other monsters in Gaiman’s books that should be included in this list? Leave your opinion in the comments!

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