The entrance to the other ‘pre-oedipal’ world 

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The reception of the novella

When looking at reviews that came out shortly after the novella was published in 2002, the initial reception seems to have been a positive one: Gaiman’s prose and imagery is applauded1 and Gaiman’s ability to capture the child’s perspective is praised.2 However, more interesting for this essay is the fact that the uncanniness of the novella seems to have made an impression. The adjectives used to describe the novella are not scary or frightening, but “magnificently creepy”, “skewed”, “eerie”, and “spine-chilling”3. Several comparisons to David Lynch‟s Lost Highway, which has also been described as uncanny,4 have also been made.
Newer reviews of the novella are, however, harder to come by; the adaptations on screen and on stage have been stealing the reviewers‟ attention. Most contemporary reviews seem to be interested in the minimum age for which the book is appropriate, and while these evaluations comment on the entertainment value and scariness of the novella, they do not remark on prose or narration.5 However, a recent blogger (Inkslinger) reviewing the novella seems to agree with the early critics, praising Gaiman‟s “crisp dialogue and fantastically bizarre images” (n.pag). The novella has won quite a few awards, the most note-worthy being the Bram Stoker Award for Best Work for Young readers (2002), the prestigious Hugo Award for Best Novella (2003), and the no less esteemed Nebula Award for Best Novella (2003). While all three are prestigious awards, the Hugo award is more of a “popular vote”-award, as all members of the World Science Fiction Society can vote, and anyone can become a member (« Hugo Award History »). The Bram Stoker Award is somewhat more restricted: while anyone who is a member of the Horror Writers Association can nominate a work, only Active Members can vote, and only professional writers within the genre can become an Active Member (« The Bram Stoker Awards »). The last award, the Nebula, is the most “critical” award of the three; only authors who are published in “Qualifying Professional Markets” in either the science fiction, fantasy, or horror genre can join the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (which presents the award), nominate and vote (« Nebula Awards »). Appreciation for the novella is, shown by readers, critics and peers alike.
While it is impossible to say why the novella speaks to both children and adults, it is an interesting aspect to explore. The connection made between the „eerie‟ novella and the uncanny throughout the reviews provides a clue, as the uncanny is so closely tied to the early narcissistic stage of the human psyche. The novella investigates human psychology and an event that most Westerners go through: the unavoidable separation from the parents. This is further shown by the frequent use of psychoanalytic criticism by critics. This psychoanalytical uncanny, which I speculate is responsible for the novella‟s widespread popularity to some degree, is the facet of the novella that will be examined in this essay.

Literary criticism review of the novella

Coraline, being a relatively new novella, has not had a huge array of papers written about it; essays started being published in 2008 and while the works may use different perspectives, they can be divided into two major focus areas: feminist criticism and psychoanalytic criticism.
During the first year works began being published about the novella both perspectives were discussed. David Rudd, for example, discusses Coraline’s identity formation in combination with the uncanniness of the novella. He focuses on Coraline’s separation from her mother in terms of Freud’s Oedipus complex and use Lacan’s theory of the Symbolic and the Real to discuss the protagonist’s negotiation of her place in the world. Richard Gooding has a similar perspective but focuses on Gaiman’s use of uncanniness in the narration to portray Coraline’s psychic development, and its part in the internalization of the father, in relation to the Oedipus complex. A third work published in 2008, by Karen Coats, also use psychoanalytical theories and talks about identity formation, but focuses on genre conventions and how these are used to make concrete the « inner dramas and psychic losses » (91), which are an unavoidable aspect of creating an identity separate from one’s parents. The last article published that year has a feminist perspective. Elizabeth Parsons, Naarah Sawers and Kate McInally problematize motherhood, although they also discuss identity formation in Coraline’s creation and acceptance of her gendered identity.
In subsequent years articles on the novella have continued to explore these two focus areas from different perspectives. In 2009, Karlie K. Herndon combines food-symbolism and identity formation from a psychoanalytical angle, and in 2010, Anne Balay discusses how Coraline’s masculinity challenges binary gender roles, and comes to an opposite conclusion than Parsons, Sawers and McInally.

