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
I. C ORALINE DISCOVERED THE DOOR
a little while after they moved into the house.
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
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 fruitcake, 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 mustache. 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
“No,” said Coraline quietly, “I asked you not to call me Caroline. It’s Coraline.”
“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 rosebushes; 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 on them.
There was also a well. On the first day Coraline’s family moved in, Miss Spink and Miss
Forcible made a point of telling Coraline how dangerous the well was, and they 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 knothole 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 plop as they hit the water far below.
Coraline also explored for animals. She found a hedgehog, and a snakeskin (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 sat on walls and tree stumps and watched her but
slipped 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 explore.”
“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 talk shows. Eventually, she found
something to watch: it was the last half of a natural history program 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 program 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.
“Hello Coraline,” he said when she came in, without turning round.
“Mmph,” said Coraline. “It’s raining.”
“Yup,” said her father. “It’s bucketing down.”
“No,” said Coraline. “It’s just raining. Can I go outside?”
“What does your mother say?”
“She says you’re not going out in weather like that, Coraline Jones.”
“But I want to carry on exploring.”
“Then explore the flat,” suggested her father. “Look—here’s a piece of paper and a pen. Count
all the doors and windows. List everything blue. Mount an expedition to discover the hot water
tank. And leave me alone to work.”
“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.”
Coraline considered this carefully, then she took the paper and pen and went off to explore the
inside of the flat.
She discovered the hot water tank (it was in a cupboard in the kitchen).
She counted everything blue (153).
She counted the windows (21).
She counted the doors (14).
Of the doors that she found, thirteen opened and closed. The other—the big, carved, brown
wooden door at the far corner of the drawing room—was locked.
She said to her mother, “Where does that door go?”
“It has to go somewhere.”
Her mother shook her head. “Look,” she told Coraline.
She reached up and took a string of keys from the top of the kitchen doorframe. She sorted
through them carefully, and selected the oldest, biggest, blackest, rustiest key. They went into the
drawing room. She unlocked the door with the key.
The door swung open.
Her mother was right. The door didn’t go anywhere. It opened onto a brick wall.
“When this place was just one house,” said Coraline’s mother, “that door went somewhere.
When they turned the house into flats, they simply bricked it up. The other side is the empty flat
on the other side of the house, the one that’s still for sale.”
She shut the door and put the string of keys back on top of the kitchen doorframe.
“You didn’t lock it,” said Coraline.
Her mother shrugged. “Why should I lock it?” she asked. “It doesn’t go anywhere.”
Coraline didn’t say anything.
It was nearly dark outside now, and the rain was still coming down, pattering against the
windows and blurring the lights of the cars in the street outside.
Coraline’s father stopped working and made them all dinner.
Coraline was disgusted. “Daddy,” she said, “you’ve made a recipe again.”
“It’s leek and potato stew with a tarragon garnish and melted Gruyère cheese,” he admitted.
Coraline sighed. Then she went to the freezer and got out some microwave chips and a
“You know I don’t like recipes,” she told her father, while her dinner went around and around
and the little red numbers on the microwave oven counted down to zero.
“If you tried it, maybe you’d like it,” said Coraline’s father, but she shook her head.
That night, Coraline lay awake in her bed. The rain had stopped, and she was almost asleep when
something went t-t-t-t-t-t. She sat up in bed.
Something went kreeee . . .