Coraline Historical Context 🏠

Published in 2002, “Coraline” by Neil Gaiman is a popular children’s fantasy novella that received positive reviews from both critics and fans. The novella has also received numerous awards including the Nebula and Hugo awards in 2003.


Neil Gaiman

Coraline is considered a timeless novella because of the vague narrative that has been employed by the author to great effect. Very little information regarding the location and the setting has been provided in the novella. However, from what we can gather regarding Neil Gaiman’s own life and the happenings in the novel, we can conclude that some parts are autobiographical and certain elements of the novella are inspired by different periods of British history. 

Coraline Historical Context

Publication History

Neil Gaiman began writing Coraline almost a decade before it was published. In 1990, he decided that he wanted to write a story for his daughter, Holly, who was 5 years old at the time. However, several other projects took the forefront and Gaiman put Coraline on the back burner. Finally, in 2002, the work was completed and it was published by Bloomsbury and HarperCollins to great critical acclaim. 

Coraline became an instant hit. It was awarded the 2003 Hugo award for Best Novella as well as the 2003 Nebula Award for Best Novella. It was also ranked #82 on The Guardian’s list of hundred best books of the 21st century. 

Neil Gaiman’s Personal Context

Born to a father who was the head of the Church of Scientology in the UK, Neil Gaiman moved from school to school when he was young. He has described himself as a “feral child who was raised in libraries” because of the controversial practices of the church. However, Gaiman has clarified that he did not identify as a Scientologist like the rest of his family. 

Neil Gaiman began his writing career in the 1980s. He first worked as a journalist as well as a biographer, during which time he produced books about Douglas Adams (most famous for the book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy) as well as the popular band Duran Duran. 

However, Gaiman’s breakthrough came with the comic book series, The Sandman, which was published by DC comics in the early 1990s. As The Sandman became famous throughout the world, Gaiman began to write several other works that became instantly popular. It was during this time that he began writing Coraline

Several aspects of his own life have inspired Coraline. For instance, the setting of the novella is inspired by Gaiman’s own flat from 1987. This was a large Manor house that was divided up into smaller apartments, a concept similar to the apartment in which Coraline and her parents move into at the beginning of the novella. The huge door in Coraline’s drawing-room which opened onto a solid brick wall has been inspired by a similar door that Gaiman saw in an old and large house he grew up in. Gaiman mentions that he spent a lot of time imagining that the oak-paneled door in his house would one day open onto a corridor instead of a brick wall – a concept that has been reflected in Coraline. Coraline’s use of the word “recipes” for her father’s adventurous meals has been inspired by Gaiman’s own son, Michael, who used to refer to Gaiman’s culinary efforts as “recipes.” 

Historical Context of Coraline

There is not much information in the novel that suggests the time period that Coraline is supposed to be set in. Published at the turn of the millennium, one would assume that it is set in the present day. However, the novella has a vague and mysterious atmosphere to it as well as an obscure geographical setting, both of which serve to make it timeless and ageless. 

There are, however, a few instances in the novel from which we can glean out the historical context. Coraline’s father once mentions a visit to London, so we know for sure that the novella is set somewhere in England and in real life (not a fantasy world). However, several words in the novella point towards various historical periods. For instance, the Other Mother is also referred to as the “beldam,” a Late Middle English word. The ghost children that Coraline encounters in the other universe are also from varying periods of time. For instance, the young boy is described as wearing velvet-trimmed breaches, which suggests that he comes from an upper-class family from the 17th 18th century. The young girl, on the other hand, is dressed in peasant clothing and uses words such as “thou” and “doth.” This suggests that the girl belongs to an archaic period of British history and hails from a working-class background.


Literary Context 

Neil Gaiman has been influenced by a host of other writers in his writing career. This includes: 

Gaiman has also been inspired to write comedically by Monty Python’s Big Red Book and visually by the French comics, Metal HurlantCoraline also incorporates several of his literary influences. For instance, the plot of Coraline has parallels with Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. While Alice falls down a rabbit hole into an entirely different universe and meets the murderous Queen of Hearts, Coraline goes through a corridor to meet the wicked Other Mother.

Similarly, scholars have compared Coraline to a short story by Angela Carter called The Erl King, a story that was published in the collection, The Bloody Chamber. In this story, a young heroine is forced into an adventure where she has to rescue a bunch of caged birds from a mysterious and shadowy figure in a forest. The birds, who were initially girls, are similar to the souls of the ghost children in Coraline

Parallels have also been drawn between Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Coraline. Just like the house in The Haunting of Hill House constantly molds itself around its inhabitants, the other universe in Coraline keeps shifting in nature the longer Coraline stays in it. The novella also seems to be inspired by Sigmund Freud’s concept of the uncanny, or the Unheimlich, which expounds the psychological experience that comes with something eerily familiar when set in a different context.

Finally, Coraline has been inspired by Lucy Clifford’s short story, The New Mother, which pits two opposing worlds against each other. The two worlds in The New Mother include that of the “real” mother where there is order and structure, as well as that of the “new” mother, where there is disorder and chaos – a concept that is reflected in Coraline as well.


Where is Coraline originally from?

Neil Gaiman does not give any historical background to Coraline and her family. All we know is that Coraline moves to an old and large apartment with her parents somewhere in England. However, it can be safe to assume that Coraline is originally from England because of the way Coraline and her parents talk, as well as the kind of slang they use.

Why is Coraline so creepy?

The reason the novella, Coraline by Neil Gaiman is so creepy can be explained by Sigmund Freud’s concept of the uncanny, or the Unheimlich. According to this concept, people are creeped out by anything that uncannily resembles something familiar to them. This is what happens in Coraline as well, with the other universe that so closely matches Coraline’s own world. 

Is Coraline a witch?

No, Coraline is not a witch. She is a normal 9-year-old girl that loves adventures. One day, she encounters a witch-like creature (the Other Mother) when she opens a door in her drawing-room and goes down the corridor behind it.

Why does the cat disappear in Coraline?

The cat is one of the supporting characters in Coraline. It continuously disappears and reappears from time to time according to its whims and fancies. The cat and Coraline become good friends by the end of the novel, and the two of them work together to escape from the clutches of the evil Other Mother.

Neesha Thunga K
About Neesha Thunga K
Neesha graduated in 2020 with a degree in MA English. Before that, she has spent several years teaching English and writing for various organizations. As a lover of English literature, she truly believes that crafting stories through words is the greatest achievement of mankind. She is now pursuing her passion for literature as an Expert on the Book Analysis team.
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