Thursday, December 31, 2009

Favorite Passages: Coraline, by Neil Gaiman

I have come up with a short list of New Year's Reading Resolutions. They include reading more female and contemporary poets, reading more short stories, and re-reading Fitzgerald's novels. But the resolution I'm most excited about is my goal to read as much Neil Gaiman as possible. I've written here a few times before about how much I admire Gaiman as a writer and as a champion of storytelling. His books are strange, fantastical adventures, but they are always rooted in human feelings and relationships. The emotional underpinnings in his fiction are just as important as any scary monster or complicated plot. So while I spend the next three months waiting to hear back from graduate schools, I plan to read a lot of Gaiman to take my mind off things. I think it will be a fantastic time.

In the meantime, here's a passage from his children's novel, Coraline. In this scene, young Coraline is telling a story about her missing father to the mysterious and helpful Black Cat. Coraline is looking for her parents in some weird parallel ghost-world, and she uses this story about a day when her father and her explored nature to explain why her quest is so important. This entire section is really poignant because at the beginning of the book, Coraline feels a bit ignored by her parents, and this scene demonstrates how when it comes down to the moments that matter, Coraline and her parents will fight for each other.

From: Coraline, by Neil Gaiman

"We must have walked for about twenty minutes. We went down this hill, to the bottom of a gully where a stream was, when my dad suddenly said to me, 'Coraline -- run away. Up the hill. Now!' He said it in a tight sort of way, urgently, so I did. I ran away up the hill. Something hurt me on the back of my arm as I ran, but I kept on running.

"As I got to the top of the hill I heard somebody thundering up the hill behind me. It was my dad, charging like a rhino. When he reached me he picked me up in his arms and swept me over the edge of the hill.

"And we stopped and we puffed and we panted, and we looked back down the gully.

"The air was alive with yellow wasps. We must have stepped on a wasps' nest in a rotten branch as we walked. And while I was running up the hill, my dad stayed and got stung, to give me more time to run away. His glasses had fallen off when he ran.

"I only had the one sting on the back of my arm. He had thirty-nine stings, all over him. We counted later, in the bath."

The black cat began to wash his face and whiskers in a manner that indicated increasing impatience. Coraline reached down and stroked the back of its head and neck. The cat stood up, walked several paces until it was out of her reach, then it sat down and looked up at her again.

"So," said Coraline, "later that afternoon my dad went back again to the wasteland, to get his glasses back. He said if he left it another day he wouldn't be able to remember where they'd fallen.

"And soon he got home, wearing his glasses. He said that he wasn't scared when he was standing there and the wasps were stinging him and hurting him and he was watching me run away. Because he knew he had to give me enough time to run, or the wasps would have come after both of us."

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