The entrance to the other ‘pre-oedipal’ world

The symbolism of the other world will be examined in this section of the essay, along with what Coraline’s choice to enter it represents. This will be done because it demands a regression towards a pre-oedipal stage and hinders Coraline from forming her own superego, is a consistent base throughout the essay. The obvious likeness to dolls the button-eyes brings to mind will, however, not be examined. For the purpose of this essay it is sufficient to acknowledge that the button-eyes are one of the obvious signs of regression to an early stage of development for Coraline, as she has already stopped playing with dolls (151). It does, nonetheless, strengthen the symbolism of the ‘pre-oedipal’ in the other world.
From Ogden’s perspective it is particularly interesting to look at the drawing room. Herndon connects the maternal foremost with the key and the act of opening up the physical door to the other world (32), but if we take the location of both the act and the door into consideration, the drawing room acquires a maternal association as well. The significance of the room is hinted at form the first mention of it, when Coraline is bored and asks of her mother’s permission to enter it; « Can I go into the drawing room? » The drawing room was where the Joneses kept the expensive (and uncomfortable) furniture Coraline’s grandmother had left them when she died. Coraline wasn’t allowed in there. Nobody went in there. It was only for best. « If you don’t make a mess. And you don’t touch anything. »
This « uncomfortable » room is the only room Coraline asks permission to enter. Furthermore, it is the place of both the start and end of Coraline’s adventure, that is, her entering the other world and her final battle with the (m)other. The fact that Coraline then decides not to enter the drawing room is also significant since it represents a decision not to enter the arena of the superego. One could claim that (her relationship with) her mother hinders her from growing up, something Muller takes note of, « [h]er mother, busy at the computer advises ‘I don’t really mind what you do. .
.as long as you don’t make a mess’ (15). Her father responds by proposing she count the windows and doors in the house to stay amused. These suggestions indicate the ways in which both parents restrict and confine Coraline to the domestic and familiar, and in so doing, endorse her child status [emphasis added] » (n.p). However, at this time I wish to focus on the room itself.
The significance of the room in relation to Coraline’s superego formation is underlined by Ogden’s thoughts on transgenerational superegos, as he claims that parricide is a « loving act » (656) because it internalizes the parents through the formation of the superego, and in a way grants them immortality (659). This immortality is then extended beyond the child, to the grandchild, as the internalization of the parents includes the « unconscious psychological make-up of the parents » (661), that is, the parents‟ internalization of the grandparents, and becomes transgenerational. Coats agrees with this as well, that « children internalize . . . both conscious and unconscious legacies of their parents » (84). It cannot then, be a coincidence that several performative acts take place in the (grand)maternal, transgenerational drawing room. Gooding even takes note that the room is non-existent in the other world at Coraline’s first visit (402), which is not surprising if one takes into consideration that her first step into the other world is a step towards staying in the pre-oedipal realm, and away from the arena, the room, that represents parental internalization. Furthermore, Leowald claims the dissolution of the complex grants the child the ability to create non-incestuous relationships not only with the parents, but also with others. Because the incestuous part of the Oedipus complex is secondary to Leowald one should be able to compare it to Coraline’s ability to communicate with adults. This was almost entirely lacking before the destruction of the (m)other, which is visible in this conversation with Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, « I haven’t seen either of [my parents] since yesterday. I’m on my own. I think I’ve probably become a single child family. »
« Tell your mother that we’ve found the Glasgow Empire press clippings we were telling her about. She seemed very interested when Miriam mentioned them to her. »
« She’s vanished under mysterious circumstances, » said Coraline, « and I believe my father has as well. »

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Table of contents :

The reception of the novella
Literary criticism review of the novella
Coraline and Castration
The entrance to the other ‘pre-oedipal’ world 
Freud‟s psychic elements in the novella
The (m)other as the id
The cat as the superego
Coraline as the ego
The reversed relationship: Coraline and the mother
Concluding Discussion
Works Cited


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