Monday, March 16, 2009


I greatly enjoyed watching Coraline a few weeks ago, and will probably see it again this week in 3D—Pleasure Island at Disney has put it back in the 3D theater.

One thing I couldn't decide on first viewing was whether the plot better represents a far more subtle tweak at C.S. Lewis' Narnia series than Pullman ever managed, or a brilliant illustration of the true nature of sin.

Option A: Into the Closet
So there's this girl who moves into a strange big house in the country. Cut off from her normal routine and friends, on a rainy day she begins to explore her surroundings and discovers this mundane door, beyond which is a magical land filled with wonders. This realm is peopled by talking animals, strange beasts, and a generous but unsafe Ruler who offers the girl ultimate fulfillment, if only she will first surrender her will to the Ruler. 

Ah, but not all is as it seems, and the girl discovers that living under the authority of the Ruler is a soul-crushing experience, and even as she finds herself a prisoner, she sees all the gossamer castles and promises melting into dank and sticky webs suitable only for trapping the unwary. Only by relying on her own resources and a mystic bauble can  the girl win freedom for herself and the other the Ruler has ensnared.

This interpretation is not very flattering to Lewis (or his Muse), it must be agreed.

Option B: Into the Stable
"In where?" asked Edmund.
"Why, you bone-head, in here of course," said Diggle. "In this pitch-black, poky, smelly little hole of a stable."
"Are you blind?" said Tirian.
"Ain't we all blind in the dark?" said Diggle.
In this reading, the girl discovers that what began as an exciting exploration of an easy life of indulgences beyond the moral boundaries set by her parents makes a subtle transition into a dark and miserable prison where every wonder—from the magical garden to the moon itself—proves to be but a deflated counterfeit of the Real Thing. Worse, the accommodating servant is now a terrible Mistress who intends to suck her prey's soul dry. 

The terrible truth about sin is that while it promises freedom, pleasure and getting what you will—an existence bereft of God's companionship, it only delivers on the last. I think Lewis through his stable dwarfs illustrates this concept well enough.

I really don't know if Coraline bears the weight of either of these interpretations (I rather prefer the second), but it's fun to speculate. I look forward to trying it out again, this time in 3D.


  1. I think my heart prefers Option B, but Option A fits more in with what I felt when I read the book. Coraline only chooses not to stay with her Other Mother because of the sacrifice she must make to stay there. Of course we learn later that the sacrifice wouldn't have really mattered (from the three children that came before) but if she hadn't had to make a sacrifice would she have stayed?

    I'll confess if I had the stuffed squid in my bedroom I'd have stayed!

  2. The thing about the book version is that Coraline's "button offer" comes at the end of her first visit. One might argue that she was too overwhelmed to think properly about what was happening. The book Beldam was a hard sell.

    The movie version is much more a seduction, as each night the Beldam lures Coraline deeper and deeper into her trap with the promise of more wonders and (Turkish?) delights. Coraline can stop anytime she wants ... until it's very nearly too late.

    Come to think of it, another reading might be that the Beldam is playing the White Witch role in a story universe lacking an Aslan. Without that element, her deliverance comes from herself, the Cat, and her bauble. It's a secular response.

    The stuffed squid rocked. And I would be very surprised if some of your arts and crafts friends aren't making at least one!

  3. Or maybe I'm making one! HA!

    I do like that the film Beldam gets more and more beautiful -- until she begins to get very UNBEAUTIFUL.