Fairy Tales are more than true: not because they tell us
that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten
- G.K. Chesterton.
Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the
It was a very old house - it had an attic under the roof and a cellar
under the ground and an overgrown garden with huge old trees in it.
Coraline's family didn't own all of the house, it was too big for that.
Instead they owned part of it.
There were other people who lived in the old house.
Miss Spink and Miss Forcible lived in the flat below Coraline's, on the
ground floor. They were both old and round, and they lived in their flat
with a number of ageing highland terriers who had names like Hamish and
Andrew and Jock. Once upon a time Miss Spink and Miss Forcible had been
actresses, as Miss Spink told Coraline the first time she met her.
"You see, Caroline," Miss Spink said, getting Coraline's name wrong,
"Both myself and Miss Forcible were famous actresses, in our time. We
trod the boards, luvvy. Oh, don't let Hamish eat the fruit cake, or
he'll be up all night with his tummy."
"It's Coraline. Not Caroline. Coraline," said Coraline.
In the flat above Coraline's, under the roof, was a crazy old man with a
big moustache. He told Coraline that he was training a mouse circus. He
wouldn't let anyone see it.
"One day, little Caroline, when they are all ready, everyone in the
whole world will see the wonders of my mouse circus. You ask me why you
cannot see it now. Is that what you asked me?"
"No," said Coraline quietly, "I asked you not to call me Caroline. It's
"The reason you cannot see the Mouse Circus," said the man upstairs, "is
that the mice are not yet ready and rehearsed. Also, they refuse to play
the songs I have written for them. All the songs I have written for the
mice to play go oompah oompah. But the white mice will only play
toodle oodle, like that. I am thinking of trying them on
different types of cheese."
Coraline didn't think there really was a mouse circus. She thought the
old man was probably making it up.
The day after they moved in, Coraline went exploring.
She explored the garden. It was a big garden: at the very back was an
old tennis court, but no-one in the house played tennis and the fence
around the court had holes in it and the net had mostly rotted away;
there was an old rose garden, filled with stunted, flyblown rose-bushes;
there was a rockery that was all rocks; there was a fairy ring, made of
squidgy brown toadstools which smelled dreadful if you accidentally trod
There was also a well. Miss Spink and Miss Forcible made a point of
telling Coraline how dangerous the well was, on the first day Coraline's
family moved in, and warned her to be sure she kept away from it. So
Coraline set off to explore for it, so that she knew where it was, to
keep away from it properly.
She found it on the third day, in an overgrown meadow beside the tennis
court, behind a clump of trees - a low brick circle almost hidden in the
high grass. The well had been covered up by wooden boards, to stop
anyone falling in. There was a small knot-hole in one of the boards, and
Coraline spent an afternoon dropping pebbles and acorns through the
hole, and waiting, and counting, until she heard the plopas they hit the
water, far below.
Coraline also explored for animals. She found a hedgehog, and a
snake-skin (but no snake), and a rock that looked just like a frog, and
a toad that looked just like a rock.
There was also a haughty black cat, who would sit on walls and tree
stumps, and watch her; but would slip away if ever she went over to try
to play with it.
That was how she spent her first two weeks in the house - exploring the
garden and the grounds.
Her mother made her come back inside for dinner, and for lunch; and
Coraline had to make sure she dressed up warm before she went out, for
it was a very cold summer that year; but go out she did, exploring,
every day until the day it rained, when Coraline had to stay inside.
"What should I do?" asked Coraline.
"Read a book," said her mother. "Watch a video. Play with your toys. Go
and pester Miss Spink or Miss Forcible, or the crazy old man upstairs."
"No," said Coraline. "I don't want to do those things. I want to
"I don't really mind what you do," said Coraline's mother, "as long as
you don't make a mess."
Coraline went over to the window and watched the rain come down. It
wasn't the kind of rain you could go out in, it was the other kind, the
kind that threw itself down from the sky and splashed where it landed.
It was rain that meant business, and currently its business was turning
the garden into a muddy, wet soup.
Coraline had watched all the videos. She was bored with her toys, and
she'd read all her books.
She turned on the television. She went from channel to channel to
channel, but there was nothing on but men in suits talking about the
stock market, and schools programmes. Eventually, she found something to
watch: it was the last half of a natural history programme about
something called protective coloration. She watched animals, birds and
insects which disguised themselves as leaves or twigs or other animals
to escape from things that could hurt them. She enjoyed it, but it ended
too soon, and was followed by a programme about a cake factory.
It was time to talk to her father.
Coraline's father was home. Both of her parents worked, doing things on
computers, which meant that they were home a lot of the time. Each of
them had their own study...
Excerpted from "Coraline" by Neil Gaiman. Copyright © 2003 by Neil Gaiman. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.