Faerie Rules in the World of Coraline

Beware, here be some spoilers!

Coraline is a contemporary faerie tale. I use the “fae” version of spelling purposefully; I think that Neil Gaiman intentionally draws on some of the folkloric rules for going to faerie realms in this story. For instance:

Illustration by Dave McKean, Coraline

Illustration by Dave McKean, Coraline

-The Beldam (as the Other Mother is also known) is a creature of glamour. A ‘glamour’ in faerie folklore is a magic spell of seeming; the ability to enchant one thing to appear as something else altogether. It is frequently used in stories by faerie creatures to appear more beautiful, or welcoming, or powerful than they actually are. In this case, the Other Mother uses glamour, both on herself to appear more like Coraline’s mother, and on her world to make it more enticing to Coraline and other victims.

-Much is made in the original text (though to a lesser extent in this adaptation) about the danger of eating the Other Mother’s Food; it makes Coraline’s head feel fuzzy and makes her more compliant and less able to see through the Other Mother’s illusions. In the original novel, Coraline even brings her own food supply with her when she goes back to rescue her parents. This idea is also drawn from stories of faerie folklore. According to the old stories, it is terribly dangerous to eat food when you go to fairyland; the results can be anything from being transformed into an animal (as on the Island of Circe in The Odyssey) or being trapped in the realm forever (Persephone eating pomegranate seeds in the underworld) or even turning to dust if one ever reaches the ‘real’ world again. In this production we’re exploring that idea a bit further to make more clear why the first thing the Other Mother does when Coraline first arrives in the Other World is to serve a meal. Eating the food of the Other World gives the Other Mother certain powers and rights over Coraline, even if Coraline does have some kind of protection with her.

Hag Stone

Hag Stone

-….which brings us to the ‘little stone with a hole in it.” Such stones are known variously as ‘witch stones,’ ‘hag stones,’ and ‘faerie stones.’  According to folklore these stones are supposed to be protection against evil, and in the story of Coraline, a hag stone definitely serves that purpose. Looking through a hole in a faerie stone is also one way to see true things instead of the false illusions of glamour, and Gaiman’s story gives the little stone that ability, too.

-One other concept that frequently crops up is the idea of Changelings; of people being ‘spirited away to fairyland’ with something else being left behind in their place. In this production, we’re exploring that idea a bit as we examine the spiriting away of Coraline’s parents. How, exactly? You’ll need to check out the production to see!

-Ed Rutherford, Director

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Kate Merena

Kate is owner and curator of Sacred Art Gallery in Lincoln Square, where she represents over 100 independent artists. She is a freelance writer, marketer, business consultant, event planner and meditation teacher.

We Like The Rats?

Please note that this post does contain some plot spoilers! Those unfamiliar with the story proceed at your own risk!

One of the important supporting character(s) in the story of Coraline in the original novel (and also this adaptation) are the Rats. These are unpleasant, vicious creatures that do the Other Mother’s bidding. They also sing several verses of a song, one excerpt of which appears below:

We are small but we are many
We are many we are small
We were here before you rose
We will be here when you fall

One image I shared with the cast and crew to help get their imaginations going about the rats is this deeply unsettling painting by HR Giger:

H.R. Giger's Tourist 6

H.R. Giger's Tourist 6

 

In this production we’re exploring further what the Rats really are and their relationship to the Other Mother. What is their function? I posit that they’re much more than mere rats; they’re some sort of amorphous, dark, destructive force. At least one of the characters in the Other World later turns out to have been constructed from or made of the Rats. All of their songs are about hunger, viciousness, and a terrible patience. When Coraline asks Other Father about the rats, he says in the play “We like the rats,” and in the novel “The Rats are our friends.” But in this production, I think that Other Father says that rather nervously, as if worried that the rats might be listening.

Here’s my conspiracy theory about the Rats that we’re running with in this production. What we call “the Rats” in this world is actually some sort of conscious dark matter, a primeval darkness that existed before the big bang and will once again “rise” or “rule” when they have devoured the universe again as it reaches total entropy. They’re not that different from the critters in the Stephen King short story “The Langoliers”; they are responsible for the devouring or destruction of the unused and abandoned places of the world. Since they revel in suffering and destruction, it suits their purposes to aid the Other Mother for now, to serve as the building blocks with which she constructs her world and the Other People therein. But for how long? And what becomes of the Other Mother after she finally loses to Coraline and is trapped forever in the Other World, just her….and the Rats?

I’d like to take a page from Grimm and give our villain a truly dreadful end. I hope you’ll come and see it!

-Ed Rutherford, Director

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Kate Merena

Kate is owner and curator of Sacred Art Gallery in Lincoln Square, where she represents over 100 independent artists. She is a freelance writer, marketer, business consultant, event planner and meditation teacher.

People Come And Go So Strangely Here...

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

In my previous post I mentioned that the story of Coraline is a descendant of the story Alice in Wonderland- a little girl goes through a magic door or sorts to a strange world where the rules are different, makes friends with a talking cat, etcetera. There’s also a quote from Alice that I find extraordinarily apt to describe this adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel: at one point in the Lewis Carroll story, Alice observes “People come and go so strangely here.”

David Greenspan and Stephin Merritt’s adaptation is a very clever piece of story theater, with Coraline narrating most of the events that occur to the audience. There are times when there are sudden, even jarring shifts in the scene from one location to another; she says something like “I’m somewhere else now,” and indeed we do find ourselves in another place, with the characters from the previous scene wiped away. Nearly everything that happens in the play is experienced from Coraline’s point of view (except possibly for some moments with the Other Mother or the Cat when Coraline is absent or asleep, but after all, both of those characters make their own rules).

Illustration by Dave Mckean from the novel Coraline.

Illustration by Dave Mckean from the novel Coraline.

These kinds of lines and stage directions were some of my clues to interpreting the piece. In this production, Coraline is a memory play of sorts; the place that the play inhabits, while it may resemble a sort of attic with boxed up junk and rafters, is more a mental attic, where Coraline has locked up her memories of this crazy thing that happened to her when she was a kid. At the start of the play, a definitely adult Coraline comes to this place that we’ve devised - either a mental space or the literal house where all of these events once happenedand starts to unpack the memories she has. Bit by bit (during the overture, naturally), more and more of what happened to her comes to life and she becomes the little girl that she was when she first learned how to be brave.

Rehearsals start Tuesday night, and I can’t wait!

-Ed Rutherford, Director

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Kate Merena

Kate is owner and curator of Sacred Art Gallery in Lincoln Square, where she represents over 100 independent artists. She is a freelance writer, marketer, business consultant, event planner and meditation teacher.

Begin At The Beginning...

Well, here we are, about to launch into rehearsals for the Chicago (and Midwest) premiere of Coraline in a little over a month! As we get closer and closer to opening, I’m getting increasingly excited about embarking on this journey with all of you. But you might be wondering, why Coraline?

As a kid I was a bookish, withdrawn child. I would frequently retreat into fantasy stories, including stories like Alice in Wonderland, books by Piers Anthony and David Eddings, as well as work by one of my favorite authors: Peter S. Beagle, of The Last Unicorn fame. I also was an eager student of mythology and folklore of various cultures. As I got a bit older I was introduced to an author named Neil Gaiman, first through his seminal graphic novel series The Sandman and then via his other works, including Coraline. What excites me most about Gaiman’s work is the way he is able to rearrange the myths and fairy tales of past generations in new ways, in a contemporary setting. Coraline is no different: it tells a story that is a spiritual successor to Alice; we have a young girl traveling through a magic portal to a land where the rules are completely different, but this story also has darker overtones, weaving in some of the grimmer (or Grimm-er) parts of faerie folklore. More than telling a compelling story, Coraline is also thematically interesting, exploring the nature of true courage.

I was especially drawn to Stephin Merritt and David Greenspan’s adaptation of the novel because it is a version that seems very much at home on a Chicago storefront stage, despite originating in NY. The script incorporates heavy elements of narrated story theater, which originated in Chicago and has been pioneered by such Chicago greats as Frank Galati and Mary Zimmerman. It relies on a junk theater aesthetic, using the simple or symbolic to represent profound and fantastical occurrences. And finally, it’s just straight-up quirky and weird in a way that really gets under my skin and makes me eager to dig into the script and score in rehearsal.

Thanks for stopping by. I and others involved in the production will be posting more content here and on social media as we progress towards opening. I look forward to sharing this story!

-Ed Rutherford, Director

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Kate Merena

Kate is owner and curator of Sacred Art Gallery in Lincoln Square, where she represents over 100 independent artists. She is a freelance writer, marketer, business consultant, event planner and meditation teacher.